I might have a tendency to go overboard sometimes. Feel free to say this is nuts and try to talk some sense into me.
So I receive my package on March 31st, and a VSH nuc on April 15th. Both are italians, but long term I'll probably transition to some mite biting specialty line like Russians or Carpenters. Main flow in East Tennessee is rumored to be May through June, but rumor also has it pollen is constantly available from February to October unless there's a severe drought. We claim to be the allergy capital of the world after all. I think that means that brood rearing can be maintained throughout that period by feeding sugar syrup.
The goal is to maximize the expected number of colonies coming out of winter next year. If beekeeping is really for me it'll give enough hives to make a profit in year 2, and if I hate it the bees should be pretty easy to sell and break even.
That seems to mean overwintering mostly nucs in split deeps, made up using a loose/noob interpretation of Michael Palmer's method of creating Nucs for overwintering. He has a great system for a commercial operation but I have more time, fewer bees, and no queen rearing operation. That means continually splitting and equalizing, feeding a lot, and possibly letting the bees raise queens. Such nuc production has two other big advantages for a beginner: spreading the loss risks out, and giving a lot of chances to work bees without pestering a single colony to death. And nucs should be easier to learn to work without gloves.
At install I want to hit the mites with a hard treatment. Probably OAD for the package and Formic Pro for the Nuc. I'll learn to do mite washes and IPM once there are bees to spare, but given how many colonies will split from them, and the intent to raise the maximum amount of brood, this seems like a good place for caution. Then the plan is to wait until the colonies are broodless in November and hit them with OAD to knock the mites back to near zero for the winter. The problem is that raises the winter population with a potential highish mite load. The other option is to schedule the nuc makeup so there's a broodless period (Randy Oliver presents an interesting option in figure 1) and hitting with OAD. What would you do?
Both colonies will be allowed to settle in and build to 10 frames (middle May?). Originally I wanted to shake the package into a queen castle and order 3 queens, but the 31st appears too early for anyone not in Hawaii.
After initial buildup, it seems best to wait for swarm conditions (with a single broodbox) before doing Lauri's flyback split to both and making 8 nucs from the queenless 8 frames. Taranov is an option as well. Those last two are attractive options because they should draw quite a bit of comb. It seems like the core metric is to maximize queen laying days, which means getting new queens as early as possible.
Either way, after splitting there will probably be a syrup factory in the kitchen. The goal (for all colonies) is to let the foragers focus on pollen and give ample sugar for wax making. Most likely I'll feed all the syrup they will take and pull plugged out frames until October/November. If nucs run out of room I'll just split for more nucs, at least until the middle of August.
Finally, in October it will be time to get the hives enough stores for winter. I'm thinking plugging the broodnest with syrup and then feeding candy boards. There won't be time to draw extra comb, and Randy Oliver struggled to get late summer comb building during his pollen patty test, so whether it's optimal or not everything will probably have to be single deep. Shouldn't be a huge problem though - if canadians like Devan Rawn (Ian too, but he uses sheds) can winter a single deep it should work well enough in TN. Moisture control may be an issue, so moisture quilts will be a likely first year precaution.
The big thing that I'm not sure about is queens. When you have a thousand hives and need to make twice as many queens, strong dedicated cell builders building grafted queen cells make a lot of sense. When you have two hives and need 10 queens the efficiency gain is smaller or non existent. So if you're still with me and haven't closed the thread in exasperation at beginner overreach, can you provide some guidance on the true cost of using emergency queens? Would you recommend that I suck it up and get grafting tools and use a cell builder? Use emergency queens? Other options? Or order them from producers? I know there's a cost to uncontrolled queen rearing in terms of quality, but for this year "quantity is its own quality".
After further consideration, I think doing a flyback/taranov split with one hive and letting the 8 remaining frames raise 10 or so grafted queens is probably the wisest plan. Hopefully the queens will be good quality despite the mediocre hive since there aren't 54 cells. Once the cells are ripe, split the builder and the other hive to use all new queen cells, recombine any that don't mate correctly, then use emergency queens for any further splits later in the season. Does that make sense to you?
My hope is to enter winter with ~12 nucs and come out with at least 6 for a 50% success rate. That seems very achievable, and much more profitable than any more conservative splitting strategy. But perhaps 50% is not achievable for 5 frames, even with a partner nuc and sugar bricks. If anyone has experience with this please chime in.
Sorry for the disjointed ramble. I mainly wanted to write out my thoughts to clarify intent. But I'd love to know what experienced beekeepers think. If it's a good plan confidence would help, if it's bad I want to know before I waste money.