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Discussion Starter #1
Hey fellow earthlings! My wife and I started our beekeeping journey with 3 colonies in April 2019. We expanded to over 50 colonies spread across 7 bee yards in 2020. We were at markets all spring and summer and now have a handful of local stores selling our honey. It has taken quite a sustained effort and endless creativity just to keep up with the demand. We have been able to give back to our communities by being active in our local and state bee clubs, teaching preschool classes and summer camps about bees, and spreading a whole bunch of pollinator love! Our beekeeping adventure so far has been one of the most rewarding endeavors of our lives. The connections we have forged with so many amazing human beings have been just as heartwarming as all of the work with the bees.


Now here we are already making plans for 2021. We have 10 additional yards lined up. 2 are substantial in size. One is 50 acres the other is 150 acres. Both of the big ones are less that 1 hour from home. We are researching grants and possible sba loans because an influx of capital right now would really put this thing into hyperdrive. I digress, for that is for another thread. Our short term goal is to significantly increase honey production. Our long term goal is to winter our bees in Florida for build up on oranges and then do Cali. Our current question is for all of you sideliners and pros who have been where we are:


What is the most cost effective way to add numbers? We are looking to at least double in 2021. I have had some people advise me to do a big woodenware order with one of the big outfitters and continue buying packages. Others have mentioned buying colonies off the almonds. We are looking for insight so that we invest wisely for 2021.


The most important lesson we have learned in beekeeping so far is that there is always another lesson regardless of skill level. The second most important lesson we have learned is to listen and learn from those who have come before. Any help is so very appreciated!
 

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First, what have you been doing to grow so far? Buying packages?

I don't know what your hives look like, but if you want to double numbers it may be more economic to split each hive 2 ways at around swarming time?

Plus, you also need to conserve what you already have, this is not always apparent to newish beekeepers because all their hives are young and have not yet run into longer term issues. But have a proper varroa control regimen, and ensure good procedures for getting high winter survival.

Could be you are already doing all those things, I just say them because i have seen many new beekeepers so intent on expanding and how to make more, but neglecting basic care and end up going backwards.
 

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Aylett, VA 10-frame double deep Langstroth
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Nikki, I agree with OT, Probably more economical to make splits, even if you use purchased queens. Packages have a lot of work to do before they become honey producers so you are not gaining much, if anything, over a split off your own bees. As OT points out, splitting out your existing queen and introducing a new queen into the old hive also cuts down on swarming (which REALLY hurts honey production). Buy Commercial grade woodenware in bulk (pallet) quantities. Make sure you are getting good overwinter survival rates so your bee budget is not consumed by replacing winter losses.
 

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Mr. Palmer - I must agree to disagree about packages. Yes, you can usually split an overwintered hive, BUT a package , with proper skill , can also often be split AND still make the normal crop. Ask Ron Householder. We both have experience in the latter.

Crazy Roland
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thanks so much for all of your input so far!

This past season we started with nucs and packages. Most of the packages we started outperformed the nucs (different sources). Then we caught swarms, did trap-outs, cut-outs, and a fair amount of splits. Almost everything we started made enough honey to harvest some. Overall honey production was high.

We tested all of our yards during mite-a-thon and treated most of our hives at that time with formic pads. We did a final round of treatment with apivar strips on a few of our colonies and some late season splits. We left honey on for winter and are supplementing with sugar. We checked some colonies over Thanksgiving and had zero dead so far on what we checked.

The winters here in Northwest Indiana can be rough so losses are expected. However, we are unclear on how much loss to expect. This makes it difficult for us to judge how many new colonies to plan so that we still maintain our numbers. We want to continue to make positive forward progress with our growth. We were planning to add at least 50 new colonies. We also planned to make splits on our survivors to make up for winter losses. Hopefully we make some good gains with this strategy. We would love to hear input on this plan.

We always keep an open mind to new ideas that are backed by success. All of your advice is appreciated!
 

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The plan sounds good. Just, it sounds like you did the formic treatment, then treated with apivar on an as required basis. If you really want to increase as fast as possible, use an effective treatment first time, on every hive. Formic acid can be effective, but only if a bunch of other things are right, such as ambient temperature, strength of hive, etc. Apivar works every time, long as it's placed mid brood, and left in long enough, I leave it in 8 to 10 weeks. Sure it's expensive, but so is buying replacement bees.

I would say you definately have the right ideas. For high winter survival you need to have the bees properly housed, properly fed, and in excellent health. Do those three things right and you will have great results. Michael Palmer keeps his bees in a very harsh wintering environment but gets excellent results, I met him personally once and he told me his previous winter had been well below 5% losses. Far below the 40% or so of some of his neighbors. Check out his videos, see what people with good results do, and imitate.

