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.
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)
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 ;-)
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+ -> http://www.k4vb.com/Presentations/PP 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!