by C. L. FARRAR*
Entomology Research Division
Agr. Res. Serv., U.S.D.A.**
* Retired. Former Chief of Bee Culture Investibations (now the Apiculture Research Branch) of the Entomology Research Division, Agr. Res. Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture; also former Professor, Department of Entomology, University of Wisconsin.
** Prepared for a major revision of the popular Department of Agriculture Bulletin No. 702, 1946, in cooperation with the Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station. The Department has discontinued comprehensive publications of this type. Consequently, the American Bee Journal has published it in a series of articles from March to the October issue of 1968. It has now been reprinted. See box at end of article for details.
The basic requirement for productive colony management in beekeeping are large food reserves of pollen and honey at all times and ample room for these food reserves, brood rearing, and the storage of surplus honey. Young productive queens from good stock are essential. The queen should be supported by a large population favorable to the time of the year.
The object is to build maximum colony populations for the nectar flow and maintain them throughout the season. The most populous colonies produce not only the most honey per colony but the most honey per bee. Brood rearing is the basis of colony development and the maintenance of maximum populations during the flow. It is dependent upon: (1) the queen’s capacity to lay eggs, (2) the supporting population’s ability to maintain favorable temperature and feed the brood, (3) reserves of pollen and honey, and (4) space in the proper position for expansion of the brood nest.
Manipulations that maintain the most favorable organization of hive equipment for maximum brood rearing and honey storage will help to insure strong colonies and minimize swarming. The maintenance of a reserve of young productive queens in nuclei makes it possible to replace inferior queens promptly. The development of colonies inadequately provisioned with pollen can be increased by feeding pollen supplemented with 75 percent of soybean flour. Efficient management requires the proper timing of colony development so that maximum populations will coincide with the available nectar flows.
The beekeeper should be familiar with sources of pollen and nectar within his locality, their time of bloom, and relative importance. The selection of stock and equipment and the location and size of the apiary are individual problems subject only to the certain standards of principles discussed. An analysis of the economics of each beekeeping enterprise will prove helpful in developing efficiency in management. The most effective means of lowering the cost of honey production is to increase colony yields.
Successful bee management entails the skillful application of knowledge and practices that will fully utilize the productive capacity of the honey-bee colony, with productivity favorably balanced against capital, operational, and labor costs. Because there are individual colonies in most apiaries that produce three to four times more honey than the average colony, the opportunities for improving colony management are at least threefold. Management costs for low-producing colonies usually equal and often exceed those for the best colonies because they require more labor to correct deficiencies that should be avoided. By raising the average yield to equal more closely that of the higher producing colonies, the beekeeper is also likely to improve productivity of his best colonies.
The honey-bee colony is highly adaptable to a wide range of climatic conditions and is usually productive wherever man successfully cultivates forage, fruit, and vegetable crops. There are many areas where the natural vegetation provides abundant pollen and nectar resources that equal or exceed those present in cultivated areas.
The object of colony management is to coordinate the colony’s development with all the natural plant resources available in order to have the maximum number of foraging bees when the major nectar producing plants are in blossom. Every colony will have its own maximum population and production level, but efficient management requires that the beekeeper recognize the different levels of productivity in honeybee stocks and keep only the best.
The principles of productive colony management are similar in all areas where bees are kept. Management problems in different regions vary only in the timing of colony development to coincide with the location’s nectar and pollen resources as influenced by the climate and plant species available, including their abundance and period of bloom.
Honey bees are kept primarily for production of honey and wax, yet their role in pollinating seed and fruit crops contributes an economic return to agriculture many times greater than that derived from surplus honey and wax. Many thousands of colonies are kept or obtained through rental services for use in pollinating commercial seed and fruit crops. The need for pollinating bees has not yet been satisfied, and future requirements for this service can be expected to increase. Both pollination and honey production are dependent upon the number of bees that visit the flowers. Management, which increases the colony’s honey storing efficiency, will also improve plant pollination.
The normal, unrestricted colony is capable of surviving and producing honey from the arctic to the tropics if there are sufficient blooming plants that produce pollen and nectar to provide food for the colony. Man is the honey bees’ worst enemy. He tends to leave insufficient food for the colony’s use during dearth periods and fails to provide ample hive space for the colony to develop and store honey, forcing it to swarm. A colony that swarms is substandard in strength during the production period, and it may even store insufficient food for its own survival.
The abundant pollen and nectar resources available in the most highly developed commercial beekeeping regions have been more or less responsible for extensive beekeeping operations involving “thousands of hives” with a minimum of thought as to what constitutes a full-strength colony of bees. There may be as much difference between “hives of bees” and full-strength colonies as there is between a calf and a producing cow. The rapid changes taking place in all agriculture may be expected to shift the emphasis from hives in great numbers to well-managed colonies. It is doubtful whether there is any beekeeping location where more than a small fraction of the available nectar is harvested by the bees. This may not be true of the pollen resources required for developing high-producing colonies. There are management procedures, however, for minimizing a pollen deficiency. Pollen gathering like nectar gathering is balanced by the supply of pollen produced by the flora and the number of bees to gather it. It is possible that colonies are unable to capitalize on many early pollen sources because their populations are too small when these plants blossom.
This provides information on principles and practices that will give the maximum return for each colony. The management practices discussed are directed towards the production of extracted honey in regions providing a dormant winter period due to low temperatures. The principles on which these are based, however, apply equally to comb honey production and to other regions where there is an absence of pollen and nectar gathering due to normal plant growth cycles. Methods of handling the honey crop are not considered. No attempt is made to include all the well-known facts concerning bee life; neither are the advantages and disadvantages of the many specialized plans of management favored by individual beekeepers discussed. A vast beekeeping literature covers these subjects.
Fundamentals of Productive Beekeeping
An understanding of the fundamental relationships between colony populations and egg laying, brood rearing, and production, as well as the time factor in population growth, is necessary to obtain maximum honey crops under any system of management. The cause-and-effect relationships are shown graphically in figures 1, 2, and 3 for colonies headed by prolific queens unrestricted because of insufficient pollen, honey or hive space.
Colony populations are balanced by the colony’s capacity for brood rearing, the time required to develop brood, and the length of life of adult bees. Good queens seldom lay more than 1,600 eggs per day. Twenty days are required for the brood to mature. Adult bees live from 4 to 6 weeks during the active season, and their longevity is influenced greatly by the intensity of brood rearing. Bees in small colonies that rear a proportionately large amount of brood have shorter lives than bees in more populous colonies. The amount of brood reared is influenced by the queen’s egg-laying capacity, the colony’s population, the supply of both pollen and honey, and the available comb space and its position.
The ratio between sealed brood and colony populations decreases 10 to 14 percent for each increase of 10,000 bees, whereas the average daily rate of egg laying by the queen increases with a rise in population up to 40,000 bees (fig. 1). A large colony produces more brood than a small colony yet has a higher proportion of its bees available for gathering pollen and nectar.
The production per unit number of bees in the colony is considerably greater in stronger colonies than in smaller colonies, since proportionately fewer bees are engaged in brood rearing. The relationships illustrated in figure 2 are expressed in percentages, since the available nectar will determine the actual colony gain.
During a 2 weeks’ honeyflow, a full-strength colony with 60,000 bees will normally produce 50 percent more honey than four small colonies each with 15,000 bees. Under a longer flow, the four small colonies will increase in population because of their higher relative brood production, thus narrowing the difference in yield between one strong colony and the four small colonies. There is no advantage, however, in keeping small colonies just because their storing efficiency increases; it is better management to have all colonies storing at maximum efficiency throughout the flow.
The time factors expressed in numbers of days required for the three classes of colonies to reach a maximum strength and enhance their maximum production efficiency are shown in figure 3. These colony growth curves are based upon daily egg-laying rates, time of brood development, and the length of life for adult bees when healthy colonies are headed by good queens and abundantly supplied with honey, pollen, and hive space in a favorable position. The production efficiency per unit number of bees in the two-queen colony is equal to or slightly greater than that of full-strength single-queen colonies. When a measurable nectar flow develops about the time the second queen is introduced, the storing efficiency of the colony will be lowered, since more bees will be engaged in raising brood from the two queens. On the other hand, its production efficiency will be higher than that of single-queen colonies when united back to single-queen status. For 20 days such colonies have essentially double populations with brood from eggs laid by only one queen.
Good nectar flows are often not recognized because colony populations are too small to show gains. The producer of package bees can profitably manage colonies within the range of 10,000 to 20,000 bees, periodically shaking market bees. This is because colonies with 10,000 bees raise proportionately more brood than larger colonies. The beekeeper who keeps colonies for honey production or plant pollination must direct his management towards developing all colonies to full strength for particular crops. Package bees used to establish new colonies require 11 to 13 weeks to reach full production efficiency The division of strong colonies 6 to 8 weeks in advance of the principal nectar flow to establish two-queen colonies is a means of obtaining relatively higher brood production early in the season and high production efficiency when nectar is available.
