18 month plan - is it realistic?
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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2016
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    Jennings Co, IN, USA
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    Default 18 month plan - is it realistic?

    I'm trying to transition from a bee-haver to a beekeeper. I'm not managing for profit, but I would eventually like to get some honey production. I much more interested in minimizing costs and maintaining the hobby.

    Right now I have a single hive that made it though winter. They are in a deep/deep/medium configuration, and while I do not see signs of swarm potential, I do plan to split this soon. I have a second bottom board, and a second inner/outer cover ready, and I have a shallow box that is currently failing as a swarm trap.

    My goal is to go into winter 18 months from now with 4 production hives and 4 nucs. (Q1, does this sound like a manageable quantity and reasonable ratio? Q2, is that enough to consider myself sustainable going forward?) I'm not opposed to a purchase of a local queen periodically along the way, but I'd otherwise like to be done buying bees. I think my management strategy has to be to emphasize growing bees and comb through this year.

    So I think my immediate concern is equipment. I plan to construct a few 5 frame nuc boxes and a few deep boxes in the next 2 weeks. Since I already have one medium and one shallow box, I intend to make one more of each for redundancy, but then make everything else a deep. (Q3, any flaws in that logic?) I'll need to purchase some frames and probably plan a 50/50 split between foundation and empty for my own experimentation and learning more than anything else. (Q4, any concern that my plan is so timebound that foundation is mandatory?)

    Any other thoughts? Obviously much of this comes down to my own execution. Being able to read the circumstances and know when to create a nuc, when to move them into full hives, and knowing when those hives need help. I'll also perhaps need to feed more than normal to keep frames getting drawn as I build up those supplies. I will undoubtedly make several mistakes along the way. But before I really jumped in with the equipment planning, I was hoping someone with experience could review and slap me in the face if needed.

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  3. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2017
    Location
    New Paltz, New York, USA
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    Default Re: 18 month plan - is it realistic?

    For comparison, I have 5 production colonies and 4 nucs right now, very similar to your target. Unless something crazy happens I'll never have to buy bees again. In fact, with 2 production colonies and 2 nucs I'd be surprised if they all perished and I had to buy bees. I buy queens for the known genetics, but if anything I'll be selling or giving away bees that I have to pull out to avoid swarming.

    So yes, I think that is a "sustainable" size in terms of not buying bees, since with ideal management losses should be <25%. Is it "sustainable" financially? That I can't answer. The tendency is to buy toys.

    Your timeline for growth sounds aggressive but not impossible. Treat for varroa, make splits, and feed. I'll be a little surprised if your apiary grows that quickly but I think you can be sustainable at a slightly smaller size anyway, so it's a good target, as long as you're not wedded to it.

    I would not use deeps, mediums, and shallows. It's easier to have just 1 or 2 kinds of boxes. If you have shallow drawn comb, just put it in a medium box between medium frames that are already drawn and they'll draw comb below the bottom of the shallows to basically turn them into mediums. The same works to turn a medium into a deep.

    I don't think foundation gets drawn much faster than regular comb, but my mild preference would be to go with all foundation initially. You say you want a mix to learn, which makes sense, but foundation is easier, and there's a lot of other variables for you to figure out. Foundation is used by most beekeepers, and you'll get better answers to your questions if everything is as standard as possible.

    (Take this all with a grain of salt. I'm only in my third year and screw up regularly.)

  4. #3
    Join Date
    May 2017
    Location
    Spokane County, Washington, USA
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    365

    Default Re: 18 month plan - is it realistic?

    Quote Originally Posted by cfalls View Post
    The tendency is to buy toys.
    Boy that's the truth. This year I decided that I was going to quit throwing money at the bees. So far, income exceeds expenses, so far so good.

    Quote Originally Posted by cfalls View Post
    Your timeline for growth sounds aggressive but not impossible. Treat for varroa, make splits, and feed. I'll be a little surprised if your apiary grows that quickly but I think you can be sustainable at a slightly smaller size anyway, so it's a good target, as long as you're not wedded to it.
    Well said.
    So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

  5. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2017
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    Aylett, Virginia
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    5,015

    Default Re: 18 month plan - is it realistic?

    I don't think the plan is all that aggressive, if you can overwinter your bees. Forego any idea of honey for this year and concentrate solely on hive (bee) growth. This means feed sugar and pollen sub as the bees take it and do not stop. Treat the bees for mites and monitor the mite levels.
    When your hive can be split into thirds, buy two queens and nurse those hives to full strength before winter. If you had started earlier, you could have gotten a few nucs towards the middle of summer, maybe still can. From three hives, you can be at your goal for the following winter. I went from 3 to to 16 my second year, all internal, no purchased queens.
    Thankfully, the bees are smarter than I am. They are doing well, in spite of my efforts to help them.

  6. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2014
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    England, UK
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    1,973

    Default Re: 18 month plan - is it realistic?

    I'm going to suggest not getting caught-up in the numbers game - in the sense of having a fixed objective - but rather to enjoy working with the bees, and multiplying colonies as and when opportunities present themselves - ensuring above all that each newly created colony is as strong as possible at the point of it's creation, and ensuring that it's of adequate size before going into winter. I have seen far too many new beekeepers trying to over-winter a large number of weaker nucs - and then losing the lot - rather than combining to form a smaller number of much stronger nucleus colonies.

