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Fireside chat with Walt

2996 Views 20 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  Daniel Y
So this is really a question/story I was going to PM to Walt, but I thought the general discussion could be fun. I'm hoping it'll involve comments on checkboaring, shb, supering, and drawing comb.

Flora Setting:
Elkton, MD is about 2 miles north of the Chesapeke Bay, nearly in Amish country. It has Maples late Feb-early March, cherries and willows in late march-early April, apples mid april, and tulip popular/black locust/berries/clover in mid May to mid June (this is the main flow that I focus on). So basically my timing may be 1-2 weeks later than Walt's area even though I'm quite farther north of him. So to all you checkerboarding students, I'm supposed to manipulate around March 1st.

The Backstory (it's long so unless you jsut want to be entertained by a moderately experienced beek, you should skip to the questions):

Last year was a bad honey year for me. I had 2 hives in the spring: 1 was a 3rd year hive that had struggled with varroa that previous fall and another was a 2nd year hive that had done quite well its first year despite no feed during the summer dearth. Anyway, it was what it was and I was going to roll the dice. I had comb enough to checkboard both and have a 2-3 extra supers on top. So come March 1 I did what I was supposed to. As spring progressed it was apparent that the varroa hive queen wasn't up to the task with a pitiful egg pattern and nurse bees/stores just sitting there, however, the 2nd year hive was going nuts! I had trouble with the hive chimenying up into the checkerboard, I theorize this happened for 2 reasons: 1) I did the manipulation with no brood present in the deep and 2) they were low enoguh on stores that there was no honey band in the deep to keep them there... Now I've found in my 2 attempts to checkboard that it's critical they establish in the deep for a couple brood cycles so that brood nest actually has an expansion (hopefully just before white wax).... Lesson Learned. So I watched my hives and when I saw the 2nd cycle of egg laying come on, I thought I was in the clear. Waited 20 days expecting to come back to a BOOMING hive. Not so. I came back to a hive that was exactly same in population as I had left it (as soon as I opened the box, my heart sank) and I heard the sounds of pipping queens. First off, that's really really cool to hear. Second, I. FREAKED. OUT. But when you have lemons, make lemonade. So the first thing I did was go to the Varroa hive with the dud queen, pinch, and drop a swarm cell in there. Next I pulled 2 other frames with swarm cells and made nucs for each of them. And I left the original hive as is, hoping there might be another cell or queen strolling around. That night I went home, did inventory of drawn comb and equipment (bought hell of a lot more) and decided if I wasnt going to make honey, BY GOD I was gonna make bees! I ended up feeding 100 lbs sugar to EACH hive during last summer and fall. The original hive went queenless for 2 months (capped brood supplemented) before a frame of eggs took and they were requeened (jumping ahead in the story, this hive became this year's dud and I know exactly why). Most important, I was able to draw out 2 deeps and 5 shallows of cured syrup for all the hives to overwinter on, leaving me with 8 drawn combs for this spring. The hives went into winter like champs, one hive was even raising brood into Dec (unusual here). Then the polar vortex came, and I was certain at least my weakest hive was an icicle. Yet, when I came out March 7 (was too cold to open them up before then), there they were just starting to lay up for spring (The dud was a ball of bees covering half of 2 shallow frames). I had lost 1 drawn comb to wax moths so I checkerboarded all 4 hives and put an empty drawn and foundationless undrawn super on top of the 3 good hives. They finished the first cycle and the queens were midway laying up number 2 by the time I started sugar dusting on March 30th. I've dusted 3 times and just finished that up April 14th. This time I inspected for swarm cells (no cups found) and I noticed the bees were pulling out the honey in the checkerboard and the hive was HOT (in temperature that is... I could feel the heat through my glove just holding it over the deep). 1 has even begun laying up in the 1st shallow so I feel confident that this year will not have a swarm. What I do know is that by next week my hives should have a deep, and 2-3 shallows worth of bees emerged from cycle 2 and full expansion (the money maker) cycle 3 should start. If all goes well due to delayed weather I should have a hive busting out of the seams by May 21 which is my (I'm assuming 1 week late) anticipated flow. I'm wonder if the queen can keep up because cycle 3 will require her to deliver ~60k eggs (that's 12 deep frames at 5/7 cell usage
in volume of a deep and 2 shallows)

