Checkerboarding Assistance
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  1. #1
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    Default Checkerboarding Assistance

    I'm running an experiment this year, comparing both honey production and nuc production from different management styles (1. Singles, 2. Doubles, 3. Snelgrove, 4. Checkerboarding). I've read up on all of Walt Wright's articles here, and the process and manipulations seem simple enough, so I attempted to implement them. On February 3rd (typical first pollen availability of Red Maple) I took 6 colonies to test on. Half were singles, the other half were 1.5's with mediums full of honey on top. Taking all 60 medium frames of honey, I divided them out with 5 frames of honey alternating with 5 empty combs in each medium box, and put one medium box (now checkerboarded) on the deep/brood of each of the 6 colonies.

    I checked on them a week later (February 10th) and not much had changed.

    I checked on them last weekend (March 3rd) and in nearly all of the colonies the queen has laid brood in the empty super combs that were used to checkerboard the honey frames. The honey combs remain the same. The deep it sits on remains the same.

    What exactly am I supposed to do from here? I understand I'm supposed to continue to checkerboard the colony until we are past the prime swarm date (April 15). If I checkerboard the brood it'll chill and possibly die, and the colony will be stressed. Am I supposed to push the brood together in the center of the medium, put empty combs on the outside of that medium, and pull all honey frames up to a new medium and checkerboard again with empty comb?

    I didn't read anywhere in Walt's articles where the queen so quickly moves up to the empty cells and begins laying. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding Assistance

    Specialk
    Maby you should pm squarepeg if he doesn't see this. I know he has wanted to happen what is going on with your hive. In the later part of his thread he explained his reasoning. His goal (if I have it right) is to get that chiminy effect that you are seeing and to get the bees to go as high as possible (if I caught the drift). That leaves all the bottom open and at some point the hive will start contracting and will work its self from the top down leaving all the top full of honey and no swarms will happen. There is probly a time where there is enough space below that no matter how much brood and stores can be made that the hive will not back fill. He could tell you more on that if you couldn't get it from his post as he has did it for a bit.
    I don't know if this helps you or is stuff you were already sure of. My post was more an avenue to let you maby get more from someone that has more then me who has never tried it.
    Good luck
    gww
    Ps Infact, it may have been mentioned at some point that he or walt actually moved the queen down later and put an excluder on and then destroyed queen cells that were started in the uper brood. I don't know the timing of when it would be safe to do that
    zone 5b

  4. #3
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding Assistance

    Quote Originally Posted by Specialkayme View Post
    Taking all 60 medium frames of honey, I divided them out with 5 frames of honey alternating with 5 empty combs in each medium box, and put one medium box (now checkerboarded) on the deep/brood of each of the 6 colonies.
    with 60 frames of honey and putting 5 frames of honey in each medium equals 12 checkerboarded supers but you only have 6 checkerboarded mediums. did you mean you started with 30 frames of honey?


    Quote Originally Posted by Specialkayme View Post
    I checked on them a week later (February 10th) and not much had changed.
    i would consider that normal.


    Quote Originally Posted by Specialkayme View Post
    I checked on them last weekend (March 3rd) and in nearly all of the colonies the queen has laid brood in the empty super combs that were used to checkerboard the honey frames. The honey combs remain the same. The deep it sits on remains the same.
    i would consider that normal as well.


    Quote Originally Posted by Specialkayme View Post
    exactly am I supposed to do from here?
    it depends what happens with the honey, and that depends on the weather and how much fresh nectar comes in. i do find that i have to move checkerboarded honey out of the way sometimes. give it 2 weeks from the 3rd and see what happens.


