Experiment participants wanted.
If anyone is interested in participating, Walt Wright and I have put together an experiment we would like to have people try.
Checkerboarding vs. Opening the Brood Nest combined with Checkerboarding vs. Neither
Will bees given empty frames in the brood nest shift to "establishment" mode and make white wax well before the normal time and build up more because of more brood nest expansion and tend to not swarm. Will hives produce more/less/as much as when "Checkerboarded".
BACKGROUND AND TERMS:
It would be better if you read Walts manuscript, but Ill give a synopsis of the idea of checkerboarding here. Remember this is an oversimplification.
For a bee colony:
o Survival is the primary motivation
__o Survival of the existing colony takes priority.
____o Bees will not do a reproductive swarm if they perceive it to jeopardize survival of the existing colony.
__o Survival of the species runs a close second.
____o Generation of a reproductive swarm is the secondary objective of every over-wintered colony.
______o The over-wintered colony expands the brood volume during the build-up by consumption of honey.
________o When the colony has expanded the brood nest to the amount of reserve that they consider appropriate, they are now able to move into the swarm preparation phase.
__________o The first activity of swarm preparation is to reduce the brood volume by providing additional stores. As brood emerges, selected cells are filled with nectar or pollen.
__________o Alternating empty drawn combs above the brood nest "fools" the bees into thinking they don't have enough stores yet for swarming and causes them to expand the brood nest, giving both a bigger field force and avoiding reproductive swarming.
To put some of this another way, the colony goes through different goals at different times.
A new swarm starts out with the goal of getting established. They draw a lot of comb and try to expand the brood nest as much as possible to get established and then they go into winter preparation, which is trying to store sufficient stores for the winter. If they accomplish all of this and get over crowded they might cast a swarm to relieve the population problem.
The next year the hive will start out with the goal of reaching a safe position to cast a reproductive swarm. That means the population has to build up enough to afford to lose that many bees and the stores have to be high enough for them to lose that many foragers. Then they go into swarm preparation mode and start backfilling the brood nest. At some point, which Walt calls the Reproductive swarm cut-off, they decide they will or won't swarm.
The goal of Checkboarding is to keep them in the build-up phase until after Reproductive swarm cut-off by making them think they don't have enough stores and giving the brood nest room to expand.
If you look at your bees and your blooms and your climate, this Reproductive cut-off is usually the peak of the apple blossoms or a week after the apples START to bloom. The time to do Checkboarding is 9 weeks before that. That's about when the Elm blooms or four weeks before the Maples bloom or five weeks before the Redbud blooms or eight weeks before the apples start blooming or ten weeks before the black locust starts blooming. Hopefully you have some idea when one of those blooms in your location. NOTE: in theory these are all ways of pinpointing the same stage of vegatative development, they are just different refernce points to figure it out for your location, I'm just listing all the different blooms in case you know when one of them is to calculate from.
At that time (9 weeks before Reproductive cut-off/the peak of the apple blossoms) you checkerboard. You put alternating frames of capped honey and empty drawn comb above the brood nest.
OPENING THE BROOD NEST:
The principles are similar to Checkerboarding except by putting empty frames (not frames with foundation, but frames with either starter strips or comb guides or nothing) in the brood nest, to shift the colony to establishment mode and drawing wax much earlier and prevent backfilling of the brood nest. This causes the brood nest to expand and it controls swarming. To make room for the empty frames you should move frames on the outside of the brood box up to the next box or down or out altogether (depending on if your equipment is all the same size frames) and move the brood combs to the sides and put the empty frames between two frames of brood. To prevent chilling brood, make sure that you have enough bees to quickly fill the gap you've left with festooning bees before you insert the frame. This will ensure there are enough bees to manage the empty space. If there are not enough bees for this, then postpone for another week or two. For the sake of the experiment, it would be good to check the brood nest every couple of weeks and add more frames if the brood nest starts to recede or if there are enough bees to handle the extra space. If you want maximum yields this should probably stop about two weeks before the main flow (about four weeks after apple bloom starts and about the time Black Locust starts to bloom). If the box is brood from one side to the other, three frames of brood can be moved up into the next box to expand the brood nest up and fill in those gaps with alternating empty frames. If you get frames of drone brood (which you most often will for the first couple of frames) move them to the outside edge of the brood nest when you find them and put more empty frames in their place. Anytime you dont see enough bees to fill the gaps in the brood nest, wait until they have built up more. Some of this timing may vary by race as well as climate, so try to go with the bees.
Walt and I discussed this at length and concluded we think the best time to try this right after the elm bloom or right at the Maple bloom or 2 weeks before the Redbud bloom or two weeks or four weeks before the apple bloom or 6 weeks before the black Locust bloom. NOTE: in theory these are all the same point of seasonal development, I'm just listing all the different blooms in case you know when one of them is to calculate from. I do notice that going by Walts chart (in the manuscript) Im usually about a month behind him. But that seems to be a little more than that in some places. For instance, the Locust bloom here was mid May last year and six weeks before that would be the first of April. Yet at the first of April Im past the elm and maple blooms. Here, the blooms at the first of April are wild plums and other early fruit trees. You might just look for early fruit trees blooming in your area to key on for opening up the brood nest. Before that there probably isn't any flow coming in to make wax from.
The other up side to Opening the Brood Nest is the production of natural cell sized comb. If you are trying to regress youll get this a side benefit.