The object of management is to coordinate colony development to fully utilize the natural resources provided by the pollen and nectar producing plants in that area. The accepted commercial standard of 100 pounds of surplus honey per colony is not a desirable basis for judging the efficiency of any plan of management. Colonies that are at maximum producing strength throughout the flow may yield several times this amount. Only the best colonies should be used to judge the honey-producing resources of any season or locality.
The established beekeeper should prepare for a crop about a year in advance of the honeyflow. Reserve honey and pollen must be obtained to carry the colonies through dearth periods, including the winter when plant life is dormant. A colony to be overwintered in northern regions must rear sufficient brood to provide a cluster of 8 to 10 pounds of young bees that emerge between August 20 and the early part of October. In southern regions brood rearing may be extended 4 to 6 weeks later in the season.
The theory that reduced brood rearing or a queenless condition during a flow lasting 5 weeks will permit the colonies to produce a larger crop, because it takes 5 weeks to develop field bees after the eggs are laid, is not supported by actual returns. The superior working morale of normal colonies enables them to store more honey. Queenless colonies or those in which brood rearing is curtailed show a sharp drop in daily honey gains; also, the resulting decline in their populations may further reduce production from later flows or prevent the colonies overwintering properly.
Pollen and Nectar Resources
Productive colonies require large quantities of pollen and honey throughout the year to insure maximum populations during a major flow. Each colony requires 40 to 60 pounds of pollen and several hundred pounds of honey for rearing brood and feeding the adult population. Many plants contribute pollen and nectar before or after the major nectar flow to meet these requirements. Early-spring sources of pollen are just as essential for colony development as nectar sources are for a honeyflow. It is important in developing an efficient plan of colony management to have continuity of bloom throughout the growing season provided by a variety of plant species.
A location suitable for honey production must have one or more species of plants that yield abundant nectar from which honey of good marketable quality is produced. It is hazardous to depend entirely upon a single source of nectar, especially one having a short period of bloom. Weather conditions may prevent one source from yielding whereas another source may contribute a crop.
The value of any plant is determined by its time of bloom as well as by the quantity of pollen or nectar produced. Early-spring plants might be unimportant if they blossomed later in the season, but they are extremely valuable for advancing colony development. Unsettled weather early in the season often prevents the bees from foraging every day, yet the early blossoming plants contribute to the colony’s pollen supply, which is necessary for uninterrupted brood rearing.
Ample reserves of pollen and honey can make the colonies practically independent of weather conditions. Early pollen and nectar sources do, however, help to maintain colony food reserves so apiaries should be located where they can take advantage of them whenever weather conditions are favorable.
If the beekeeper is to manage his colonies for efficient gathering of pollen and nectar, he must understand the effect of the various weather factors on the condition of the plants and on the activity of the bees. He can best obtain this knowledge by studying the official weather forecasts for his area in relation to the blooming dates and abundance of bee plants, the activity of his bees, and the colony gains, and by keeping records over a period of years. A strong colony of bees maintained on platform scales for recording the daily or weekly changes in weight will provide an index of the nectar flows. A small or even an average scale colony will not provide a satisfactory record, for the same reason that average yields are not so significant in judging the plant resources as are maximum yields.
Knowledge of the kind of plants, their abundance, and the period of bloom within the area of operation has great value in anticipating colony management problems. The beekeeper can manage his colonies more successfully if he is familiar with the soil types in his locality. Plants growing on different soil types respond differently to drought and excessive moisture. Changing agricultural practices also make it imperative that he know the farmers in his area, the crops they plan to grow, pesticides they plan to use, and their plans for harvesting crops that have value to the bees. It is unwise to leave to chance those things that so vitally affect the resources for production in a business as complex as beekeeping.
Nectar Flows and Honeyflows
Beekeepers usually think of nectar flows and honeyflows as synonymous; yet there is an important difference. A nectar flow is the supplying of nectar as influenced by the plant in relation to its soil and climatic environment. The honeyflow is an expression of the relationship between the colony and the available nectar supply. A group of colonies that differ in population, brood rearing, hive space organization, and other colony factors can express great difference in the level of the honeyflow with access to the same nectar flow.
A general understanding of the conditions affecting nectar secretion is necessary for effective colony management. Nectar secretion is generally heaviest when plants show good growth under favorable sunlight, soil, and moisture conditions. Excessive vegetative growth, however, is not conducive to nectar secretion by many plant species. Severe droughts, plant diseases, or heavy insect infestations often are detrimental to nectar secretion.
Location and Size of Apiary
Apiaries should be located where there are ample acreages of major honey plants within 2 miles, and where the total vegetation provides rich sources of pollen and secondary nectar plants throughout the growing season. Within a 2-mile radius there are more than 8,000 acres of land, which will usually pasture 50 colonies if only a small percentage of the area supports plants producing pollen and nectar. In some regions it is advantageous to choose a permanent site rich in pollen sources during most of the growing season, then move the colonies to a temporary location rich in major honey plants for a flow.
Apiaries should be placed in well-drained locations (both air and moisture) sheltered from prevailing winds. In many western areas artificial windbreaks are made by building slab fences or by interlacing brush into wire fences. Two windbreak fences 15 to 20 feet apart are more effective than a single fence.
Open areas within wood lots, which permit the colonies to be in full sunlight during most of the day, are preferred to shady locations. Sunlight stimulates the bees to fly earlier and later in the day during the summer and to take cleansing flights more frequently during the winter months. In areas where air temperatures exceed 90° F. for long periods of time, natural or artificial shade is beneficial to the colonies. Trees and brush surrounding the yard will cause the bees to fly higher when leaving and returning to the apiary, thus reducing the risk of their becoming a nuisance to nearby farm activities. A source of water for the bees is essential; if no stream or pond is available, water should be provided in the apiary.
Permanent apiaries should be located away from cultivated fields and homesteads so that the bees will not prove hazardous to horses especially, and other stock or a nuisance to people not concerned with their management, yet near enough to avoid pilfering. They should be fenced to exclude livestock and accessible by truck under most weather conditions.
Every effort should be made to avoid areas where brood diseases are known to be prevalent. Commercial beekeepers wisely will not establish apiaries nearer than 4 miles to another commercial apiary, not so much to avoid overstocking the territory as to reduce the danger of contracting brood diseases or, more often, the fear of contracting them. This policy, of course, cannot apply to home apiaries maintained on neighboring farms. Some beekeepers may find it advantageous to operate several apiaries separated by only 1 or 2 miles. Commercial operators should assist the beekeepers having a few colonies in their vicinity, both in the control of bee diseases and in other management problems.
Hives should be arranged in the yard for convenient manipulation. Provision for a truck to be driven close to them will reduce labor in handling equipment. During the active season, hives that face south, southeast, or east tend to be stimulated to fly by early-morning sunshine. In cold climates, hives facing south have a distinct advantage during the winter as this permits more midday cleansing flights for the bees than an easterly exposure. The bees do not respond to morning sunlight so well, since air temperatures are lower than at midday.
The desirable number of colonies for an apiary is determined by several conditions. Small apiaries require more travel per colony, but they can be managed with less difficulty from robbing bees, and they permit closer control over outbreaks of disease. Small apiaries distribute the bees more uniformly over a given territory to take advantage of the natural pollen resources. There seems to be little danger of overstocking any first-class beekeeping territory during the major honeyflow. A few beekeepers have maintained 200 to 400 colonies in one location successfully over a period of years. It is generally desirable to establish 30- to 50-colony apiaries but located so that two or more can be worked in one day with a minimum of travel.
Selection of Productive Stock
There are greater variations in production efficiency between strains of bees within the three common races (Italian, Caucasian, and Carniolan) than there are between the races. Most bees in North America are predominatly of Italian origin. They vary in color from dark, leather-colored bees to the light-golden strains. The Caucasians and Carniolans are predominantly black with gray pubescence. The tendency for Caucasian bees to use propolis in excess is their most distinguishing characteristic.
Genetically controlled hybrid bees are being developed by selective inbreeding and recombination of the inbred lines to obtain hybrid vigor in stock that is more productive and which express more desirable characteristics than common stock. These hybrids may be expected to come into more general use in the immediate future. By appropriate combination of inbred lines of the right color types, the controlled hybrids can be more uniform in color than any of the accepted racial stocks. If the bee breeder obtains true superiority from a combination of lines that requires sacrificing uniformity in color, few beekeepers should object. Genetically controlled hybrids should not be confused with bees resulting from a general mixture of racial stock that have not been subjected to selection for specific characteristics.
Stock should be selected for production efficiency regardless of race or color. Queens capable of producing large brood nests of good quality must be the first consideration in stock selection. Good stock will produce and maintain maximum colony populations by the time the main honeyflow begins. A prolific queen will require the equivalent of from 12 to 18 standard combs, depending upon the amount of honey and pollen in the hive even though theoretically all of her brood could be contained in 5 to 6 combs.