    Quote Originally Posted by Specialkayme View Post
    didn't read anywhere in Walt's articles where the queen so quickly moves up to the empty cells and begins laying.
    downright amazing yes but it makes sense. the bees are capitalizing on the heat rising from the broodnest below. it is natural for the colony to expand the broodnest upward into the honey stores coming out of winter. checkerboarding makes it easier, almost irresistible, for them to accomplish that.

    it's important to note that walt was working with shallow supers. when he came down to help me learn his technique we got a different result using my medium supers.

    my recommendation is that when you go back on the 17th have another super ready. consolidate the brood to the middle of the first super and consider putting an empty frame of comb in the middle of it or perhaps an empty frame of comb on both sides. move one frame of brood up to the middle of the second super and flank it on both sides with empty comb, and flank those frames of empty comb with honey.

    repeat as needed for a 3rd and/or 4th super.

    i've only got 9 frames in my 10 frame mediums. what i shoot for is having brood in the middle five frames, flanked by frames of beebread, and honey in the outside frames.

    if find that if i can keep the bees expanding the broodnest upward to the top of 3 to 4 supers they won't store much of the early nectars but rather use most of it to feed brood. that gets us about to the point of tulip poplar bloom with a very strong colony that has room down below for the queen to lay and is not likely to swarm.

    colony operations transition at that point to nectar storage and drying. they go crazy filling those supers with capped honey as the brood emerges from them. the broodnest retreats back down to the deep pretty much on it's own, but this can be facilitated by moving the queen down to the deep below an excluder.

    if an excluder is placed you have to go back in a week and check for queen cells in the supers. they can be culled or used to make up medium nucs with.
    journaling the growth of a (mite) treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  5. #4
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding Assistance

    Quote Originally Posted by squarepeg View Post
    did you mean you started with 30 frames of honey?
    Lol, yes. Sorry. I started with 30 frames of honey.

    Quote Originally Posted by squarepeg View Post
    my recommendation is that when you go back on the 17th have another super ready. consolidate the brood to the middle of the first super and consider putting an empty frame of comb in the middle of it or perhaps an empty frame of comb on both sides. move one frame of brood up to the middle of the second super and flank it on both sides with empty comb, and flank those frames of empty comb with honey.

    repeat as needed for a 3rd and/or 4th super.
    Thanks SP. Just what I was looking for. Will do.

    But so I have a better understanding, can you explain to me (as best you can) based on the checkerboarding theory, why those manipulations are supposed to work? My understanding was if the bees had empty comb directly overhead, the colony believes it doesn't have enough stores to cast off a swarm. If you can keep that belief in place until after the "swarm cut off date" you have essentially eliminated swarming in that colony for that season. If that's the case, shouldn't the goal to be moving brood downward, having frames of empty comb and honey directly above the broodnest, instead of moving brood upwards?

    Quote Originally Posted by squarepeg View Post
    the broodnest retreats back down to the deep pretty much on it's own, but this can be facilitated by moving the queen down to the deep below an excluder.

    if an excluder is placed you have to go back in a week and check for queen cells in the supers. they can be culled or used to make up medium nucs with.
    Walt's articles indicated that it was not possible to use excluders in checkerboarding. Did he later retract that statement? Or is it a change in location that makes the use of excluders feasible? Or is that something you've found yourself?

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    Default Re: Checkerboarding Assistance

    One swarming mode is lack of space to sustain growth such as surplus honey from the previous year or the incoming nectar (mainly water at first) or phsyical volume of hive box. They all block or impede expansion. Coming out of winter the core of the hive will begin to expand, consuming adjecent stored honey frames, opening more space. Eventually they don't need to consume stores to stay alive and feed brood and they need space for fresh nectar and the queen to lay.

    I personally wouldn't put capped frames inbetween brood combs. I would pull most of the honey if there is a large surplus and nectar is coming in or put the capped honey in a box above. The naturally tendency of the hive is to have a core of brood, with honey surrounding. At peak flow (without an excluder) the queen may move into a honey super, but usually only lays a pass or two, or just the center core frames. Then drops back down as nectar is dried, condenses and the flow shrinks (laying shrinks too). Its alot easier for the hive to move, consume and feed brood with wet nectar. Once nectar is dried and capped its much less likely to be moved, usually only to be consumed when nectar isn't available.

