A Picture Trip

Rob Koss of Mobile, AL has been a loyal supporter of the concepts I promote since about the year 2000. He bought a copy of the “manuscript” when it was first offered and was eager to try those concepts in his area. I traveled down there in several spring seasons to assist him in application of the concepts.

In 2007, when my colony count was reduced to a few, I had a need for some real data on the amount of nectar stored prior to the main flow. I asked Rob if we could come down to Mobile and get a better sample size than my three colonies. He agreed, and my daughter, Debbie, went along with her digital to take pictures. She took 44 pictures while we were breaking down colonies to the top of the brood nest. A few of those pictures are included here. The trip was planned to be as close as we dared to the beginning of Rob’s main flow. His main flow in earlier years had been established to start late in the second week of April as the norm with a variation of a few days. This examination of pre-flow nectar was done on 6 April.

The three weeks of what I call the “lull” in overhead nectar storage precedes main flow. Although the landing board can sometimes seem quite busy, feeding the colony during the lull, the colony is occupied preparing to store honey at efficient rates. Note that you see no landing board traffic at the tall stack where Rob is pictured (Photo 1). There were plenty of bees in that stack. The typical stack is about 40% brood volume and 40% accumulated nectar with an empty super or more at the top. At this point in the season, the shallow at the bottom of each stack is filled with the pollen reserve. Earlier, during brood nest expansion, a shallow of brood was moved on others to the bottom board to generate that reserve while pollen was plentiful.

The hive beside Rob in Photo 1 has a deep, shallow, deep at the bottom. This hive was acquired in the preceding season and wintered as shown. We avoid two deeps in wintering hive configuration under normal circumstances. Irregularities can be adjusted in the fall.

In looking for a published description of the pollen box manipulation to reference here – none was found. It was added to my presentation for beginners, but we neglected to correct the discrepancy noted below in a submittal for publication. We can describe the manipulation briefly here:

When the broodnest is expanding upward through the checkerboarded shallows, a shallow of brood is lowered to the bottom board and below the deep basic brood chamber. This normally occurs within a couple of weeks of the CB manipulation. The shallow below the deep is reliably filled with long-term, stored pollen as the brood emerges. Long-term, stored pollen is filled to about half cell depth and is discolored and ugly with effects of the “pickling” process. After use of the pollen for fall brood rearing, the pollen box goes into winter empty and remains in place. The empty brood comb is there for use in checkerboarding in late winter. The improvement in wintering contributed by this approach is quite obvious as winter winds down. All colonies winter well in this area, with the pollen reserve supporting fall rearing of young bees.

We may as well note a discrepancy in earlier articles concerning the pollen box. It was assumed, since colony wintering was much improved by the pollen reserve, that it was used during the winter to support mid-winter brood rearing. That assumption was false.

In 2007 the news broke about CCD. Any list of possible causes included nutrition. We thought it prudent to learn how and when the pollen reserve was used. That season was highly irregular here – a late, hard freeze took out almost all of the vegetation sources. No pollen was seen coming into the hives for almost three months, but colonies did not tap the reserve below. The reserve was obviously dedicated to some later point in the season. The surprise was that consumption of the reserve started in early August. It was used to rear the young bees for wintering! It makes sense when you recognize that the honey bee’s survival format is tailored to life in the forest. Not many trees bloom in the fall. Did we mention that CCD is a fall phenomenon?

The tallest backyard hive did not have the most overhead nectar – maybe an empty and/or a partially-filled at the top. The hive beside Rob in Photo 1 is on the extreme left in Photo 2. In Photo 2, the first hive on the far stand, with the two stained shallows in the middle of the stack, was the backyard champ. The dark-colored bottom shallow of the champ is the pollen box and doesn’t show up well in the photo. Rob is the only person I know that applies the pollen box maneuver in the spring

The procedure for counting overhead nectar accumulation in shallow-supers-filled, follows:
  1. Set off empties or light weight supers.
  2. Supers, heavy with nectar, wall to wall, were set off crisscrossed on a telescoping cover to avoid crushing bees.
  3. Stop taking off supers when brood is encountered in the next-lower box.
  4. Count the supers heavy with nectar, and estimate the partials.