Stock producing brood of even moderately poor quality should be discarded. Figure 4 shows the extreme difference found in the quality of brood. Spotted brood, indicating poor quality, is due either to low viability or to irregular egg laying by the queen. The brood quality can be judged better from the unsealed larvae (larvae uniform in size and no “skips” within an area) than from the sealed brood. A poor queen may refill these gaps, particularly in new package colonies, so that her inferior quality may not be detected for 2 or more weeks when the sealed brood has emerged and the colony population has increased somewhat. A good queen, however, may have spotted brood if the colony is deficient in pollen or honey or when heavy collection of pollen and nectar causes the bees to compete with the queen for empty cells. A queen restricted to one brood chamber may appear to have better brood if judged only by the sealed brood than one occupying two or more brood chambers.
Bees that are vicious should be eliminated. The tendency for bees to sting bears no relation to production efficiency. Bees of any race or strain will sometimes sting, but cross bees slow up hive manipulations and may prove a nuisance in the community. Good stock will respond to smoke and be reasonably quiet on the combs during manipulation.
Differences in the swarming tendencies of strains or races are not well established. Under extracted-honey production, swarming is a minor problem and is usually controlled by proper management. Differences in the ability of stocks to winter well also are minimized by proper management.
Other qualities that may characterize superior bees include resistance to diseases, large body size and carrying capacity, increased longevity, minimum supersedure of queens, a tendency to fly at lower temperatures, and a propensity for collection of larger quantities of pollen than common stocks.
Not all strains of bees are equally productive; yet no one strain can be recommended as the best. Beekeepers desiring new stock should obtain queens from several queen breeders for comparison. It should be recognized, however, that poorly reared queens of productive stock generally will be inferior to well-reared queens from less productive stocks.
Any size or style of hive providing flexibility for arrangement will enable the beekeeper to obtain maximum crops when enough hive units are provided and organized to meet the colony’s optimum space requirements. Uniformity in hive-body size for use both as brood chambers and supers is highly desirable. Since multiple brood chambers are required for developing full-strength colonies, it is unfortunate that supply manufacturers and most authors continue to restrict the term “brood chamber” to the first hive body above the bottom board. Brood chambers include all hive bodies required by the colony for rearing brood and storage of its reserve food supply-honey and pollen. Supers include all hive bodies used for the storage of surplus honey.
The standard 10-frame or Langstroth hive is most widely used in North America. The original Dadant hive, and later the 11-frame Modified Dadant, held some level of popularity as has the Quincy or jumbo hive, which is like the Langstroth but of Modified Dadant depth. The frames in all hives today have the same length but they vary in depth from 5-3/8, 6-1/4, 9-1/8, to 11-1/4 inches deep and are used in hive bodies accommodating 8, 10, 11, and 12 frames.
While one and two standard 10-frame brood chambers are commonly used, three standard brood chambers provide a better opportunity for developing full-strength colonies, because they permit storage of more adequate food reserves. Two 11-frame Modified Dadant brood chambers are likewise better than one or one and one-half. Standard-depth hive bodies and the deeper Modified Dadant equipment offer many disadvantages when these are used as supers. Many beekeepers are replacing their standard-depth supers with shallow equipment, using the Modified Dadant 6-1/4 inch frame. Use of different sizes of frames for brood chambers and supers does not contribute to efficiency.
Experiments dealing with two-queen colony management at the Bee Culture Laboratory at Madison, Wisconsin, established that standard 10-frame equipment was unsatisfactory for two-queen colonies. Tests were made to determine whether use of several 11-frame Modified Dadant supers as brood chambers (6-1/4 inch frames) would permit queens to develop as populous colonies as obtained in deeper brood chambers. It was found that brood rearing was not curtailed by the depth of frames, it being limited only by the amount of comb space, its position, the food supply, and the queen’s capacity to lay eggs. The 6-1/4 inch frame was chosen as the only shallow frame suitable for brood rearing that was commonly available from all manufacturers. Special-cut square hive bodies taking 12 of these frames were adopted to provide hive capacity for two-queen colonies at a height 18 inches less than the minimum required with standard-depth equipment. This equipment proved so satisfactory for both two-queen and single-queen colony management that all standard 10-frame equipment at the Laboratory has since been cut down to the shallow dimensions.
Shallow equipment permits greater colony control through manipulation of hive bodies and requires less handling of individual frames than is necessary with standard or deeper equipment. Shallow equipment is lighter to handle than standard equipment, and shallow supers will be finished and ready for removal 7 to 10 days sooner than standard-depth supers.
Eight shallow hive bodies, either 10-, 11-, or 12-frames, are desirable for the management of full-strength single-queen colonies. The 10-frame equipment is satisfactory for single-queen colonies, but the 12-frame square equipment is preferable in two-queen colony management. The 11-frame equipment can be used with either type of colony but, 13 hive bodies should be available when used for two queens compared with 12 of the square. Four shallow brood chambers provide the required space for brood rearing and reserve food storage in single-queen colonies. Four shallow supers meet their surplus honey storage requirements. The more rapid finishing of the shallow supers permits their earlier removal, extraction, and return to the colonies for refilling. Thus, the total amount of hive space required is less than with standard equipment. Initial cost of shallow equipment is slightly greater because more hive bodies and frames are required to provide the necessary hive space. The cost of milling the wooden hive parts and their assembly is the same for shallow as for the deep frames. However, this higher cost is more than offset by better colony control and the lighter weight equipment.
An apiary in which first-class hive equipment is used is shown in figure 5. Good equipment simplifies colony management, but it is not so important as the condition of the colonies in the hives.
Full sheets of comb foundation are necessary for the production of good combs. In standard frames, plain brood foundation should be supported by at least four horizontal wires well imbedded, while two imbedded horizontal wires are sufficient for wired and 3-ply foundation. Shallow frames require two wires and one wire, respectively, for the different foundations. Electrical devices that supply 3 to 6 volts to heat the wires are most satisfactory for imbedding the wire into the foundation.
A plastic-base comb foundation has been developed by Dadant & Sons, Inc. that consists of a middle rib of plastic coated with pure beeswax on each side. This type is trademarked Duracomb and the kind with a metal binding on each side of the sheet is trademarked Duragilt. Neither type of plastic-base comb foundation requires wiring.
The most productive colonies are those that have good queens and ample honey, pollen, and hive space at all times. The beekeeper should use a year-round plan of management favorable to the colony rather than a program of arbitrary seasonal management. Normal, queenright colonies consume more pollen and honey than subnormal colonies, but they also yield larger crops of surplus honey because of their greater strength.
Strong colonies headed by good queens and provided with adequate stores of both honey and pollen are capable of surviving severe northern winters in good condition. Strong colonies are those that have been unrestricted in brood rearing and honey storage during the active season. While somewhat smaller colonies may survive in the South than in the North, the basic requirement for good overwintering of colonies is the same, differing only in the amount of food reserves needed. In the South the bees may gather pollen and nectar 1 to 5 months earlier than they do in the North.
Winter losses are not uncommon either in the North or South. Colonies that survive in poor condition often represent a greater actual loss than the loss of those that die. Most colonies are lost from starvation while some fail to survive because they lose their queens; others are lost because of disease, especially nosema. Management for winter is more critical in the North than in the South. In cold regions, colonies may starve with large food stores in the hive if they are not properly organized or if the clusters are too small to keep in contact with these food reserves when temperatures are severe.
It is good practice to take winter losses in the fall. Colonies not strong enough for overwintering should be united with good colonies or killed to prevent needless consumption of stores. Their combs of honey and pollen can be used in starting new colonies with package bees the following spring.
In cold climates the bees cluster together to generate heat and insulate against heat loss from the cluster. The organization of the winter cluster in relation to its store is shown in figures 6 and 7. The bees on the surface cluster form an insulating shell of bees 1 to 3 inches deep to conserve the heat produced by the more active bees within. A temperature is maintained in the center sufficient to conduct heat to the surface bees so that their temperature will not fall below approximately 45° F. even though the air temperature an inch or two away from the cluster’s surface may be below zero. The cluster contracts under declining air temperatures, reducing geometrically the surface exposed to heat radiation and at the same time increasing the depth of the insulating shell of bees while concentrating more bees within to generate heat energy.
The cluster does not heat the unoccupied space in the hive. During a protracted cold period the temperature in this space will become almost as low in a well insulated hive as in one with no protection. Too much hive packing prevents the colony from responding to warm periods during the day which otherwise might allow the cluster to shift its position on the stores or the bees to take cleansing flights.
The quantity and organization of food reserves are equally as important for successful wintering as strong colonies free of disease. In Northern regions, 90 pounds or more of honey in the hive is desirable at the close of brood rearing even though the average colony may consume only 55 to 60 pounds. Sixty pounds of honey is not too much in Southern regions. A pound of honey too little may result in death of a good colony, whereas a 50-pound excess will reduce the amount of honey the bees must store for the next year’s food reserves. The highest consuming colonies during the winter generally produce the largest crops above what is consumed. Honey bees consume only what they need, never for the pleasure of eating.
