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Year #3 in the Field

The Way Back to Biological Beekeeping, Part 15

We’ve talked about the process followed the first year for catching feral bees or retrogressing domesticated colonies from oversized brood foundation. We have also talked about the process to be followed the second year and how to look for visual signs that colonies of honeybees are cleansing themselves of parasitic mite and disease problems, to stabilize themselves. Beekeepers should continue catching feral swarms as a renewable resource for both honeybees and clean uncontaminated wax for recycling into foundation. Beekeepers need to plan how many hives to get ready for production the third year to end the fall season with colonies a minimum of 3 deep supers full of bees, pollen and honey, with all drawn 4.9mm foundation. They also need to plan how many hives to set aside for the production of seed-frames to continue shake-downs each Spring, until all hives maintained are in the process of retrogressing back onto a natural biological system. It is suggested that newly caught feral swarms be allowed to do the balance of the drawing-out of foundation work each year, along with forced-splits (swarm cells in colonies, necessitating divides rather than having bees go to the bushes), until all hives maintained have been converted.

The third year is a big year for stabilization, for by now what hives are going to die, have. Further, what hives are going to survive, are. It is the year for beekeepers to start making limited honey production again. It is also the year to get 4.9mm comb foundation drawn-out, because beekeepers reaching this year with their bees should have whole boxes of brood to work with, including accompanying stores of honey and pollen, to start Spring build-up. By not having the first box of comb to draw out, beekeepers will find their hives will now start sooner in the Spring to brood and whiten comb; allowing for populations to build faster pot-progressive by at least one brood cycle.

It is critical this third year of hive retrogression to continue culling all combs not drawn-out properly. CULL ANY COMBS WITH MORE THAN 10% DRONE CELLS DRAWN ON ANY ONE FRAME SIDE. MAKE THIS A MANDATORY FIELD MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUE. ALSO CULL ANY COMBS DRAWN-OUT IN A BROKEN PATTERN HELTER-SKELTER. There is valid reason for doing this, i.e. 1) to prevent reproduction of mites in drone brood; 2) to prevent laying of worker brood in too large a cell, therefore preventing/limiting reproduction of mites in these oversized cells too; 3) to help limit the spread of secondary diseases associated with mites, by their wound infection bites upon the exoskeleton of the bees (varroa mites) or their internal organs (tracheal Mites).

It is important for beekeepers going back to biological beekeeping with accompanying decontamination processing of their wax combs (melt combs down and restart their outfits), that they REFRAIN FROM FURTHER USE OF CHEMICALS, ESSENTIAL OILS, AND ANTIBIOTICS, so that it will not become necessary to do it again, due to the excessive time and cost involved, both to themselves and more importantly, their bees. Beekeepers must remember that pesticides and other foreign substances have been shown to be both movable into wax and out of wax into honey. Once the decision is made and action of decontamination processing is accomplished, beekeepers must remember they need their wax to continually become less and less saturated by diluting, with their bees help, what little residues are left in the foundation bases they milled from recycled wax to restart their colonies. To be biologically sound in management, beekeepers need to refrain from reintroducing foreign substances, especially contact poison treatments that allow during the course of their bees movement within their hives, the addition of new layers of contamination. If this would happen, it would have the effect of re-elevating residues they worked so hard to get rid of during decontamination processing, besides recontaminating woodenware (frames, supers, tops, bottoms, etc.). This would have the effect of making it necessary to restart decontamination processing all over again if biological beekeeping is still their end-goal!

Beekeepers need to plan on marking their frames if they can acquire uncontaminated beeswax from either feral cut-outs or purchase on the open market, to recycle into new foundation base, that shows the wax to be fully clean, rather than having gone through decontamination processing that still might contain some residues. Later (figure 4-5 years average), after their hives have stabilized and they are extracting clean wax (no new added residues to the foundation base, making for 90% new wax added by bees, with the caps being essentially non detectable), beekeepers should cull marked decontaminated frames again (those combs that still have some residues locked within the foundation base from the 1st decontamination processing) and reprocess the wax, selling to bulk buyers or process into candles and sell. These frames should be replaced by clean wax from extracting or feral cut-out wax (or both) that has been recycled into foundation base.(Note: Honeybees will rarely take the trouble to thin down the cell base bottom on milled foundation, but they will readily thin down and reuse the wax contained in thick cell walls on foundation base. Therefore, to lock in as much decontaminated wax as possible from the 1st decontamination processing into the foundation base after recycling wax, the foundation must be made thin when embossing, to mimic the old “Diamond Match pattern without the cell walls, so that the bees will add new uncontaminated wax cell walls, while not reusing the wax in the foundation base bottoms. This way, by the time the cells are drawn out with fresh clean wax from the bees own wax glands, the cappings should be safe to cut off for recycling.).