My strategy:
I'm expecting 3 absolutely MONSTER (normal for you guys but for me this is gonna be crazy) hives and right now I have 1 super of drawn comb on each and 3 supers of undrawn foundationless ready to be added. I'm beginning to feel woefully unprepared for what could happen, but I've also experienced so many duds in beekeeping that I hate to invest in equipment that will end up unneeded. I have 2 hives with pollen traps on that I plan on "turning on" after May 1st. The 3rd hive without a trap, I'm going to attempt a cutback split and pull the queen and any uncapped brood/egg frames on May 10th to make a nuc. I say attempt because even though all my queens are marked, the thought of wading through 30 frames of brood to find a queen is daunting. I'm really worried about getting them to draw the 3 undrawn supers. After May 1, I plan on bottom supering since they should have started filling the drawn super by then. Before May 14th I'll be supering 1 box at a time until 8 frames are drawn. After that I'm scared that the explosion of population will overtake me so I'm just going to throw on everything I've got. This strategy is assuming that everything will continue as it has been foretold ;-)

My questions:

When to Super:

Can you super 2-3 boxes of foundationless at once? Obviously you want enough bees to guard the comb but if there isn't any comb to guard I consider the space not very useful to hiding SHB. I'm just worried about this hive exploding on me and then have a swarm of the century on my hands.

How much to super:

A local follower and documentor of Walt's work, Bob Fanning, posted on slide 2 of this link that 4 supers will give you more honey yield than 4+ -> for Webpages jpg indiv/Harvesting honey June 2010.ppt This is counter to what I've heard which is that if the bees will take more, give them more. I think Walt is best to answer this one.

Expectation of Checkboarded hive to draw comb:

Can I expect a monster or even normal hive to draw 3+ supers of comb in my 3-4 weeks honey flow? I'll consider more shallow if I know its a reasonable and sound investment. I'm also willing to pull supers, harvest, and put them back on a day later if it means more honey.

If you're still reading, thanks for hanging in there :) Look forward to your commments!
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I am not familiar with your area and the flow, but I am curious how all this is going to pan out. Keep this thread updated, please!
Have no experience with F-less, but would not advise adding several surers at the same time. It is true that CB creates larger broodnests and greater populations. And distribution of the workforce improves efficiency. A production colony can be working in four supers at the same time - starting one, and finishing the forth. Although they CAN build comb from the bottom, up, that is not normal to their natural instincts. For best results with F-less, insert frames individually between fully capped frames. Keeps the filled frames the same thickness. More work to go down to finished supers, but worth the effort in drawn comb inventory.

After new wax of "main flow" you can add foundation at the top or anywhere in the stack. They will go to work on it through the duration of the spring flow. You might get a super or two at the top drawn and capped on the flow trailing edge, if the colony is strong. Because it is adverse to there instincts, I wouldn't use F-less at all in the honey supers.

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We evidently have a much milder climate even in winter than you do their. at least that is how I am seeing the difference. Local beekeepers are talking about reversing boxes and starting build p this past week. I have been checkerboarding and building up my colony since February (mild winter). I am not the best judge of when flow is on but local beekeepers are saying it starts in mid May. From what I see in my hives it may have started two weeks ago. This is the second year I have seen this. IT causes me to wonder if they do not traditionally see this early flow becasue they do not have their bees ready for it ??? Bees are swarming locally but I am thinking it has been going on about a month and may be nearly over. I only had two hives make swarm cells. one is a cell builder that I intentionally overpopulated. the other is a hive we got a bit behind on checkerboarding and started cells. neither have actually swarmed at this point.

I started this year with 23 hives. 12 langstroth hives that where a deep and a medium. 10 nucs and a top bar hive that we did not remove honey from last year.

of the 12 full size colonies we had a total of 250 frames. Half deeps half mediums. Once again regardless of Walts comments on bees drawing comb we checkerboard using new foundationless frames. At this time we are at 510 frames and no swarming.

We are also getting better result with how well fraems are being drawn than we did last year with our first attempt. I am allowing the hives to remain more crowded this year.

I have no idea how many rounds of brood we have seen in these hives. We have a couple that are lagging due to queen quality issues. The rest are 4 to 5 boxes tall (2 to 3 supers) Our cell builder is 6 boxes tall but that is due to adding brood from other hives. Two of the nucs have built up to full size hives one with 20 frames and the other with 30. Our nucs are 5 frame boxes and most of them have built up to three boxes tall. They have continually been reduced in population to support the cell builder. They have combined contributed 40 or so additional newly drawn foundationless frames.