Large honey reserves are more easily organized where the colony can use them under all extremes of climatic conditions than is the case when a bare minimum of stores is provided. The cluster will not form on solid combs of honey, but the cluster of a strong colony can encompass 40 or more pounds of honey if there is a small area of empty cells in the center. The bees prefer to cluster in the upper part of the hive and on dark brood combs rather than on new, white combs. The most desirable organization of stores in the fall and for spring development is diagramed in figure 8.
Pollen Reserves and Supplements
The size and quality of the surviving populations in overwintered colonies are proportional to their fall pollen reserves when they entered the inactive season with normal populations, good queens, and adequate honey stores. Colonies begin rearing brood in January in cold regions. If they have ample pollen, they will replace their fall population with young bees by the time new pollen is available in the spring (fig. 9). In warm regions, colonies may start brood rearing in January in response to pollen gathered from early blossoming plants. Pollen reserves, however, are equally important in such areas because inclement weather too often prevents the bees from gathering pollen continuously and in sufficient quantity to sustain brood rearing. Intermittent brood rearing often taxes the total vitality of the colony in excess of gains resulting from those young bees which do emerge.
Winter brood rearing in both northern and southern regions prevents spring dwindling and insures strong colonies that are capable of replacing the store, consumed during the winter from early blossoming plants. Colonies retarded for lack of pollen seldom gather sufficient nectar from these early sources for beekeepers to recognize their importance as honey plants. Colonies unable to rear brood in winter for lack of pollen seldom collect sufficient nectar to maintain their weight during these early honeyflows, and they often fail to reach maximum productive strength by the time the main flow begins.
In northern regions, winter pollen reserves must be within the cluster to be available for brood rearing. Pollen stored in the comb is not moved by the bees but is fed on directly. Honey that is not in a favorable position will be moved by the bees from one part of the hive to another whenever hive temperatures permit.
Beekeepers are inclined to take for granted that their colonies have ample pollen reserves. However, there is no beekeeping region, north or south, where all colonies have adequate pollen reserves every year to insure their optimum development for the production of package bees, honey, or to pollinate commercial crops. Poor queens can be replaced, sugar can be fed when honey stores are deficient, hive space can be provided and properly organized, but the beekeeper is dependent upon the natural resources of the locality for the pollen that is required to develop large colony populations for a specific production period.
The amount of reserve pollen required by a colony depends upon the time early plant sources blossom in the spring and their abundance. Inclement weather may hinder the collection of pollen in the spring even though the vegetation could provide a good source. Brood-rearing requirements are normally met by the equivalent of three to six well-filled combs of reserve pollen in the fall in localities that provide fairly dependable sources of early pollen. Larger reserves are required some years because either the plants or the weather prevents normal pollen gathering.
The pollen reserves in colonies of the same apiary may range from none to more than the colony can use. Larger than normal reserves are accumulated by colonies that supersede their queens when the flora produces pollen abundantly because less is required for feeding brood. When disease is absent, these pollen reserves may be equalized between colonies by exchange of combs.
Colonies managed with two queens and then reunited to single-queen status 2 to 4 weeks before the end of the honeyflow generally have larger pollen reserves in the fall than single-queen colonies. In localities where fall pollen reserves are negligible and spring sources are not dependable, it may be good practice to dequeen colonies after the main honeyflow. The bees of such colonies may be destroyed after all the brood has emerged, and the combs of honey and pollen saved until spring to support early brood production in newly established package colonies.
Where pollen reserves are inadequate, bulk pollen supplemented1 by soybean flour may be used to advance early brood production. Colonies are able to rear more than six times the amount of brood from a given quantity of pollen when it is added to three times its weight of expeller-processed soybean flour and mixed with heavy sugar sirup (2:1) to form a dough like cake. Pollen supplements, however, are not equal to natural pollen reserves, and to supply it to the colonies in the fall is impractical to support winter brood rearing.
1 Schaefer, C. W., and Farrar, C. L. The use of pollen traps and pollen supplements in developing honeybee colonies. U. S. Bur. Ent. and Plant Quar. E-531, Revised 1960. 7 pp., illus. 1946. (Processed)
Bulk pollen is obtained by installing pollen traps (fig. 10) on about 2 percent of the colonies. The use of pollen traps is limited to home apiaries, since the trapped pollen should be removed every 1 to 3 days. Approximately 1 pound of trapped pollen is needed in the supplement required for each producing colony. The trapped pollen may be either dried until the pellets do not cake when squeezed (about 20 percent reduction in weight from loss of moisture) or stored moist in a deep freeze. Immediately after drying it, pollen should be placed in closed containers (5-gallon honey cans hold 28 to 39 pounds) to prevent infestation by wax and meal moths. Recent tests by Smith and Townsend indicate fresh pollen can be stored by mixing it with equal parts of granulated sugar; and by Harp and Whitefoot who designed a “brushing mill” for blending fresh pollen with an equal quantity of expeller-processed soybean flour for storage. The amount of sugar or soybean flour used for storage of pollen must be taken into account when preparing the pollen-supplement cakes for feeding.
Pollen supplement may be fed advantageously 6 to 8 weeks prior to normal pollen collection and continued until pollen gathering is adequate to support brood rearing. A cake of pollen supplement one-half inch thick weighing about 1-1/2 pounds should be placed directly over the cluster and covered with paraffin paper to prevent drying (fig. 11). The inner cover is inverted to provide space for the cake. Subsequently, the amount fed should be regulated so that it will be consumed in 2 weeks. As brood rearing expands and young bees emerge, 2-, 3-, or 4-pound cakes should be added. Before a cake is entirely consumed, a new one should be provided to prevent the loss of partially developed brood. First-class colonies may require an average of 10 pounds of pollen supplement during a 6-week period prior to dependable pollen collection while some colonies may use 15 pounds or more some seasons.
The formula for mixing pollen supplement consists of one part dry matter (1 part pollen and 3 parts soybean flour) and 2 parts sugar sirup (2 parts sugar and 1 part water).
Preparation of 90 pounds of pollen supplement is accomplished with the following proportions of materials mixed in sequence: 7-1/2 pounds pollen, 20 pounds hot water, 40 pounds sugar, and 22-1/2 pounds expeller – processed soy flour. Pollen softens in water better than in sirup, so it should be added to the hot water before dissolving the sugar. When a supply of trapped pollen is not available, soybean flour mixed with sugar sirup in the same manner will prove of some value, provided the bees are able to obtain some pollen from the field.
Sodium sulfathiazole or a specific antibiotic, when required for disease prevention, can be dissolved in the water at normal dosages during the preparation of pollen supplement. However, fumagillin for nosema control should be increased to 200 milligrams per gallon of sirup used in preparing the supplement instead of 100 milligrams per gallon when sirup is fed. Fumagillin, erythromycin, streptomycin, terramycin, and sodium sulfathiazole can all be combined as required for specific disease problems without one interfering with the effectiveness of another.
Honey-bee colonies require large quantities of water for rearing brood when nectar is not being gathered; also for cooling the hive during high temperature periods. Precise estimates of the amount used by a colony have not been made for all situations but 50-colony apiaries have taken up to 50 gallons of water in a week. Provision for an ample water supply is essential to good colony management.
At temperatures above 100° F., colonies cannot control hive temperatures without water. The bees cluster outside, eggs and small larvae become desiccated, older larvae crawl from the cells, and under the most severe conditions there will be mortality of the sealed brood and of adult bees.
Bees prefer water at temperatures above 65° and below 90° F., and they will not accept water much above 100° F.
A sanitary water supply will aid in reducing the spread of nosema disease, and in urban areas it will reduce complaints of bees being a nuisance around residences. A watering vat employing sheet synthetic sponge and an automatic water level control (fig. 12) will permit periodic sterilization of the water source. Sterilization can be accomplished by soaking the sponge sheets in hot water and thoroughly flushing out the shallow water reservoir. Exposure of nosema spores to a 138° F. temperatures for 10 minutes renders them noninfectious. Sponges squeezed free of excess water and submerged in a tank of 160° to 180° F. water for 30 minutes will normally receive a heat treatment sufficient to render nosema spores nonviable.
Colony Manipulation During the Active Season
Colony management throughout the active season should be directed toward maintaining conditions favorable for maximum brood rearing and honey storage. This can be accomplished when prolific queens are supported by large populations, reserve pollen and honey, and ample hive space organized to satisfy the normal behavior of the colony.
Colony manipulations should be made at more or less regular intervals to provide or readjust the hive space that will permit unrestricted brood rearing and honey storage. The normal behavior of the colony is to expand the brood nest upward in the hive. Reserve pollen is placed in empty cells within and around the brood nest in a narrow band. Excess pollen is more likely to be stored in combs immediately below the brood nest, whereas honey is usually stored around and immediately above the active brood nest. During heavy production periods, honey and pollen will be stored in any available space within the hive. However, the colony will not maintain maximum brood rearing unless room is provided in a normal position for an expanding brood nest and for the storage of honey and pollen. The colony that is severely restricted will prepare to swarm. Swarm preparations reduce the colony’s storing morale and hence its productivity. Swarming, dividing the population, may result in loss of the honey crop and the colonies may not be capable of overwintering.