    I think the simpliest thing for me, is to give space, ideally open comb to fill when the flow kicks in good and not too much surplus capped honey in their way. The amount of space should be matched accordingly to the hives strength and time of year.

    Hope that helps in your experiments.

  7. #6
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding Assistance

    Quote Originally Posted by Specialkayme View Post
    Thanks SP. Just what I was looking for. Will do.
    good luck sk. i'm interested to see if your bees in your location respond the same way mine do. i have a friend nearby who who is mirroring what i do and his results are the same.


    Quote Originally Posted by Specialkayme View Post
    But so I have a better understanding, can you explain to me (as best you can) based on the checkerboarding theory, why those manipulations are supposed to work? My understanding was if the bees had empty comb directly overhead, the colony believes it doesn't have enough stores to cast off a swarm. If you can keep that belief in place until after the "swarm cut off date" you have essentially eliminated swarming in that colony for that season. If that's the case, shouldn't the goal to be moving brood downward, having frames of empty comb and honey directly above the broodnest, instead of moving brood upwards?

    those are really good questions. walt was quick to admit that he wasn't 100% sure why his checkerboarding worked, but he surmised it had something to do with what you described there.

    walt's exact prescription was setting his overwintered colonies up with 3 shallow supers over a single deep. the first shallow was solid honey and the second and third supers were checkerboarded.

    walt's colony size would coming out of winter averaged 5 - 6 frames of bees which is almost twice what mine average. the broodnests were started in the deeps but his bees would consistently brood up through those 3 shallows without him having to move any frames.

    after breaking opening a few supercedure cells while doing deep inspections and because he was achieving near 100% swarm prevention walt stopped removing boxes after checkerboarding until it was time for the honey harvest.

    i feel safe in assuming that if his broodnests were expanding up to the top of the third shallow that there would have been a lot a space left down in the deep for the broodnests to recede back down into.


    Quote Originally Posted by Specialkayme View Post
    Walt's articles indicated that it was not possible to use excluders in checkerboarding. Did he later retract that statement? Or is it a change in location that makes the use of excluders feasible? Or is that something you've found yourself?
    correct. walt remained adamant about not disturbing the broodnest or using excluders because his experience showed that it wasn't necessary and he believed it would set the colony back. he was all about maximizing honey production and it's pretty amazing how strong his colonies grew to and how high his stacks became. (i told walt straight up that i wasn't interested in having 8' tall hives if thats what it took to average 200+ lbs. harvests).

    i was fortunate that walt took an interest in me and he drove down here from elkmont on several occasions over a few year period to guide me and oversee what i was doing. when we set up my hives like he did (except using medium supers instead of shallows) my bees did not brood up all the way through the supers.

    instead, most brooded up into only the first and some into the second super before the began to fill the empty comb with new nectar instead of brood, ignoring the super(s) above the one they were storing new nectar in, and then going on to backfill and swarm.

    we weren't sure if the different results i got were because of the mediums, or perhaps because of working with a different strain of bee, a combination of both, or perhaps other factors we were unaware of.

    so that's when i started modifying walt's method and came up with some tweaks that worked better for me and walt was ok with that. except for this tweaking of the method, most everything else i observe is consistent with what walt saw and i believe he is mostly correct on his assumptions and principles.
    journaling the growth of a (mite) treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  8. #7
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding Assistance

    Very interesting read. Thanks sp.

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    Default Re: Checkerboarding Assistance

    Quote Originally Posted by squarepeg View Post
    i feel safe in assuming that if his broodnests were expanding up to the top of the third shallow that there would have been a lot a space left down in the deep for the broodnests to recede back down into.
    I've never known a colony to recede back down into a deep after its expanded beyond the first super. Maybe because I didn't give them enough time to do so. After about a month or so of having an empty deep on the bottom board, I always either reverse or freeze it to use as splits later on.

    Anyway, thanks for the information. It's very helpful and informative.