The above marking and sorting of frames within colonies is time consuming, as is the second recycling of comb wax from those frames still containing small amounts of residues left after the 1st recycling, but beekeepers will find marking will be mandatory to go through if they are ever to become fully biological in their beekeeping, with the end purpose of selling ORGANIC HONEY, POLLEN, PROPOLIS, AND WAX. Beekeepers cannot technically manage and sell natural products of honeybees and use substances foreign to a hive that contaminate any of these hive products (Note: This would also include larvae, eggs, brood, etc.). The best way to avoid having to go through this process is to not have used chemicals, essential oils, or antibiotics to begin with; and/or to have access to clean uncontaminated feral cutout wax or purchase uncontaminated wax from someone else. Either way, it’s not going to be easy to take the long way back to biological beekeeping!.

Beekeepers actively manipulating and working colonies up during the third year, need to learn to manage their bees using traditional-style unlimited brood nests, to end the fall season with colonies a minimum of 3 deep supers of bees, pollen, and honey. This will average out to about a box of pollen, a box of honey, and a box of bees at the start of winter, but not necessarily in 3 separate supers. Above these supers are stacked, when needed, the honey supers without the use of queen excluders to separate them from the brood nest. With this traditional-style brood nest, beekeepers will find that the bees will place a majority of the pollen in the bottom half of the hive, while a majority of the honey will be in the top half. Brood will be throughout with a good flow on, but for wintering, many will center with the cluster, dropping down towards Spring and then quickly expanding upward as the season turns on!

It is recommended to let the bees expand to their full potential in the course of the year, supering new boxes of foundation as necessary while at the same time working it in. Beekeepers are urged to make splits only as necessary when swarm cells appear, to keep the bees from going to the bushes, by setting down a box of bees, with accompanying brood, pollen, and honey, and most importantly – THE OLD QUEEN. Leave the old stand (hive) with the majority of the bees and field workers to raise the new one. Keep the hives worked and opened-up at all times. This means leaving empty frames for the queen to lay in or new foundation for the hives to draw-out. DO NOT LET THE HIVES HANKER-DOWN (force the queen down with frames full of honey and pollen during the flows). Feral bees need plenty of room for expansion and WHEN CRAMPED THEY SWARM. If you must, resituate the combs within the hives. Bottom box: 1 honey frame on outsides, next, 2 pollen on outsides coming towards center, equals 6 frames, with the remaining 4 for brood. Second Box: 2 honey on outsides, next 1 pollen on outsides coming towards center, equals 6 frames, with the remaining 4 for brood. Third Box: 3 honey on outsides, next 1 pollen on outsides coming towards center, equals 6 frames, with the remaining 4 for brood. In the fall as the season down swings, let the bees fill out the third box completely for over wintering in colder areas. (Note: above this set-up are the honey supers!) What is traditionally kept in the 3 main boxes of the brood nest belongs to the bees – DO NOT TOUCH THEIR STORES, THEY WILL NEED IT IN THE SPRING TO COME ON STRONG, EARLY, AND FAST. (Note: Once a hive is strong, if it hankers-down with stores and you are actively working the bees up, give the extra stores to a slower paced hive or a hive started late in the season for carry-over stores, so you will not have to feed them. Once you have enough for the bees, then start extracting for yourself on a limited basis this third year. But remember that the objective is to get the bees back to existing on their own biologically with ample stores. Once you arrive there and secure your bees, survivability, then many things become possible, including extracting honey for profit.


Signed: Dee A. Lusby, Amado, Arizona, USA