An overwintered colony should have 7 to 10 pounds of young bees reared late in the winter and early in the spring and 6 to 8 frames of brood 5 to 6 weeks prior to the main honeyflow. Colonies wintered without pollen reserves may have from 2 to 5 pounds of old bees, which die off rapidly when new pollen collected stimulates brood production. Unless favorable weather permits continuous pollen gathering, these populations may dwindle to a point where they no longer can be built up even for low level production.
Early in the spring practically all the brood is located in the top brood chamber (fig. 13A). Some of the reserve honey left in the lower brood chamber in the fall will have been moved up, since honey below the brood is not in the normal position.
Colony development can be advanced by interchanging the brood chambers (fig. 13A1 and B1). When this is done early in the spring before danger of cold weather is past, some honey should be placed in the upper hive body directly above the brood nest. When the queen occupies the upper hive body, the bees will move honey from below whenever temperatures permit.
Colonies lacking adequate pollen reserves should be provided with cakes of pollen and soybean flour until pollen collection from the field is sufficient to support normal brood rearing. Any combs containing pollen should be placed as close to the brood nest as possible. Methods for overcoming pollen shortages were discussed under “Pollen Reserves and Supplements.”
Under no circumstances should honey stores be allowed to run short. A large reserve of honey is the most practical method of feeding colonies, but those low on stores should be fed 2:1 sugar sirup (fig. 14). A drawn comb will hold 3 to 4 pounds of sirup; three to five filled combs should be given to good colonies. The inverted-pail or division-board feeder should be used in feeding new colonies started on frames of foundation.
Good colonies may require super combs to provide clustering space when the bees cover all the combs in the brood chambers, even though no appreciable amount of honey may be stored. Supers of foundation should be added only when the bees are gathering sufficient nectar to secrete wax and draw new comb. Strong colonies often make substantial gains in weight from early plant sources while retarded colonies would indicate no evidence of a honeyflow.
Throughout the active season the brood chambers should be interchanged whenever the queen requires room for upward expansion of her brood nest. Three standard or four shallow depth supers are usually required during the main honeyflow, but an additional super may be needed to hold the incoming nectar until the honey is thoroughly ripened. To obtain thicker combs to facilitate uncapping of the combs for extracting, one less than the normal complement of frames should be spaced equally in the supers.
The normal organization for fully equipped colonies during the main honeyflow before and after manipulations is shown in figure 15. When the top brood chamber is well filled with young brood and honey and the super above is one-third to one-half full of honey, the colony should be reorganized as shown in figure 15 A1 or B1. This organization should be maintained by interchanging the position of the brood chambers and supers at intervals of 7 to 10 days prior to and during the early part of the main flow.
After these hive manipulations, the queen will occupy the upper brood chambers, where space is made available by emerging bees. The young brood in the lower chamber will mature to the sealed and emerging stages, and considerable honey will be moved from the lower brood chambers to the supers above. Honey will be stored chiefly in the empty super placed above the brood nest, but ripened honey will be added to complete the partially filled supers at the top of the hive. As soon as the top supers are finished, the honey should be extracted and the empty combs returned for refilling.
The colony organization shown in figure 15A1 and B1 draws bees from the brood nest in which the queen is laying to care for brood in the lower chamber and to finish the top supers. The colony is not restricted either in brood production or in honey storage. Because the population will be distributed throughout the hive, the swarming impulse is reduced to a minimum. Successful practice is dependent upon maintaining this organization by proper timing of these manipulations.
The use of queen excluders between the brood nest and the supers is not essential if the interchange of brood chambers is properly timed. The queen will normally utilize the space available in the upper brood chambers before moving into the first super.
Freshly extracted combs returned to the colony for refilling should be placed above partially filled supers until they are cleaned up and contain some honey. These “wet combs” are especially attractive to the queen when first cleaned up by the bees. The queen is almost certain to occupy them if they are placed immediately above the brood nest. Early in the honeyflow, the first super above the brood nest should not be allowed to remain there until filled. Such a honey barrier will reduce storage in supers above and force more honey into the brood chambers. Too much honey restriction in the brood nest will reduce the colony population during the latter part of a long flow or for overwintering.
When the colony is storing well in three supers, it is good practice to top super and omit further interchanging of the brood chambers. This forces the bees to finish supers in a minimum of time. It avoids too many unfinished supers as well as brood chambers that are too light to provide the colony with adequate food reserves. Once the colony has established a good storing morale, it will use comb space that is not in the optimum position. These empty supers on top serve as a safety valve if the flow proves more intense than anticipated. However, the amount of honey in the brood chambers should be checked periodically and, when the queen is being restricted by an excess of honey in the brood chambers, the lighter supers should be placed directly above the brood nest. If restriction is severe, even the brood chamber may have to be interchanged to conform to the organization diagramed in figures 15A1 and B1.
In localities where considerable strong-flavored nectar is gathered before the main honeyflow, the colonies should be crowded temporarily to concentrate and force the sealing of this honey. The strong-flavored honey may be removed and extracted, or, when hive equipment is plentiful, removed and stored until it can be returned to the colonies for use in brood rearing. Although interchanging the brood chambers forces the bees to move honey from the brood nest because it is placed below, they move very little honey that has been sealed in the outside combs. It is more practical to maintain the proper hive space organization so as to obtain a full crop even at the risk of a slight blending of strong honey with the choice.
When a beekeeper is starting or expanding his apiary, he must use frames of foundation in place of drawn combs. The problems of management are increased when less than three hive bodies of drawn combs are available for each colony. New colonies started entirely on foundation should be fed sugar sirup until all combs are drawn in the brood chambers or until a honeyflow makes feeding no longer necessary.
Supers of foundation should not be given except when a honeyflow is on, for the bees may damage it before the flow. Strong colonies, however, often require supers to provide clustering space before the honeyflow, and this can be provided only when drawn combs are available. When combs are not available, strong colonies may be held back until the honeyflow by taking a few combs of brood and bees from these to strengthen retarded colonies; by interchanging position of strong and weaker colonies; or they may be supered with foundation and fed just enough thin sirup (1:2) to keep them drawing the foundation.
When adding the first super of foundation, it is good practice to “bait” the foundation by exchanging one or two frames of foundation for frames of honey from the brood nest, preferably unsealed honey. When the bees begin to draw the foundation, the bait combs may be returned to the brood nest. Similarly, if foundation must be used in the second brood chamber, bait combs should be raised from the first brood chamber. The frames of foundation used to replace them should be placed adjacent to unsealed larvae. As more room is required, other supers with foundation should be added above the top brood chamber and beneath partially filled supers. During a moderate honeyflow the new supers may be baited by exchanging combs from the super above, but during a good flow the upper super in which the bees are storing will draw bees onto the foundation below.
The best combs are obtained when foundation is drawn in supers rather than in the brood chambers. Combs drawn in the supers will be attached at all sides of the frames, whereas the bees usually cut openings along the ends and bottom bars when combs are drawn in the brood chamber. If queen excluders are used, supers with foundation should be placed directly over the upper brood chamber with the excludes beneath the partially filled supers above. After the bees have partially drawn the foundation, the excluders may be put down. Queen excluders cause the bees to store more honey in the brood nest, a tendency that is aggravated when foundation is used.
Colonies managed under the two-queen system2 (fig. 16) may yield twice the crop obtainable from single-queen colonies with less labor and equipment per pound of honey produced. Such colonies accumulate larger pollen reserves after being reduced to single-queen status. This pollen has real value in overwintering stronger colonies for the next season.
2 Farrar, C. L. Two-queen colony management for honey production. USDA-ARS- 33-48, 9 pp., illus., Aug. 1958 [Processed]
Two-queen colonies can be overwintered in all five brood chambers or they may be reduced to four chambers. The bottom brood nest requires little attention, except to make certain its queen is laying properly, provided super chambers 3 and 4 are not permitted to become heavy with honey. These should be raised to positions 8 and 9 when they are about half filled with honey. Brood chambers 5 and 7 should be interchanged at weekly intervals throughout the flow to prevent this brood nest from becoming honey bound. An empty super placed on top (position 12) is desirable during good honeyflows, since these colonies may gain 20 to 35 pounds per day; also, one should be prepared to extract two to three supers per week to maintain ample storage space. Two-queen colonies should be reduced to single-queen status (fig. 16D) 2 to 4 weeks before the end of the honeyflow. Reuniting of two-queen colonies too early will reduce production more than a delay of a week or two. The young queen introduced when establishing the upper brood nest generally survives, and this is of value for overwintering strong colonies.
Inspection for Disease
Colonies should be inspected frequently for disease. Strong colonies are likely to pick up disease within a radius of 5 or more miles by robbing other hives. It is unsafe to assume that colonies are free of disease because no disease was found on the previous inspection. A new infection may break out at any time, particularly in early spring, or late in the fall. Colonies infected with American foulbrood should be burned immediately. When an abnormal brood condition cannot be identified, assistance should be obtained from the state apiary inspector, or a sample of the dead brood sent to the Bee Disease Investigations Laboratory, Agricultural Research Center, Beltsville, Maryland 20705.