So if my recollection is correct that is about 300 fraems drawn pre flow for 12 hives and 10 nucs. While preventing swarming at least this far.

The idea of adding more than one super at a time. I do not typically and am very careful about adding even one. but as these colonies build up I am starting to see the possibility that I could add two maybe more at one time.

First as the season progresses the bees have more and more resources and are becoming more active and productive. This increases their ability to take on more frames at once. Their population is greatly increased as well. If I can get 30,000 bees to draw 10 new frames then 60,000 should have no issue with 20. Right?

There is also another factor. a hive that in February was a deep and a medium is now a deep and 4 mediums. When adding a new super I no longer make half of each super empty space. in fact I go go down through that stack and add just a couple of empty frames to each box. By the time I get filled fraems in that new top box it is already 80% full. I add my next super at 80%. My only concern at this pint is that I made every box in the hive only 80%. I could add another super at the same time making all supers on the hive 60%. Every super now has 4 empty frames in it.

Keep in mind I am looking at very strong population in these colonies. weak populations take a lot of time getting even a few fraems drawn. but strong ones take care of them fairly quickly.

I still l think it is best to give them one super at a time and let them finish with those frames. They may not take as long to get it done and another super can be added at that time. I have found it is better to have well drawn frames rather than numerous partially drawn frames.
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A production colony can be working in four supers at the same time - starting one, and finishing the forth.
So 4 supers is the optimal number? 4 shallows is only 120-150 lbs so to get 200+ lbs from a big big hive, you'd need to harvest mid flow or use more supers. Any thoguhts?
Wouldn't call 4 shallows optimal, but locally, it generally takes that many above the deep and two, to provide the growth space all the way to repro c/o. After that, typically, the overhead storage lull of the established colonies does not need supers. At the end of the lull, about two and a half weeks later, starts the new wax of "main flow". Now, it's time to super up, at whatever rate you choose.

This is my second year doing this. and I still don't have a clue as to repro c/o for my area. I know this. I will never say i think we are just days away from it again. every time I say that we find another hive swarming.

So far we have had two swarm. one is the top bar that had no management at all to prevent it. It is my comparison. It swarmed sometime in the past few days but we never saw the swarm leave. We have another hive that is queenless but I am not certain why. she never has preformed very well all spring.

We have one other hive that started to make cells that was one of our strongest hives. I need to take a close look at it and see if I can figure out jsut why it started to swarm. as soon as we found cells we captured the queen removed her with 5 fraems to a nuc and will have this hive make swarm cells under the swarm and emergency impulse. These cells will be removed as they are capped and placed in an incubator. the hive will then be broken down into 2 frame mating compartments so that the virgins will have a place to make mating flights. once mated they will be given 5 frame nucs. The will eventually return the two fraems that where used for mating to the parent colony. In effect every queen produced will borrow the fraems needed to get mated. but she will pay those fraems back. this means that queens actually produce the brood required themselves.

So far I am not calling checker boarding a failure for a second year. We have made a much better show of it this year but we still have the drawing of comb factor in the process. As of last inspection on the 20th no other hives show any indication of swarming.

3 hives of 21 have been made queenless. 2 have either swarmed or become queenless. we are still working with 16 to prevent them from swarming. Honey flow typically stats May 15 here. that means we are within 10 days or so of Repro c/o as far as I can tell. The bees still need that two week lag to prepare for honey production. We may actually be past the date bees will start swarms. so far we have gotten a total of 97 cells from all our hives combined. 32 of those where grafts from our cell builder. Another 19 from a nuc that lost it's queen. and many of the rest from the top bar and other strong hive that swarmed or attempted to swarm. we also got quite a few from the hive that lost it's queen. I was expecting 250 queen cells this spring. I consider that reduction in cell production to be due to checker boarding.

Slice and serve all that as you see fit. I think checker boarding works pretty well. It does not necessarily work all the time and if ti is not done properly very well may not work at all. I know even with no drawn comb it pushes any swarm attempts back to near prevention. this is the second year I am convinced that has happened. and I may have prevented swarming almost entirely this year. I am at the point I have to disrupt my attempt due to needing cells so I can sell the queens. I am now intentionally pushing my bees to swarm even though they have been made queenless.