Other than that, for excellent rates of increase, do 2 things. Keep mite levels as close to zero as you can, and thoroughly prepare each individual hive for winter. Do those two things and much of the rest will just take care of itself, you just split as and when the bees make that possible for you. But mostly during swarm season. Every healthy hive will try to swarm, it's bees natural instinct to reproduce the species. So beat them to it and split them.
 

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65 colonies +/- mostly Langstroth mediums, a few deeps for nuc production
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For your state the BIP survey showed average 25% loss last winter. You can dig in the data for more detail but to estimate losses that is a place to start.
Not much said about your level of experience, some folks get in over their heads and going in debt may not be in your best long term interest until you can afford to lose the investment. Put it on paper, going from 50 to 100 colonies takes X pieces of equipment at Y dollars. Other equipment extractor, tanks etc. Cost of Queens for splits vs packages. The complete results on paper will help guide your decision. One thing to keep in mind is that travel to outyards takes time and needs to be done on a regular basis to avoid swarming etc. Your area has a generally shorter but steadier honey flow which makes management a little easier. Remember all beekeeping is local.
 

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5 ,8 ,10 frame, and long Lang
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Greetings Earthling,

I would do a "multi" pronged approach.
the time to invest and do all at once can be high and if the timing of the weather is wrong your eggs are in one basket.

So if you have 5 hives lost (10%) then you will have some comb in the spring, I would clean this up and order maybe
10-12 packages, re hive in the dead outs. I always use comb with some stores for packages. this would be the early spring "project"

then prep for splits, maybe order 15 or so queens earlier than you can make your own. take medium hives, split out the queen and 3 frames of bees, add the new queen to the old hive essentially doing a split with an ordered queen. this would be a late spring /early summer project. this will alow you to bring in some genes if you feel the need.

then take the 8-10 best, wintered hives, your best stock, and make some queens from them,, look at Michael Bush web sight and read the queen rearing pages, try to raise 40-60 queens of your own, make some NUCs and Splits. replace the worst hives queen with these ones you raise.

I would replace cut out time with queen rearing time, it will take you to your stated goal faster.

highlights:
doing 3 or 4 smaller projects make each more digestible.
Splitting out the times also helps to make each project its own, and if you get crappy weather to raise queens or late cold to impact the packages then all your eggs are not in one basket.
And if not obvious, at some point, growth will necessitate you raising your own queens.
As well you are not in a 1 big project to make your goals, do or die situation.
One of these methods you may find easier so then next year just do a few more.

You will want/need comb so watch Michael Palmers Utubes on Sustainable apiary, and work in a NUC yard or 2.

good luck
let us know how you are doing from time to time.

GG
 

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Discussion Starter #9
We appreciate all the guidance! We were out feeding bees all day yesterday and saw some good signs as well as a few dead hives. Overall, we may be on par with our area for losses but winter is far from over.

We have a commercial friend who is willing to do some sharecropping with us next winter by allowing us to send our bees to the Florida orange groves with his bees. He sent 5 semi's this season. Would this alter any of your advice? If so, in what way?

Thanks so much guys!
 

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Splitting and buying doubles out of Almonds would do what you want. The problem with Almond bees is you may have trouble finding someone who will sell less than a full load. But, if you could that would be the way to go. They will come with boxes, bees, and lots of brood. You could grow as big as your pocket book would let you.
 

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You say nothing about expanding your extracting process. I would suggest that that has to be done prior to expanding your colonies.
 

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Just to show a different point of view, I would not expand the extraction first.
1) you may never get there. could grow to 80 hives, then get 80% die off during the winter for a couple years and change your mind.
2) if you expand hive count at a rapid rate there may not be a lot of honey crop.
3) the extraction investment sets there for 360 days a year unused, as well the building it is in.

I used a 2 frame manual extractor in the garage until I got to 20 hives "in production" yes it was a PITA but I did not lay out the funds until I needed to. you may decide to sell Queens or NUCs post setting up the primo extraction House, wasted funds. Planning, looking for used, gear is a great idea. building a honey house IMO can wait, until the production Hives consistently make the winter, and you have no other options.

Ask around maybe someone has a honey house near you that you can rent for a week.