Inspection for and control of bee diseases are important phases of colony management which must not be neglected. The use of sulfa drugs and antibiotics has value in disease prevention when the right medicinal agent is fed properly for each particular disease. Use of drugs should not be substituted for frequent colony inspection, and drugs should be fed only in apiaries known to have a disease potential. Consult with your state apiarist and bulletin3 for materials and methods.
Whenever and whatever drugs are used, they should be fed only to colonies capable of reaching full productive strength for the honeyflow; they should be fed in a manner that will make them available long enough for the bees to clean out any possible infection while protecting the brood or bees from developing the disease; and THEY SHOULD NOT BE FED LATER THAN ONE MONTH prior to the beginning of the surplus producing nectar flow. Failure to control disease early will result in inferior colonies for producing the crop; to feed them later will risk contamination of the surplus honey. Federal and State laws permit no tolerance of drugs in market honey.
3 Identifying bee diseases in the apiary. USDA ARS Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 313. 19 pp. 1967
Prevention of Robbing
Robbing bees can be a serious menace to colonies during and following necessary hive manipulations. Any hive manipulation that involves taking colonies apart for disease inspection, requeening, space reorganization, or in the removal of surplus honey can stimulate bees from other colonies or the colony being examined to rob exposed honey. The exposed colony is temporarily demoralized and unable to defend itself. Weak colonies and nuclei are especially vulnerable to robbers. Robbing is seldom a problem during the honeyflow but, if started before the flow, the robbing bees may continue to rob during the flow until they die. Robbing slows up colony manipulation, thus increasing labor costs; it can contribute to the spread of disease; and, it can result in loss of queens or entire colonies.
Robbing is easily prevented but difficult to stop once started. Prevention: (1) Never expose honey outside the hives, in equipment that is not bee tight, or in open buildings; (2) never expose hives bodies, covers, or any other hive equipment just removed from colonies any time robbing might develop; (3) avoid colony manipulations in the vicinity of a building where honey is being extracted after the honeyflow; (4) avoid exposing extracted supers, canvases, trucks, and other equipment having even traces of honey that bees can reach; (5) unload and load trucks inside a bee-tight extracting building or within a screened enclosure; (6) complete necessary colony manipulations quickly and with a minimum disturbance to the colony; and (7) when manipulations are necessary under conditions favorable to robbing, cover all exposed hive equipment with wet robber cloths and place all burr comb in a container of water. Burlap makes excellent robber cloths because it holds water longer than most other fabrics. The water masks the honey and hive odors that attract robbing bees.
To stop robbing: (1) Discontinue colony manipulations in apiaries when robbing starts; (2) kill or otherwise prevent robbing bees from returning to their hives as they will stimulate increasing numbers to engage in robbing; and (3) reduce hive entrances of good colonies and remove any weak colonies from the area. Green grass placed over the entrances will provide a temporary reduction that is adequate for colonies to become reorganized for defense if relatively few bees are robbing.
It is desirable to keep good hive equipment that fits together properly both in the prevention and control of robbing. Judicious use of wet robber cloths will permit all necessary hive manipulations, including requeening, to be made at any time. If a few bees start to rob, hive manipulations should be suspended until the bees quiet down.
Progressive robbing between colonies is more common than generally recognized. In this type of robbing, the bees from one colony enter another and remove honey without antagonizing the colony being robbed. If detected, the robbing colony many be moved out of the area and additional honey stores may need to be given to the robbed colony.
Increase and Swarming
An increase in the number of colonies during a honeyflow, whether through swarming or division, is usually made at the expense of the honey crop. In localities having either a long or a late major honeyflow, both the number of colonies and the honey crop may be increased by dividing strong colonies early to make medium-strength colonies, which can build up to maximum strength for at least part of the main flow. Increase made after the crop too often is followed by a loss of colonies because the colonies do not reach proper condition for successful wintering.
When colonies have filled their hive space with brood, bees, or honey, it is normal for them to prepare for swarming. Colonies allowed to swarm divide their population and lower the production efficiency of both the parent colony and the swarm. If the nectar flow is of short duration, it may mean a crop failure. Egg laying is curtailed 7 to 10 days prior to swarming, so there is a loss of bees that might participate in the honeyflow.
Swarm control is an essential part of efficient colony management. It is desirable to avoid any condition or combination of conditions that will prevent normal expansion in brood rearing or honey storage and induce swarm preparations. Strong colonies may become congested prior to the honeyflow when drawn combs are not available for the clustering of bees above the brood nest. During a heavy flow, colonies not strong enough to force the bees to occupy the supers may store too much honey in the brood nest and further restrict the colony’s development. Such colonies, when supered with foundation, frequently do not draw the new combs fast enough to hold the incoming nectar. This forces more honey into the brood nest so that swarming becomes a greater problem in colonies supered with foundation than with those abundantly provided with drawn combs.
The comb space for brood rearing provided by only one or two brood chambers may become temporarily restricted with pollen. Using the equivalent of three standard brood-chamber hives overcomes this problem. It would be fortunate if the accumulation of pollen stimulated the use of larger hives more often.
Supersedure of a failing queen just before or during the honeyflow is frequently a cause of swarming. The colony may swarm with the old queen or, if she is lost, a swarm may leave when a virgin queen takes her mating flight. Several days of inclement weather during a good honeyflow may induce swarm preparation, because the field bees are forced to remain in the hive.
Maintenance of the organizations shown in figure 15B or B1 and 16C and D is in itself an effective means of swarm control. More drastic changes in the organization will often reduce the production efficiency of the colony. Poor or failing queens should be replaced promptly with good young queens. It is far easier to prevent the swarming impulse from developing than to attempt to eliminate it when once started.
Close attention to pollen requirements and the feeding of pollen supplement can advance colony development ahead of the main honeyflow. The principal plant species may yield nectar 1 to 3 weeks earlier or later than normal. Because of the time required to raise bees, it is much more efficient to prepare colonies for an early flow; then control swarming through management practices that will fully utilize the productive capacity of the bees.
Colonies can be examined for evidence of swarm preparation by tipping up the brood chambers and observing them from the bottom. A large percentage of the queen cells built under the swarming impulse will be located along the lower edge of the combs. If such cells are evident, the combs must be removed and all the queen cells destroyed before reorganizing the brood nest and the super space.
There are many methods of swarm control having some merit, but the most widely used manipulation is the Demaree system or modifications of it. The colony is divided when it practically fills two brood chambers. The queen is confined by a queen excluder to the lower chamber, which is provided with one or two frames of brood plus empty combs. Supers are placed above the excluder and the remaining brood is placed on top. This manipulation temporarily unbalances the colony by reducing egg laying, because the majority of young bees remain with the brood placed on top of the hive, but it is better than allowing the colony to swarm. “Demareed” colonies are sometimes given an entrance into the upper brood nest, where a young queen is allowed to develop and mate. The brood produced by the young queen may offset the temporary loss in production efficiency if there is a long honeyflow.
A safer plan than the Demaree system of swarm control is to temporarily divide colonies strong enough to fill the brood chambers 3 or more weeks before the main honeyflow. The brood chamber, containing most of the young brood and the queen, should be set on the bottom board and a set of empty brood combs added directly above. The inner cover, with the escape hole screened, is placed over these, and the chamber containing sealed and emerging brood with adhering bees set on top. The top chamber must be provided with an entrance and both units supplied with honey. A young laying queen should be introduced to this queenless unit. The old queen will not restrict her egg production as under the Demaree plan, because she will have the support of more bees. The introduction of a young queen to the top unit will greatly increase the total brood of the colony. The top unit may require additional comb space as it increases in strength.
At the beginning of the honeyflow the brood nests of the double colony can be united back to the normal colony arrangement. The young queen in the upper chamber will usually replace the old queen. This temporary division of the colony, accompanied by requeening, not only prevents swarming but also increases the population for the honeyflow. In localities providing a long flow, the divided colonies may be operated under the two-queen system of management. The two-queen colonies maintain larger populations and therefore yield larger honey crops.
The use of package bees is generally recommended for increasing the number of colonies in an apiary. Only rarely is it possible to build two full-strength colonies for an early honeyflow from one overwintered colony. Temporary increase, described before, made for the purpose of swarm prevention and requeening is useful in increasing the honey crop rather than the number of colonies.
Package colonies should not be expected to yield as much honey as a good overwintered colony. Under favorable conditions, they may produce a profitable surplus of honey above winter requirements.
Package colonies are considered by some beekeepers to have a phenomenal capacity for rapid development. This is not true, for package colonies are subject to the same limitations as overwintered colonies, namely capacity to rear brood, pollen and honey, and time required for growth in population. A colony started with a 2-pound package of bees with a young queen, however, will develop faster than a poorly wintered colony of old bees or one with a poor queen.