I need 250 virgin queens to either mate or sell as virgins.
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Wouldn't call 4 shallows optimal, but locally, it generally takes that many above the deep and two, to provide the growth space all the way to repro c/o. After that, typically, the overhead storage lull of the established colonies does not need supers. At the end of the lull, about two and a half weeks later, starts the new wax of "main flow". Now, it's time to super up, at whatever rate you choose.

Most of my hives are 2nd year (not sure if they will act like it and continue without a lull) and I only have 1 drawn super above the deep + checkerboard. I checked the orchard about 2 miles away and the cherries have just come in bloom and the apples should be next week if it warms up a little more so I'm about 2-3 weeks from repro c/o. Is there any trick to be done since I clearly dont have enough drawn comb for the expected population?

My plan was to wait until the bees covered and started to fill the single drawn super with nectar and once I thought they were strong enough, I would separate that from the brood nest with supers to be drawn. I did that strategy in the past, but was a little early in the manipulation and they abandoned the super (even with nectar still inside). I"m contemplating pulling some frames of brood up just for insurance that they'll stay up there, but I'm not sure if disturbing the broodnest and internals is worth it.
...Is there any trick to be done since I clearly dont have enough drawn comb for the expected population?...Im contemplating pulling some frames of brood up just for insurance that they'll stay up there, but I'm not sure if disturbing the broodnest and internals is worth it.
Kelly, Checkerboarding with new foundationless frames by "Opening the Sides" is specifically for beekeepers who don't have spare drawn comb. As Daniel has demonstrated, you can have the bees draw many frames of comb before swarm season. Once you have enough drawn comb you can then Checkerboard the next season as Walt does.

It is all about triggering wax production before swarm season and then maintaining wax production into the main flow.


1. Several weeks before swarm season, move each outside frame up into a new box and alternate (Checkerboard) them with new frames, directly above the Broodnest.

2. Insert a new frame on each outside edge of the Broodnest. (So that a Brood frame is only on one side of the new frame.)

3. Check them in at least 2 weeks and repeat if comb in the frames is being drawn.

I use (mostly) foundationless frames with a strip of foundation as a starter strip.

The idea is not to disturb the brood frames but leave them together. Don't Checkerboard brood frames. It's more about making a hole in their current nest (so that they make more comb) and moving up the frames they are currently using directly above the nest so that they can continue to use those frames and to encourage them to move into the new box.

Its easier to do if you use all the same size frames.
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I'm not sure I understand your method for my situation.

Here is my situation: I had enough comb for the initial checkerboard... just not for the honey supers. My bees are currently laying up the 2 shallows (previously checkerboarded) above the deep. This is fine right now but in 2 weeks (right around repo c/o) the hive population is going to explode and if they aren't actively drawing comb at that time, there won't be enough room for the extra workers, and that will probably tip the balance into backfilling and swarming. This is why Walt says to have 4 supers over the checkerboard, to absorb the workforce and provide plenty of space for any nectar.

How would you suggest I use your technique? I have a checkerboard with a broodnest expanding into it. In that checkerboard is cured sugar syrup that I really don't want to put up in my supers but rather have it consumed by the broodnest. If I checkerboard those frames with foundationless, I'm pretty sure I'll get really wonky comb (I've had plenty of bad experiences with that). And I'm confused how to "make a hole in their current nest" that wouldn't involve distrubing the nest.

I'm making an inspection tomorrow so we'll see their status. I have to decide on a manipulation soon if they show any signs of swarm prep. Thanks for the advice!
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Use the 2 Shallows to Open the Sides.

Move 2 outside frames from each Shallow into a new Shallow that will go on top. So you then have 4 drawn frames to Checkerboard with Foundationless frames.
(Once they are drawing comb you can start using foundation. The strip of foundation on the foundationless frames is to get them to draw straight comb.

The frames you move up should ideally have no brood on them and be capped. This will help in them building straight combs.

In the two shallows with brood in them, place each new frame beside an outside brood frame, this will also help in them drawing straight comb. (So the "hole" is beside the broodnest in their current brood box).

Now they have 10 new frames to draw out and each one is beside a drawn frame.

Because they are Shallows, they will be drawn out quite fast, so you will need to check again within a week and then do the same with another new shallow.

