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Discussion Starter #1
I have reached my goal of 20 hives and want to stay right there, give or take a hive or two. I will typically have an annual loss of 10 - 20%. My plan is to split my three or four best hives to keep up with annual mortality. Aside from that, I don't want any more bees and don't really want them to swarm. Do I go through the hives regularly and do away with any queen cells I might find? - and just ignore any swarms that do happen to occur? And, make sure I provide adequate room within the hives for my bees. Any other advice for maintaining a set number of hives?
 

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You need to do normal inspections on your hives. If you don't want them to swarm you will have to keep the brood nest opened up with area for the queen to lay in, as well as area in the hive for all the girls to hang out. Culling out swarm cells is going to be daunting and agravating after a bit with that many hives. Keep the supers on the girls and keep those brood nests open, which means throw some foundation frames or just frames w/no foundation in there. Keeps those nurse bees busy and out of swarm mode.
 

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Cutting queen cells will not stop them from swarming. I have read that this can work temporarily, but the bees usually have more patience than the beekeeper. I tried it this year with 10 or so hives, and it was a poor excuse for a swarm prevention system.
 

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I would split them and sell the surplus. The following spring. After this winter I would cover all bases.
David
 

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I will typically have an annual loss of 10 - 20%.
I hope you are right, but things don't always work out as planned.

You may have to go through hives and kill queens, if you want to stay at 20 hives and not have swarms. Yes, ignore swarms too. Or, you could make and sell 5 or 10 nucs each year.
 

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I try to keep plenty of woodenware/nucs available and take any opportunity that arises to make increase early in the season, then combine and requeen as needed in the fall.
 

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I would not split the best hives. Split the weaker ones up into nucs and give them a new queen. Keep the big ones big to make honey.
 

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I'm still figuring that out, but last year I took the "fewer intensively managed uber strong hives" approach to honey production, and this year I am taking the "3 times as many medium strong hives non-intensively managed" approach (which involved stealing frames of brood from them about April 10 for making nucs) and so far this year looks to have a promising honey crop with a lot less work. And I sold some nucs. Lost some swarms last year, and I've lost a few this year too. Starting to think it's just part of it - not to lose sleep over.
 

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I think that it is good to have a goal of the number of hives you want to have, but like Michael said you probably need twice that to ensure you make it through the winter. You may want to consider overwintering a number of nucs to make up for loses of your primary hives, and if you have any excess nucs in April could probably be sold for a pretty penny.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Why do you want 20?
What are your bees for?
Enjoyment?
Pollination?
Honey?
Enjoyment and honey. Any more than 20 hives and I don't think I could give them the proper attention. I tried 8 or 10 hives, and it seemed between winter losses, other mortality, dry years, etc - I was a little short on producing enough honey for the folks that wanted it. I could probably sell more honey than the 20 hives would produce - but I have a lot of other hobbies and don't want to become a full time bee keeper. I have thought about making some splits and nucs to maintain my 20 and selling off the extra that I might have, but was not sure how easy (or difficult) it would be to sell just a few hives each year.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
I would not split the best hives. Split the weaker ones up into nucs and give them a new queen. Keep the big ones big to make honey.
Why would you not split the best hives? I feel the best hives are the bees that suit my area the best - so I thought it would be those bees that I would need to split to keep this line of bees going.
 

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You might take enough from them to make a nuc from each, but if you split each of them in two you would loose honey production, if that matters to you.

What you could do, which might benefit all of your colonies, is equalize brood and stores and make nucs to replace winterkilled colonies.
 

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Swampcat, you should check out Michael Palmer's stuff on youtube. He talks about splitting and re-queening the under performers. It makes a lot of sense. Otherwise you may end up with a bunch of ho-hum hives that from year to year don't do much, and you weaken your strong production hives with splits.
 

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Any more than 20 hives and I don't think I could give them the proper attention.
That appears to be the root of the original question. I can fully appreciate it, I am there myself. There are only so many hours in a day, and exceeding a certain number of colonies will rob you of the time you would like to spend doing other things.

There have been a lot of great responses, but considering your goal, dedicating more time for nucs seems to defeat the purpose in your case. Nucs are going to require additional time and attention, something it seems you are trying to avoid.

I would suggest simply doing the best you can to control swarming in the spring to maximize your honey yield. No matter how hard you try, some colonies will end up preparing to swarm. Make splits from those colonies to replace your losses. You will lose them in the trees anyway. There are a lot of good swarm control methods which would work for you, that's the direction I would go.
 

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You might acquire an assistant to help you in exchange for bees/splits. Not having the responsibility for addressing every operation might free you up to try new things or even expand slightly beyond your current limits.

If you can, use the genetics from your best hives to start nucs without compromising their honey-making mission.

I also can well understand the limits of one's time and demands of a large apiary. This describes the losses I had two winters ago and last year's "vacation" from beekeeping. (I've since left the job in Maine where the managers confused the word "salary" with "slavery".)

Wayne
 
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