Package colonies require approximately 12 weeks to reach their maximum population. Package bees are of value only for the brood they will rear, since most of the original bees die during the third week. The 2-pound package supporting a good queen will develop a full-strength colony in practically the same time as a larger package when drawn combs, pollen, and honey can be supplied. The 3-pound package is recommended when new colonies must be started on frames of foundation. This additional pound of bees is worthwhile for drawing foundation into comb and for gathering pollen to support brood rearing. When using package colonies, attention should be given to the quality of the stock and to the provision of ample pollen and honey for uninterrupted brood rearing.
The installation of packages on foundation should be delayed until it is reasonably certain that the bees can collect pollen from the field. When ample pollen and honey can be provided, package colonies can be established 10 to 12 weeks prior to the flow. These will develop their populations independent of weather conditions. When reserve pollen is not available, it is safer to delay the installation of packages until weather and plant conditions insure dependable pollen gathering. In northern locations where most packages are used, this will be about the time of fruit and dandelion bloom. Packages established later under favorable conditions will be stronger, although not at full strength at the beginning of the flow, than those established early without adequate pollen to support brood rearing.
The spray and direct-release method of package introduction allows the queens to begin egg laying about 3 days earlier than the commonly used cage-release method. Less labor is required in installation and, because of thorough feeding and early egg laying, the loss of queens during introduction is reduced to a minimum. The package bees should be sprayed with 40 percent sugar sirup (4:6) at frequent intervals until they are gorged with sirup before they are taken to the apiary. To provide space for shaking the bees, the deep side of reversible bottom boards should be used and four combs set out of each hive. Just before shaking, the package is sprayed again until the bees are wet with sirup to prevent flight. They are jarred down into one end of the cage and the screen cut to permit rapid shaking of bees into the hive. The pile of bees should be spread sufficiently on the bottom board to permit replacement of the frames. Then the queen is sprayed with sirup to prevent flight and released immediately on the combs by pulling off the screen wire from her cage and the hive is covered. The hive entrance is kept small until a larger one is required for the free flight of the bees.
Whenever possible, each package colony should be provided drawn combs containing 20 to 30 pounds of honey and reserve pollen. Cakes of pollen supplemented with soybean flour may be given when pollen is not available and four to six combs filled with 2:1 sugar sirup substituted for honey. The conventional feeder pail inverted over the frames is the most satisfactory method of feeding packages started on foundation.
Nosema disease is a major problem in package colony development. It causes reduced brood rearing and most queen supersedures. Package colonies suffer more from nosema than established colonies because there are no healthy young bees emerging for a period of 3 weeks. This permits the infection to spread within the population and increases the chances for the queen to become infected. All infected queens will be superseded within a short time.
The protozoan parasite (Nosema apis) that causes it is prevalent enough to justify feeding all package colonies at least 10 pounds of sirup containing the antibiotic fumagillin, even those provided with ample honey stores. Five grams of Fumidil B (100 mg. fumagillin activity) should be used for each gallon of 2:1 sirup. Ten gallons of such sirup will fill eleven 10-pound or twenty-two 5-pound feeder pails.
It is important that queens lost in packages be replaced without delay to avoid the bees becoming laying workers, drifting to other hives, or losing valuable brood-rearing time. Packages released by the spray and direct-release method can be examined safely for acceptance of queens after 3 days if the colonies are examined with a minimum of disturbance. Many of the queens begin laying within a few hours, and all good queens will lay in less than 1 day. If the cage-release method is used, the examination should be delayed for at least 5 days. A nonlaying queen just out of the cage may be balled by her bees when the colony is disturbed. Queens may be lost or superseded during the first 6 weeks, so it is desirable to check the colonies for laying queens at frequent intervals in order to make prompt replacements.
To minimize loss of package colonies because of queen failures, it is advisable to obtain additional packages, each with three queens. The bees from each package may be divided to establish three 3- or 4-frame queen nuclei. A laying queen, including her bees and brood, can be united to any package colony that loses its queen or used to replace inferior queens. The surplus brood from those nuclei that are not required for requeening may be used to strengthen retarded colonies. Approximately 10 percent of additional queens in nuclei provide excellent insurance against the loss of colonies; also the surplus queen will produce brood having value in excess of their cost, including the bees, equipment, and labor required for handling them.
The beginner should always start with two packages. If a queen is lost there is reasonable insurance the other one will perform normally. If one queen is lost at introduction, a frame of eggs can be taken from the other colony to keep the bees contented in the queenless unit until a new queen can be introduced. A safer plan would be to obtain an extra queen and install a nucleus with about 3/4 pound of bees from one of the packages. This would provide a laying queen if one of the package colonies became queenless.
The principles of management for package colonies are the same as those for overwintered colonies. The use of package colonies simplifies apiary management since good packages usually develop more uniform colonies. Good packages that have been provided with ample honey and pollen and protected against nosema and that are headed by productive queens will need no attention for about 4 weeks; then a second set of brood combs should be added.
Queen Rearing and Introduction
Poor queens are responsible for many low yields, but good queens may be handicapped by improper colony management. The introduction of a young queen does not insure a productive queen; therefore, annual requeening is not recommended. The beekeeper should be prepared to replace poor queens at any time during the active season.
Commercial queen breeders in the South and West are rendering an important service by making young queens available from March to November at a reasonable cost. The performance of these queens is influenced by their genetic complex and their rearing environment, including conditions at the time of mating. Poorly reared queens from superior genetic stock will generally be inferior to queens from unselected stock that are reared under optimum environmental conditions. Adverse weather conditions, which cause a delay in queen matings at the normal time, may result in too few sperms reaching the spermatheca and hence a higher percentage that turn drone layers. Queen-mating nuclei, like package colonies, are more susceptible to infection from Nosema apis than full-strength colonies. Nosema infection of commercially reared queens is a major problem that can be minimized by regular feeding of fumagillin sirup to all queen-mating nuclei.
Breeder queens from commercial apiaries should not be selected entirely on the basis of honey production. Certain colonies obtain large populations from drifting bees. This enables them to make large yields that cannot be credited to their queens. Breeder queens should have demonstrated their capacity for producing a large amount of brood of good quality. The bees should be uniform in size and color and of good, temperament. The queens themselves will usually be large and active, and they should show no tendency to run off the combs when the hive is manipulated. Although desirable standards of body size have not been established, queens that are well proportioned and large in all three body regions, which are loosely coupled between the head, thorax and abdomen, usually head the most productive colonies. Such queens usually have long legs and carry the abdomen high on the combs. The best small queens are less productive than the best large queens. Some productive queens may prove to be undesirable breeders because they mated with inferior drones.
If all young queens were as good as the best, the purchaser could afford to pay twice their customary cost. It is not good management to attempt to regain $1.50 from a poor queen when, to replace her, might enable the colony to produce a crop worth $10.00 or more. Good management requires that a surplus of queens be maintained in nuclei so that those lost or inferior can be replaced without delay.
Queen rearing is a highly specialized phase of beekeeping that cannot be dealt with in detail here. An optimum nutritional and temperature environment is essential for the development of good queens. The grafting larvae from the breeder queen should be under 12-hours old, taken from a colony so managed that all larvae are well fed, and the transfers made in the shortest possible time without subjecting them to subnormal temperatures or drying
The use of double-grafting procedures and queen – right, cell – finishing colonies of good strength that have large pollen and honey reserves will help to insure fully-developed queens. The queen cells are first grafted with 36- to 48-hour larvae given to a swarm box (queenless young bees abundantly supplied with pollen and honey) for acceptance and provisioning the cells with royal jelly. After 24 hours, these are removed from the swarm box and the larvae discarded without disturbing the “beds of royal jelly.” Richly fed larvae (under 12-hours old) from the breeder queen are immediately grafted in their place and given to a queen-right finishing colony to complete their development. The queen cells are separated from the queen’s active brood nest but surrounded with combs of brood to insure proper temperature control and to draw plenty of nurse bees to feed them.
The pregrafted cells (fig. 17) provide the proper food for the breeding larvae during the grafting operations and until the nurse bees in the finishing colony become reorganized following the necessary disturbance of the colony while introducting the queen cells.
Any break in larval nutrition is detrimental when one realizes that a queen larvae must increase about 1,500 times in weight between hatching and completion of its feeding 5 days later. It is not enough that a queen lay fertile eggs; she must be fully developed if she is to be a good queen, one capable of building and maintaining a full-strength colony.
Queen losses resulting from nosema infection can be reduced by continuous feeding of queen mating nuclei with sirup containing 100 milligrams of fumagillin (5 grams Fumidil B) per gallon; also, by taking attendant bees for mailing queens from a colony that has a large balanced brood nest. This colony, throughout its period of use, should be moved twice a week to a new location to eliminate the older field bees. It is necessary to put another colony or nucleus in its place to receive the field bees and prevent their drifting to other colonies, especially the one from which attendant bees are taken.
Nuclei used for holding reserve queens received by mail also should be fed fumagillin when established with package bees without brood.
The most successful method for requeening is to spray in laying queens that are maintained in reserve nuclei. The old queen and any queen cells must first be removed from the colony. The bees in the colony should be gorged by thorougly spraying them with sirup. Either a young laying queen alone or her entire nucleus is then sprayed and placed in the colony, making certain that any brood from the nucleus is adjacent to the brood of the colony. The gorging treatment is not necessary when uniting nuclei during a good honeyflow.