You could then take another 2 frames from each Shallow, so then you will have 6 drawn frames that can be Checkboarded with new frames.
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Kelly I also checkerboard back into the drawn frames. In my case I start in the spring with a deep and a medium. as soon as I see brood building up I add a second medium checkerboard it with frames from the first. The same would be true if I built the hive up from a nuc. Once the nuc is at that full deep and medium point I will checkerboard the entire next box in with the first medium. Now the bees will usually have a favored frame to start drawing comb on. So on my weekly checks I pay attention to this. when that frame is well started I move it toward the side and place another undrawn frame in it's place. This way getting each new frame in each box started. When this second medium is 80 drawn I add a third. I still checkerboard the new empty frames all the way down into the bottom medium. this time it is only 3 new frames added to each box. Many of my hives are now working on their 4 new medium and one or two have a fifth. assuming the entire hive is well drawn out the adding of a 5th box is actually not doing anything but setting each box back to only 80%. By this time in actually practice it is hardly worth the time to only add one box. Keep in mind I am trying to keep 20% open space in the hive until repro c/o. to do so I need to set them back below 80% and then wait for them to bring it back up. With a 5th box I am goign to go all the way down to the lowest medium and replace two drawn fraems. I wll do the same in each of the other mediums. this only leaves 2 empty frames in each of 5 mediums.

By this time in actual practice the bees are gathering honey. and having empty fraems next to honey frames is a whole different thing. they will simply draw honey comb out deeper and deeper and leave the empty frames empty. So I move up drawn frames form below and place new empty fraems lower in the hive. at some point the bees want to fill the hive and start working back down. By adding empty space to the boxes below again I am keeping the frames added ahead of them. they will run into new empty fraems all the way up as they build and all the way back down again. I let them have their full box on top just the way they want it.

By this time it really become tricky to actual see the overall condition of the hive. it is actuary a random mix of partially drawn frames completely ignored frames overly drawn fraems next to partially drawn ones etc. I actually draw up something of a map of each hive to see where space needs to be added. I do this with a once a month frame by frame inspection noting the condition of every frame it is either empty, undrawn. started. partially drawn or well drawn. I can then look at this map and see where I need to move frames around to. I place well drawn comb next to overly drawn comb and make the bees shorten it up again. It is amazing how fast the bees can move honey around and tear down comb. usually over night. I then start moving all correctly built honey fraems to the top of the hive.

Now keep in mind it has taken me thee seasons to start judging when to start the turn around and let the bees work back down. This is the first year I have actually seen them fill the top full and start working down. This is also the first year I have really had the chance to work with this idea of adding space as they work back down as well as adding it as they work up. The idea is to continually slow them down.
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So I checked the hives today. Only one hive has expanded into the 2nd box (I'm disappointed). The one that had 2 empty deep frames has drawn it out and filled it with eggs and has also started establishing a brrodnest perimeter halfway into the 1st box of shallows but no eggs yet so I'm reluctant to do a manipulation. The 3rd hive is tearing at all the capped honey but again no brood in the empty drawn comb. So i felt like if I added empty frames at this point it won't do much good until the broodnest is more established. Plus I only saw one queen cup and it wasn't polished and on frame 10 so I think I have at least 7 days.... And it's not a horrible situation, all 3 hives have their deeps in wall to wall brood (8-9 frames totally solid brood) :-D Apples are still in the pink stage and I expect bloom this weekend (I've NEVER seen apple blossoms in May but it will happen this year).

As for getting more drawn frames with Daniel's checkerboarding, this seems really difficult to do, a lot of work, and easy to screw up. Furthermore, I have a shallow of sugar syrup on each hive (checkerboarded with drawn comb) that I don't want to get into my honey supers. So mixing in empty frames into these boxes necessitates shuffling capped sugar syrup off to some place where it wont mix in.... seems very difficult to do. I'm going to check them in 7 days and hopefully they'll have a broodnest up into the 2nd and 3rd boxes. In the meantime, lets keep these ideas rolling around!

I've also considered just pulling the queens and making small 4 frame cutback splits on all my hives in about 3 weeks. That would guarantee no swarm at least.....
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*Update on hives*

I've started the technique "Opening up the sides" by Daniel and it seems to be working well. All hives are now laying into the shallow above the brood chamber and have drawn 2-4 frames and laid in them over the past week but don't seem to be expanding upward as Walt states. I'm not sure if my queens are just not up to the task since I have the populations to cover a deep and 3 shallows at this point. Many of the 2nd shallows are being used to store nectar and the empty shallows above are covered with bees but they are ignoring the space for storing nectar. It could be that I'm pushing their timeline a little fast but I'm 3 weeks until the flow so I was thinking this is the time when they should be firing on all 6 cylinders... no?