    Overall my goal is to economize the different management strategies. Some put an emphasis on reducing/eliminating swarming and putting all the bees energy into honey production. Others are willing to accept some swarming (usually in the form of splits) based in part on an insurance basis, but attempt to maximize the honey production post-split. I'm more concerned with which one, all things considered, puts the beekeeper in the best position. Should you value honey at $6 a pound, and a 4 frame nuc at $100 each, which strategy produces the greatest, and most predictable, financial return. I suspect checkerboarding will produce the most honey, and I suspect doubles will produce the most nucs. The real question is whether checkerboarding can make enough excess honey to offset the loss of nuc production, or whether doubles can produce enough nucs to offset the loss of honey production. Or whether a happy medium (singles/slengrove) is better.

    It'll be interesting. Assuming I can implement checkerboarding correctly, and the bees somewhat cooperate

  10. #9
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding Assistance

    So . . . . it doesn't look like the checkerboarding worked well at all. Of the 6 colonies I did it to, 5 have swarmed so far. A significantly higher percentage than any of the other treatment methods. In fact, significantly higher percentage than doing nothing at all.

    I'd be interested to know what I did wrong (assuming I did something wrong) if anyone has any suggestions.

  11. #10
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding Assistance

    I have a question about the checkerboarded boxes. When the bees moved up and started laying brood in the empty CB frames did they consume all of the stores in the frames on either side as they moved up?
    To everything there is a season....

  12. #11
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding Assistance

    how many supers high were you able to get the broodnest to expand up into?
    journaling the growth of a (mite) treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

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    Default Re: Checkerboarding Assistance

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Gillmore View Post
    When the bees moved up and started laying brood in the empty CB frames did they consume all of the stores in the frames on either side as they moved up?
    No. Nearly all of them consumed all the stores in the center section of the first super, converting it into brood/food storage. One or two hives consumed on the frames on either side of super two, but most consumed some of the stores, leaving the rest in place.

    Quote Originally Posted by squarepeg View Post
    how many supers high were you able to get the broodnest to expand up into?
    Three hives expanded into two medium supers (over the deep they started in), two hives expanded into three medium supers (over the deep they started in), and one hive expanded into three medium supers while ignoring the fourth medium super (over the deep they started in).

    By "expanded into" I mean occupied. For all of them, the queen layed in the deep and the first super. A few the queen would lay in a few frames in the second super. She didn't make it further than that. They didn't get a chance to completely rearrange the entire broodnest.

    I was also under the impression from Walt's articles that the checkerboarding needed to continue until after completion of the "swarm cut off date" which was typically the "hardwood greenup" or three weeks before the main flow (historically April 20th around here, although it will be a week or two late probably this year). I didn't "recheckerboard" them after March for that reason, although perhaps that was an error.

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    Default Re: Checkerboarding Assistance

    Quote Originally Posted by Specialkayme View Post
    By "expanded into" I mean occupied. For all of them, the queen layed in the deep and the first super. A few the queen would lay in a few frames in the second super. She didn't make it further than that. They didn't get a chance to completely rearrange the entire broodnest.
    that's what happened when walt and i tried checkerboarding my hives which have medium supers as opposed to shallows like walt used.

    i only have success at preventing swarming if i can get the broodnest itself to expand up into at least 3 if not 4 supers, preferably to the very top or as close as possible to the top and i don't allow solid honey overhead.

    in order to accomplish that i found it necessary to incorporate opening up the broodnest by moving empty comb to the middle and honey to the outside, as well as pyramiding brood up to the next box. this strays from walt's philosophy but it is what i found worked better for me with my bees and my box size.

    once brood reaches the top of stack the single deep on the bottom ends up essentially abandoned, but then the broodnest migrates back down to that empty deep, and as the brood emerges in the supers there becomes plenty of room for new nectar.

    the small percentage of colonies that don't respond to these manipulations become candidates for donating brood to smaller colonies, making splits, ect.