A strong colony will accept a laying queen more readily than a nonlaying queen. The introduction of a laying queen provides for continuity in egg laying essential for maintaining the colony population. Nonlaying queens can be introduced more successfully to nuclei; also, any introduction losses will be less costly than when they occur in colonies.
Nuclei for carrying extra queens can be prepared by using package bees. Nucleus hives holding 3 frames can be made by constructing inexpensive 3¬frame hives or by fitting two thin division boards into a standard or shallow 10-frame hive body. Each compartment must have its own entrance and be covered by a canvas flap or separate inner cover to prevent a queen from one unit crossing over to another when one nucleus is opened. A 2-pound package shipped with three caged queens maybe divided for establishing three nuclei. These queens can be introduced by the spray and direct-release method.
It is good practice to maintain about 10 percent as many reserve queens as there are producing colonies. From 30 to 50 percent of the colonies may require requeening during the active season. The nuclei should therefore be requeened with purchased queens or with queen cells produced from the best stock available. The practice of uniting nuclei to colonies that require requeening and of making up new nuclei with package bees has considerable merit. The package nuclei accept either queens or queen cells better than those having brood; also, the requeened colony benefits from the bees and brood when the entire nucleus is united.
When requeening large colonies is necessary with queens received by mail, they should be introduced by a cage method to temporary divisions made from the colonies. After the young queens have been laying 7 to 10 days, the old queens can be removed and the temporary divisions united back to their colonies. In large-scale operations, it may not be feasible to remove the old queens before uniting the new queen with her nucleus, since perhaps 95 percent of the young queens will survive when the two queens meet.
The temporary division can be made by setting one of the brood chambers above the inner cover (escape hole screened), giving it an entrance. In 2 to 3 days a quick examination will reveal whether the division is queenless. If so, a caged queen can be inserted for release by the bees. If the colony’s queen was raised up with the division, this body of brood and bees can be exchanged for one below and the young queen introduced in this brood chamber. All queen cells should be removed.
The behavior of both the queen and the bees in the colony has a bearing on success or failure in queen introduction. Attendant bees caged with the queen excite the bees in the colony even more than the presence of the strange queen. The best acceptance is obtained when the introduced queen is in a laying condition; when the colony has mostly young bees, a relatively small population, and no queen cells; and when the bees are participating in a honeyflow. Queens also are readily accepted after brood rearing ceases in the fall. Queen introductions become more difficult when the queens have been caged for several days and are not in a laying condition; when they are introduced to full-strength colonies and especially to those having cross or vicious bees; and, immediately following the honeyflow or when full-strength colonies are attempting to swarm. Young laying queens united to full-strength colonies attempting to swarm will shrink, probably because the bees refuse to feed her, and the colony will continue with its swarming impulse unless drastic manipulations are employed to break the “swarming fever.” Whenever unfavorable situations prevail, the introduced queen should be in a laying condition.
Supers of honey should be extracted as soon as they are full and the honey sealed in order to reduce the amount of labor required in handling the crop and to provide ample storage space for the colonies without employing extra hive equipment. There are several methods for freeing the supers of bees, including the use of bee escapes, shaking and brushing the bees from each comb, repelling the bees with propionic anhydride, benzaldehyde, or acetic acid, and blowing the bees from the supers. The first two are adequate for small operations provided safeguards are taken to prevent robbing.
Whenever possible, supers to be removed should be blocked up or turned end for end on the hive to break up the burr comb for sufficient time to allow the bees to clean up the dripping honey. In a home apiary, this can be done the day before removal. In commercial yards, most of the dripping honey can be avoided if all the supers to be removed are blocked up before starting their removal. With all colonies treated alike and put on defense, robbing will not be initiated. The supers can be taken off quicker and cleaner when they are not dripping honey.
Successful use of the repellents requires experience and close attention to details. Repellents should generally be used with a shallow hive body or similar depth collar placed between the super of honey and the absorbent pad to which the repellent is added.
The bees should be smoked down before adding the pad and lightly smoked through an auger hole in the collar. Propionic anhydride, diluted with an equal volume of water just before using, works best at 80° to 100° F. but can be used at much lower temperatures; benzaldehyde works best at 65° to 80° F. and is used without dilution; glacial acetic acid, diluted with three parts of water, works similar to propionic anhydride but is slightly less rapid. All three repellents may stupefy instead of repelling the bees when used too strong or the bees are not started down through judicious use of smoke before applying the pad.
Supers can be removed in less time and more economically using a high-volume, low-pressure air supply (figs. 18 & 19).
During the past several years, a number of engine-driven blowers have come on the market which deliver the necessary volume of air for blowing the bees from supers quickly and completely. They are highly portable, selfcontained, and efficient. It may be too soon to judge the service requirements of those operated with high-speed engines of chain-saw type. Other bee blowers are on the market operated by 3- and 4-hp, 4-cycle engines that should furnish ample service requirements. Any beekeeper who has used or observed the blowing of bees from supers would never return to the use of any of the older methods (Fig. 20).
The shop vacuum powered by a motor generator (alternator) provides two versatile pieces of equipment that are available for year-round uses that are not limited to blowing bees from supers.
A 1 hp or larger shop vacuum with the hose attached to the discharge orifice, instead of the suction, will deliver the required volume of air for blowing the bees, and provide a heavy-duty vacuum for use in shop, honey house and home. The alternator should have a capacity to meet minimum electrical power requirements in the honey house or home in case of a power failure due to wind, ice or other causes. One producing 3 kilowatts would normally keep essential equipment operating.
This equipment can be mounted on the truck used for hauling supers but would necessitate having the apiary arranged to permit driving the truck closer to the hives. Such colony arrangement contributes to efficiency by reducing the carrying of supers. The dust-collecting barrel of the vacuum unit does not need to be mounted on the truck and the power unit can be made portable through use of a suitable extension cord to connect with the alternator.
The use of air is relatively new, and the equipment may be improved. An adequate air supply which would permit the use of a super manifold to blow the bees from all interspaces with one air blast is an ultimate objective.
The need for mechanization of many beekeeping operations is recognized. Individual beekeepers and engineers are making progress in this area of management to reduce labor cost. It is equally important that honey handling equipment and methods be developed which will insure that market honey maintains the same quality of that produced by the bees. The recent bulletin4 issued by the Agricultural Engineering Division furnishes some useful leads to the solution of some of these problems.
4 Detroy, B. F. and C. D. Owens. 1965. Selecting and operating beekeeping equipment. U.S.D.A. Farmer’s Bull. 2204.
Economics of Colony Management
The business of beekeeping demands attention to the costs of producing honey. Cost of production surveys made in the Intermountain States, Oregon, and California indicate that the average cost of production was above the current commercial price of honey. This unbalanced situation probably is more acute today because of the tremendous increase in labor and equipment costs. As in many other branches of agriculture, the cash costs for producing a honey crop are less than half the true costs. Thus, the established beekeeper whose cash costs may be low has been able to obtain a living even when his business has been operating at a loss, if he would figure interest on the capital investments, management cost for his own time, the value of family labor, and many hidden business costs frequently overlooked by one accustomed to concern only for cash to meet the family needs.
These early surveys showed that the colony yield was the basic factor influencing production costs. The cost of producing a pound of honey in the apiaries giving low yields was five to nine times the cost in apiaries with high average yields. When it is recognized that most apiaries show average yields only one-third as high as those obtained from the most productive colonies, the beekeeper is challenged to increase the efficiency of his management.
The principles and practices that will aid the beekeeper in obtaining maximum colony yields have been given in this paper. A simple system of accounting can be used to determine the cost factors in relation to returns and point out opportunities for improving efficiency in management.
The following items should be included in any accounting system: An inventory of the capital investment; interest, depreciation, and maintenance costs on the capital investment in hive equipment; buildings, machinery, and motor vehicles; man-hours of labor per apiary and per colony; travel costs per apiary and per colony; replacement costs for queens and supplies other than those included in capital investment; losses from disease, wintering, pilfering, and other hazards; costs for rentals, taxes, insurance, utility service, and office supplies; yields per apiary and per colony; and returns on honey, wax, and/or rental services.
An analysis of the cost items and returns each year will reveal the true cost of production and the profit or loss on the business.
An analysis of unit apiary costs in relation to their returns, based on total business costs, will indicate opportunities for economy or for increasing management efficiency.
This concludes the series of articles by Dr. C. L. Farrar entitled “Productive Management of Honey-Bee Colonies,” which began in the March, 1968, issue of the American Bee Journal. We are most grateful to Dr. C. L. Farrar, former Chief of the Apiculture Research Branch, Entomology Research Division, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, for having permitted us to publish this series. We consider it one of the best practical series of articles on honey-bee management to come to our attention. It has been assembled as one reprint and will be available free of charge from the Bee Management Investigations Laboratory, 436 Russell Labs., University of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Agricultural Extension Service, Madison, Wisconsin 53706.