This is a very course measurement, but adequate to make the point for my purposes. There will be additional nectar outside the broodnest expansion dome and perhaps some in a lightweight super at the top. The heavy supers are filled to cell depth with uncured/raw nectar, but the colony will get the cells extended, topped off, cured, and capped during the main flow. And reduction of the broodnest by backfilling will add more harvest supers. For an explanation of backfilling, see Backfilling – What’s That?, here in POV, or Bee Culture, Sept. 2006. That’s a big boost to total honey production. They are not through yet. When main flow kicks in, the oversized population will still need supers added at the top. The beekeeper needs to have enough drawn comb to keep the colony motivated until the start of main flow. When main flow (new wax) starts, he can use foundation, with its normal reduced production.

The backyard champ, first hive, far stand, Photo 2, had five shallows worth of overhead stored nectar. Those are shown in Photo 3. Set off in reverse order, the two medium-depth supers from the top are at the bottom of the crisscrossed stack. The top medium was almost full and the second medium was full. The two of them together would easily equal more than two shallows.

At this point in the season we can get a little lax in maintaining empty comb at the top. Late in the storage lull and past reproductive cut off, the established colony (second year, or older) is busy with preparations for main flow. But this unit will need supers soon for the main flow.

At the top of the crisscrossed, filled supers is the upper stained super in Photo 2. Broodnest volume reduction is in progress and this super had some remnants of the top of the expansion dome at the bottom center edge. It was estimated that the small patch of the last capped brood was less than 5% of total comb surface area.

In the background, over the top of the crisscrossed stack, you can see a third stand of three hives of comparable height. And Rob’s early season short ladder.

Photo 4 is included here to alert would-be users of the management system to a unique feature seen in more tropical areas. In our descriptions of the internal colony operations it has been stated that the established colony does not have wax making capability until the start of main flow. While true for perhaps 90% of the country, it’s not true for tropical/subtropical areas. In areas where some brood is maintained through the winter period, wax making capability is also maintained through winter, and some colonies emerge from winter making new wax for the full active season. Rob operates in a border-line subtropical area and does not get the 100% swarm prevention of areas with more wintery conditions. The colony that caps a super of honey lower in the stack has rebuilt their capped honey reserve and will sometimes start swarm preparations. With enough season time to complete swarm preparations prior to reproductive cut off, an occasional colony will cast a reproductive swarm.

The full box shown in Photo 4 was from the upper reaches of a hive in another outyard. It may not be visible in the photo, but that colony was extending cell depth with new wax. They could have, or may yet, swarm. However, the colony that does swarm still makes substantial surplus. The swarm does not take half the population, and they already have overhead nectar stored. The swarm I saw on a different trip was normal sized and the hive with swarm cells was still quite populous. We don’t count bees, but it was apparent that the swarm couldn’t contain half the population of the parent colony.

Back to the check of pre-flow nectar accumulation: The backyard champ (crisscrossed) is what I call a “pace setter.” There is nearly always one colony that out-performs the others under identical circumstances. It is normally a second-year colony that will often store nectar overhead through the lull. If the champ were storing when we checked, that would account for Rob’s getting behind in supering that unit and its filling to the top. Next year, the year’s champ may be the starter colony next to it on the same stand that is the pacesetter. Trying to reconstruct a casual check four years ago, with only Debbie’s photos, has been a strain on this old gourd. As I remember, the average was about three shallow supers in the backyard (excluding the champ) and about 2-1/2 in a rural outyard. Blame that on abundant ornamental forage support in an established subdivision. Here in Tennessee we get slightly less than 2-1/2 in a normal season.

Nearly two years ago Rob wrote an article in support of the concepts. I asked him to hold off submitting the article to Bee Culture until I had submitted a couple of articles on system reliability, Prevent Swarming Before The Bees Even Think About It, Bee Culture, February, 2011, and increased honey production, Manage Your Brood Right For More Honey, Bee Culture, April, 2011. I thought his testimonial would make a good exclamation point for my last effort at persuading beekeepers to give CB a try. It didn’t work out. The editor is apparently not going to publish Rob’s article. We have requested to Barry that he add Rob’s article to my running list in POV.

From the beginning of our contact I have encouraged Rob to pick up where I leave off. I’m not going to last much longer. At 78, and in poor health, I would hate to think that definition of the internal workings of the bee colony would be buried with me. Barry has been gracious in archiving the articles as they are written, but that source has some limit in longevity also.

It is time to pass the baton to the new guardian of the concepts. The new spokesman for NM/CB is registered here as BeeSource tag “I Keep Bees”, and his name is Rob Koss of Mobile, Alabama.

He, and others who have demonstrated the effectiveness of the concepts, need to make a little noise. Eventually, it will penetrate the barriers of the skeptical. I may start a thread on conflicting opinion occasionally to stir the pot.