2 hives have their pollen traps activated (Sundance II bottom trap) as of yesterday and the girls seemed to have adapted very well to that. I will leave those 2 hives as is and harvest pollen the next 3 weeks and then remove the trap for the flow (I hear it impedes nectar coming in?)

The 3rd hive (no pollen trap) seems to not want to expand up and they are the most likely candidate to attempt a swarm in the next 2-3 weeks. I pulled a pollen frame from them and gave it to my weak hive (hoping this won't attract SHB but we'll see) and placed an empty frame in the middle of the brood nest. That should distract them for a week or so as they regain pollen stores and draw the frame out. I'm scheduling this hive for a cut-back split (remove queen and all open brood) in 2 weeks which should leave the hive with no brood in 3 weeks when the flow comes on.

One part that I'm not quite understanding is that my buildup has seemed very slow the last 2 weeks. I have bees covering a deep and 3 shallows but Walt made it sound like he had a deep and 6 shallows going into the flow. With 3 weeks left, am I behind schedule? Have I over-manipulated my hives yet again? I visit once every 7-10 days (first to sugar dust and then to open the sides of the brood nest). I just really want a bumper honey crop this year!
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*Update on hives*
1. All hives are now laying into the shallow above the brood chamber and have drawn 2-4 frames and laid in them over the past week but don't seem to be expanding upward as Walt states.

2. Many of the 2nd shallows are being used to store nectar and the empty shallows above are covered with bees but they are ignoring the space for storing nectar.

One part that I'm not quite understanding is that my buildup has seemed very slow the last 2 weeks. I have bees covering a deep and 3 shallows but Walt made it sound like he had a deep and 6 shallows going into the flow. With 3 weeks left, am I behind schedule? Have I over-manipulated my hives yet again? I visit once every 7-10 days (first to sugar dust and then to open the sides of the brood nest). I just really want a bumper honey crop this year!
My first comment is that side expansion and checkerboarding is something I do well before the flow. the latest I have started a hive with these methods was May 10th with our flow being late that year stating around June 7th or so.

It always seems to me the bees are more reluctant to move upward than sideways. I also saw this in the first colony I attempted these methods with. some of it I think is timing. I also think that to much space to fast may cause part of it. I think my colony also got weakened by varroa just about the time the lull set in. In all I am not certain what causes this just yet. I do not see it in bees that start building up earlier in the season; only in those bees that are building as they reach the flow.

1. you may be describing what Walt mentions in his book about a lull between this spring build up swarm period and honey production. between swarming and honey the bees take about a two week period to regroup produce the forces necessary for honey production or whatever. Your observations about slowing down production is not unfamiliar with me either. I have no explanation for it at this time.

2. One other thought. if they have a solid layer of honey/nectar above them you may need to break it up for them to move higher. As far as I can tell they use honey to determine the boundaries of their space regardless of any space beyond that. move some of those frames of nectar up or replace some with empty fraems to keep them working.

I also tend to think that new frames do to smell right they do not necessarily accept them as theirs right away. moving their frames up among them helps them make the adjustment.
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Good to hear about timing. I checkerboarded March 1 which this year is 11-12 weeks before the flow, and I started opening up the sides around April 28 or 4 weeks before the flow so I'm on track with what you're saying. The big things for me was that I thought broodnest expansion into the shallows (up to 3 shallows according to Walt) was supposed to happen 4-5 weeks before the flow. I didn't see that level of expansion from any of my hives, and that is what my concern was.

In terms of opening up space too fast, I've only placed 1 empty frame next to each side of the brood frames. And every hive has seemed to draw that frame within the 7 days between inspections (most times they have drone eggs layed already). All 3 were very motivated until this last week it seems so maybe I am hitting this lull.

Given your comments in 2, I think I'll mix some of the empty drawn comb with nectra frames to pull them up to the next super. As I mentioned, I want to try to keep my extracted supers from getting sugar syrup from the checkerboard in them, but I think I can recall which are which. The smell thing makes sense. I'm excited to see if this works! Will make the manipulation this next Sunday.

A thought on your varroa problem.... do you think it had anything to do with the first round of drone hatching? I did a quick check of some of my drone brood and found no varroa, but I've had tremendous problems with them in drone before. Just a thought.....
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It has crossed my mind that Varroa seem to start appearing shortly after the drones do. Which is fairly good timing for them to interfere with honey production.