    a single deep and 4 medium supers is the volume equivalent of 3.66 deeps, which is a lot of space and if you can get the colony to use it in the way described above chances are good you'll keep them from swarming.

    checkerboarding for walt was a one time manipulation. toward the end of his beekeeping career he added what he called 'the pollen box maneuver', and that was moving the first super down below the deep once it was full of brood to become a 'pollen box'. that box become empty by the end of the next winter and was brought back up using those empty frames to checkerboard the honey supers with.
    journaling the growth of a (mite) treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

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    Default Re: Checkerboarding Assistance

    It sounds like your modifications to checkerboarding, in order to get it to work with medium supers, has turned it more into an "open broodnest" type manipulation, than necessarily a "nectar/storage" type manipulation.

    From my observation, checkerboarding proved promising and attractive for three main reasons:
    1. Beekeeper work was significantly reduced - one main manipulation and you're done

    2. The theory behind why it worked was novel - apart from most current "swarm control" theories that revolve around disbursal/concentration of queen pheromones, brood pheromones, congestion or cavity size, checkerboarding appeared to work for unknown reasons, but likely (based on Walt's writings) because the bees were "tricked" into believing they didn't have adequate stores and thus wouldn't survive on their own, forcing them to put their energy into nectar collection instead of issuing swarms. Whether that's really what was going on, who knows. But the theory was interesting.

    3. Checkerboarding (at least based on Walt's articles) when properly implemented had the potential to eliminate 100% of potential swarms, thus providing considerable consistency and predictability.

    By switching to more of an "open broodnest" type checkerboarding strategy, the process requires considerably more beekeeper intervention, significantly reduces the predictability, and flies somewhat in the face of the basis behind the theory of why it originally worked (at least, again, based on Walt's articles, understanding he may have changed his position later). Not that any of this is a good or bad thing, just more observational and interesting.

    For my purposes, I was more interested in comparing different management styles to find a system that, if I were to draw a venn diagram, would be the perfect union of work output by the beekeeper, economic gain from increases, and economic gain from honey production. Checkerboarding doesn't appear to hit that sweet spot yet (higher work output than some other methods, potential loss from swarms and thus economic loss of increases and honey production). But who knows. The checkerboarded 6 colonies may still outperform the other methods on honey production.

  16. #15
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding Assistance

    the genius of checkerboarding in late winter is that it provides the colony with the perfect situation to expand the broodnest upward, which is what they do naturally coming out of winter, taking advantage of the rising heat and moisture, while giving them optimal space for the queen to lay with brood food readily nearby.

    my take on why your checkerboarded hives swarmed first is that you advantaged them to build up to swarming strength faster for those reasons, but they established solid honey overhead and reversed their attention downward to backfill and swarm. the ignoring of upper supers with empty comb is what prompted me to experiment further with swarm prevention.

    what i am doing isn't as time consuming as it may sound. after the initial manipulation in late february or so, i'll go back 2 - 3 weeks later and open up/pyramid if needed, and then once again in another 2 - 3 weeks. those subsequent manipulations only involve working the top box or two with bees in them and don't take long to do. about half of the hives don't require any manipulation.

    i've experimented on a few hives with moving the queen down to the abandoned deep below an excluder once the broodnest reaches the top of the top box. i don't think doing this is necessary to prevent swarming in most hives, but doing so in a few yields queen cells in the supers that i'm harvesting for making up nucs.

    i'm not set in ways with this approach and hope that my learning always continues to be a work in progress. this is third season using and it appears that i am seeing consistency with the results. i am optimistic that my honey harvest this will be as good or better than what i have reported in my 'experience' thread. i have a friend running about 10 hives who is seeing pretty much the same outcomes.

    but we are open to suggestions and always looking to improve based on the sharing of information by others. thanks for taking the time to do the comparisons sk and for posting your results here.
    journaling the growth of a (mite) treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

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    Default Re: Checkerboarding Assistance

    I know this flies in the face of people who use completely open large broodnest hives but if you're going to take the time to continually manipulate frames why not run as single brood box. Put -capped- brood above an excluder- regularly giving her room to lay in bottom Brood box. Let her lay to her potential and no swarm cells above excluder that way.