    I agree with the point made about box sizes - if possible try to firm-up on one size only. If this should be the deeper size, then shims can always be added underneath medium boxes.

    BTW - nuc stacks are a particularly effective way of multiplying bee numbers.
    LJ
    A Heretics Guide to Beekeeping http://heretics-guide.atwebpages.com/

  7. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2016
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    Jennings Co, IN, USA
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    Default Re: 18 month plan - is it realistic?

    Thanks everyone, for weighing in. I appreciate it.

  8. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2017
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    Northern Il, USA
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    637

    Default Re: 18 month plan - is it realistic?

    Last year I started with one May swarm and ended up with 5 hives, two in 10-frame deeps and 3 in deep 5-frame nucs. 3 survived the winter. So with you starting with a large, healthy colony it should be possible to end up where you want, with care and weather and luck.

  9. #8
    Join Date
    Aug 2018
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    Sisters, Oregon
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    219

    Default Re: 18 month plan - is it realistic?

    You already have something going well if you over wintered your first colony. There is a study that says mathematically 5 is the minimal number for a sustainable apiary. I have 5 and love the number. Plus I have 2 support hives Michael Palmer style for splits and over wintering. Those are not occupied yet until I start my over wintering nucs. Love what Little John said about not getting caught up in numbers. People can start to resent it if the work wears on them. Some love large numbers. You will land on the right number over time.
    I'm smart but at the end of the day I'm still the help.

  10. #9
    Join Date
    Apr 2020
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    Southern, New Hampshire, USA
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    56

    Default Re: 18 month plan - is it realistic?

    Quote Originally Posted by LAlldredge View Post
    You already have something going well if you over wintered your first colony. There is a study that says mathematically 5 is the minimal number for a sustainable apiary. I have 5 and love the number. Plus I have 2 support hives Michael Palmer style for splits and over wintering. Those are not occupied yet until I start my over wintering nucs. Love what Little John said about not getting caught up in numbers. People can start to resent it if the work wears on them. Some love large numbers. You will land on the right number over time.
    5, full size hives? Or do NUCs count? Such as the Michael Palmer Double Nuc setup?

  11. #10
    Join Date
    Nov 2019
    Location
    Bellflower,Montgomery County, Mo
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    Default Re: 18 month plan - is it realistic?

    If you are making your own nucs consider making 5 frames that are split-able to 2 frames. Your boxes are at 9 1/4" with a 1/4" x 3/8" dado to put the divider into. I added a 3/4" x 1/2" center strip at the bottom then a 3/4" x 5/8" with a dado in it that has 1/4" ply that gets glued in that goes to the bottom divider. I nail 3/4" x 3/4" on both sides and 3/4" x 3/4" that are nailed on opposite sides at the ends. the spaces that are left open have a smaller 3/4" x 3/4" piece that is not nailed down and leaves about 1" opening. I didn't make a landing board so the center entrance is on either side of the box. You can make screened entry covers that keep the small nucs from being robbed. With a 2 frame nuc you can use a lot less bees to start your nucs.

    I'm in mid-Missouri near I 70 for a frame of reference for you. Here we only have about 30 days or less before the main flow is over. Everyone I've talked to here has said to me to make your splits in May or early June. After that he flow is over and it's very hard to get the hive to make queens. Of course you can buy bred queens but you are paying some one else to graft for you. That's not sustainability. I think you need about 4 or 5 full colonies before you can start grafting and making your own queens. I started to make splits on 3/26/20 and it was to early. The queens didn't get bred or didn't come back and those splits went to laying workers. I found out you can't recombine laying worker splits because your good queen gets killed. Anyway I went into the colony 3 days ago and there were swarm cells that were just hatching out. So I made 3 nucs with those frames and now I'm back to 4 colonies if those new queens make it back after breeding. So I'm a year behind in my goal to start grafting. If I don't get 4 colonies I'll buy some nucs to get me to that number.

  12. #11
    Join Date
    Aug 2018
    Location
    Sisters, Oregon
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    219

    Default Re: 18 month plan - is it realistic?

    I believe it referenced 5 full size. Would strongly recommend the resource hive as a parking spot for swarms, splits and small colonies. The upright 4 over 4 config give me a different set of choices and ways to respond. I have 2. Not filled until I have to respond or when I put together my overwintering queens in July.
    I'm smart but at the end of the day I'm still the help.

  13. #12

    Default Re: 18 month plan - is it realistic?

    For the over wintering game. I feel its partly a numbers game. The biggest part of your plan has to be keeping up with the mites.

  14. #13
    Join Date
    Sep 2018
    Location
    Northern Lower Michigan, USA
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    1,167

    Default Re: 18 month plan - is it realistic?

    you could double or triple each year. split a hive, then split the biggest 1/2 again. then get them all to winter is a fine growth plan.
    the big rocks are the Queens and the Wooden ware. and the mites..
    2-4 easy 4-8 well now build 4 more hives. the 8-16 and 16 -32 starts to get busy.

    Have a mite plan, nuff said there are plenty threads here to re hash that.

    for fast growth consider 8 frame, the 2 deep 1 medium is a good size to build to and winterable, on 20% less frames. Smaller to play with as well.
    Has NUC like tendance to draw comb well.

    Good luck
    GG

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