GG
 

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1st, how many hives made it the 1st Winter (how many went into winter and how many out alive).
You seemed to have gone big Very fast. Can't see why you wouldn't be able to keep doing more. Not sure why you don't have income to put towards this, what you made from bees should go back to bees. You sound like you brought in a lot of money this last year, for your 2nd year. You should be making your own hives if you want to get that big and making your own splits

I would read the section Business Side of Beekeeping on here as there is a lot of info on there.
 

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Aylett, VA 10-frame double deep Langstroth
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One of the folks that went from zero to sixty in 3.2 seconds is Soarwitheagles. Caught a whole bunch of swarms off what appears to have been a commercial staging area. Made a lot of his own equipment. Had a huge die off a year later if I remember correctly, but is in it for the long haul. May be a good idea to read some of his posts.
 

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I built my out yards first. Gave me the ability to expand as needed. Made splitting easier got sure. I use a combination of purchased queens, pulling frames with queen cells to make splits, and grafting my own queens.
I make 50/50 splits early, build up faster, with purchased queens. I make 3-5 frame splits with frames with queen cells, depends on resources available. I do grafting, after the threat of cold temperatures. I’ll do 2 frame nucs with the grafted queens.
I feed my bees 1-1 syrup during this entire period.
Grafting is the way to go to get new queens. I built my own frames, cell builder, mating nucs. Once you have the equipment and basic skills you can easily graft as many queens as you want. It’s free after the initial setup. Saves you $25 to $35 for each queen.
I went from 75 colonies to over 175 colonies last year. I could have done more but time is limited. I only have so much time for Woodware building. I make all of my bottoms and tops. Lots of money to be saved there. I also build all of my frames. Money to be saved there as well. Sometimes time is money and frames will be purchased assembled.
I have another business to run as well and it takes my time.
 

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With flyback splits you can triple your hive count in one round of splitting. You can use purchased queens, or graft queens ahead of time for it, or let the splits raise their own queens. Check out this thread...


Or just do a search for flyback or fly back or fly-back splits, others besides me have made postings about doing them. Lauri comes to mind as one who has posted about it.
 

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With flyback splits you can triple your hive count in one round of splitting. You can use purchased queens, or graft queens ahead of time for it, or let the splits raise their own queens. Check out this thread...


Or just do a search for flyback or fly back or fly-back splits, others besides me have made postings about doing them. Lauri comes to mind as one who has posted about it.
Hi Ray,


the didy about destroying the QCs and adding in some eggs from a breeder queen is interesting. will need to try that.

What I have done is,, do your fly back process to a "wanted" Queen, in 10 days newspaper combine a "poor" hive on top, dispatching the poor queen, or make a NUC if you wish, to later intro a QC of the wanted queen.
Placing one of the Splits with QCs in the poor hives location. that requeens the poor hive with the wanted queens daughter, VIA the QC. Then in 6-7 days do it all over, the eggs and larvae that are usable to make queens will all be the wanted queens offspring, the bees emerging brood and combs are from the poor hive.

so the first Fly back is a triple,, possible 3rd cell in the poor hives Fly back location, on day 10, then another triple. then the "good hive + Poor hive is 6 hives with 5 daughters of the good hive. just need to make sure the poor hive is not riddled with Mites or some other issue.

good info thanks for offering the way you do the splits.

GG
 

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More hives don't alway mean bigger honey production.


My Dad and Mom ran 1500+ hives pre-mite day. Their APH was 45-50 lbs. They would put all there new hives into pollination each year locally for $25-$30 a hive. For many year retail everything they produced. Then got to big and start wholesale to the packers.


I run 750-900 hives now and can product a APH 157-203 lbs. I wholesale 82% of my crop to beekeeper all over the USA. Many ask why wholesale over retail. I enjoy working the bees and that is where I spend the time. I don't chase honey flows, pollination contracts.

I tried my hand once at bee production, but the numbers just didn't work. I sold nucs for $185, that same nuc in production would product 150 lb @ $2.80+ a lb. Of course nuc was less work for 1/3 of the pay. I'm one that always wanted the bigger piece of the honey comb.

I have beekeepers I sell to that find they like sales over working the bees. Most have 20-50 hives and just don't have the time to work them like they should.
I have one customer that started out with 20 hives and did a APH of 95 lbs. Now he runs 100 hives and does a APH of maybe 60 lbs. Beekeeper are the best wholesale customer, because they know what it takes to produce.

This is where I was going with this. Keep it fun. Grow at the spend that you can enjoy, not that it won't be hard work. My Dad and Mom still working in the business. Just don't work those crazy hours like they did back in the days, and I don't lose sleep moving bees at night anymore.

40+ years in the business. I'm just a honey producer in NW Ohio.
 
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