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    Default Re: Checkerboarding Assistance

    Quote Originally Posted by squarepeg View Post
    my take on why your checkerboarded hives swarmed first is that you advantaged them to build up to swarming strength faster for those reasons, but they established solid honey overhead and reversed their attention downward to backfill and swarm.
    Which would be consistent with my observations as well. I don't have all of my numbers in front of me at the moment (I'm tracking frames of bees, frames of brood, splits, swarms, and honey harvest in total), but my recollection was that the checkerboarded hives built up faster than the doubles or singles did. Which was great . . . until they swarmed. And they swarmed at a rate significantly higher than the other management stiles. Possibly because they built up faster (although I don't think their populations were necessarily larger than the others, overall, by April 1st). But they never fully "backfilled" the deep. All hives, across the board, maintained the same amount of brood by April 1st. Some were as low as 6.2 frames of brood (measured as both sides of a deep frame 70% filled with brood), while some were as high as 7.8 frames of brood. The checkerboarded hives never had the ability to fill the supers with brood along with the deep. They simply filled ignored the space in the deep and prepped for swarms.

    Quote Originally Posted by squarepeg View Post
    what i am doing isn't as time consuming as it may sound. after the initial manipulation in late february or so, i'll go back 2 - 3 weeks later and open up/pyramid if needed, and then once again in another 2 - 3 weeks. those subsequent manipulations only involve working the top box or two with bees in them and don't take long to do. about half of the hives don't require any manipulation.
    I'm not implying your manipulations are cumbersome, either in frequency, time or difficulty. A few years ago I attempted an unlimited broodnest strategy (I forget the name) that involved two deeps and the constant rotation of open brood to the top box and capped brood to the bottom box (with queen) every 5 days. Now THAT was time consuming. It produced great results, but wasn't worth the output.

    But "time consuming" is really relative. Three manipulations over a (roughly) 8 week time frame for checkerboarding is not intensive. But then again neither is two manipulations over an 8 week timeframe (double deeps & singles, pulling splits), or two manipulations that take less time over a two week time frame (snelgrove boards). All are somewhat comparable, but what matters most is consistency and yield.

    Quote Originally Posted by squarepeg View Post
    i'm not set in ways with this approach and hope that my learning always continues to be a work in progress.
    We're all learning in the end anyway.

    Quote Originally Posted by squarepeg View Post
    thanks for taking the time to do the comparisons sk and for posting your results here.
    Happy to help. Hopefully someone gets something useful out of the end result. I find it enjoyable too (although, in the rain counting frames of brood on 32 hives I sometimes have to remind myself over and over again "this is fun . . . this is fun . . .").

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    Default Re: Checkerboarding Assistance

    journaling the growth of a (mite) treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

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    Default Re: Checkerboarding Assistance

    I'm reading this thread with interest, as I'm also preparing to do checkerboarding with mediums starting next year (I don't have any shallows and don't plan to get them). I'm going to have to read through it several times to picture it though.

    Quote Originally Posted by squarepeg View Post
    the small percentage of colonies that don't respond to these manipulations become candidates for donating brood to smaller colonies, making splits, ect.
    Is there a risk here of promoting the genetics of colonies with undesired behavior?

    Thanks! ---Robin

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    Default Re: Checkerboarding Assistance

    Quote Originally Posted by robassett View Post
    Is there a risk here of promoting the genetics of colonies with undesired behavior?
    that's a good question robin. i am grafting queens and one of my selection criterion is favorable response to swarm prevention which goes hand in hand with good honey production. so when the colonies that don't play ball get split they are queened from mothers having more desirable behavior.
    journaling the growth of a (mite) treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

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