What you have seen seems very familiar to me when it comes to a nuc building up. that is a lot of growth for one season. To me it almost seems like the bees finally got tired of it and they just will not do any more.

I was able to manage 12 full size production colonies this spring with the checker boarding and side expansion methods. the results are different and I do not notice that slowing down as much. they seemed to just go right from expanding to storing honey. Much larger populations of course and they managed to build up 4 and in some cases 5 mediums of new comb. I would not have noticed except suddenly frames of honey started to get drawn and they tend to make a mess of that when there is no foundation to guide them.

As the flow begins I have been told I can add 2 or three supers to this at a time. This starts getting hives I cannot reach the top of.
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So the black locust and tulip poplar are in full bloom here in MD which usually would indicate a strong flow and white wax, but I'm not getting any of these signs in my hive! It's also much cooler than usual with only a few days so far above 80.

So of the 3 hives I've mentioned in this thread:

1 hive is doing great, has produce a shallow of drawn comb using the "expand the sides" method which means I have 2 shallows of drawn and nectared frames, 1 shallow of empty frames, 1 deep and 2 shallow of brood with the queen continuing to expand the broodnest even with the flow in full swing

another hive has drawn comb using "expand the sides" but seem lethargic, isn't expanding the broodnest past 1 deep and 1 shallow, and isn't filling some of the drawn comb no matter where i move it around

the last hive has been stuck at 1 deep and 1 shallow and keeps filling any open comb above that with nectar for the past few weeks. They've drawn comb when I've opened up the sides of the broodnest but prefer to fill with nectar rather than expand (so I usually move that frame up and stick another empty in) However, they have started backfilling the 1 shallow which leads me to believe swarm preps. I spotted queen cells in the shallow and they've appeared within the past 7-10 days as you can see in my picture (2 cells were accidentally torn open) but these cells seem like supercedure to me. There is a queen cup on the bottom but it was laid in much later than these and I found no evidence of eggs which means the queen either failed or swarm preps are under way. I was planning on a cutback split on this hive anyway, so my strategy is to get down into the deep tomorrow, pull any frames that aren't capped brood, all honey/pollen frames, and the queen if I can find her, and make a nuc. If I find eggs down there, I might reconsider a split but I'm really paranoid of losing this hive to a swarm. Then I could also take the shallow with the queen cells and make a "mini nuc" to ensure no virgin aferswarm if that is really what they are trying to do.

Thoughts on handling the queen cells? Thoughts on why I haven't hit white wax yet? Not sure if I"m past repro cutoff and just paranoid, but until I see whitewax and tons of waxmakers ready to go, I'm going to keep on it!

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I regret that I have been pretty much a non-participant on this thread. Other priorities (mostly medical) have kept me in a state where my interest was not up to par. Coming out of it now, but have spent very little time with the bees for that period.

What I do know:
The extra cold spell in Feb delayed local colony developement for at least 3 weeks. 2 colonies that had started brood in late Jan did not recycle those brood cells but let them empty out by mid feb. The rest just did not start brood until late Feb. Three weeks later than normal for this area. We use the rule of thumb that a colony can double the brood volume in a brood cycle. By losing the first cycle ( Increasing exponentially) We didn't have nearly the brood volume expected for the buildup.

Repro cut off and the start of "main flow" were both delayed by the trees and the bees - the bees more than the trees. All the trees do not react to season vagaries the same amount of time - some bloom out of the normal sequence timing. Black locust bloomed in the storage lull, which is normal here, but tulip poplar also bloomed in the lull. Although TP is our region mainflow big producer, the bees were not ready for it yet.

To complicate things even further, Harold was hit with a major European foul brood (EFB)
outbreak. When the colonies finally got to the major expansion period and had filled frames with larval brood, some colonies had multiple frames of diseased brood. Bad news.
Reminds me - need to go back and update the thread started on that subject.

Will try to do better on the "chat" part of this thread.

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Follow up on the pics. I took a look at the hive again and they arent maintaining the broodnest at all. Its pollen filled at the bottom and backfilled at the top with 6 or 7 capped cells of the same age and a few cells with 1-3 day old larva. I ripped apart the hive and couldn't find the queen. So at this point she either already swarmed or got balled. Im at a lose of what to do with this hive. Its still full of bees and plenty of room for growth and has maybe 15000 more capped brood to emerge in the next week. Will they abort the younger queen larva? Should I break the hive up or boost another hive with this capped brood? Just really disappointed this hive didnt take off like I expected. ..
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