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I did not want to hijack the thread on "Walt Wrights Swarm Control" started by Grins so I started a new one with a related question.

I have seen lots of posts where beekeepers put sugar blocks on their hives as soon as winter comes. My opinion is that this practice can lead to swarming issues in the spring. My reasoning for this is as follows. If a hive makes it to the spring swarm season with a hive still loaded with capped honey, it immediately puts a strain on the amount of empty comb available for the queen to lay. Any good nectar flow will quickly fill in all of the empty comb in the hive. That shortage of space appears to be a major trigger for swarming. Providing sugar blocks all winter long keeps the bees from reducing the amount of capped honey in the hive. If on the other hand you allow the honey stores to get significantly depleted before the swarm season comes, the queen is given plenty of room to lay, larger bee populations, and there is way more space for the bees to put nectar when the spring flows begin. My theory is that the chances of swarming should be reduced significantly by not adding sugar block until they are actually needed. I am certainly not suggesting that the hive should be allowed to get critically low on stores but there needs to be a "cleaning out" of the old honey and the creation of space for the spring build up. Is it not better to wait until the hive actually needs the sugar block rather than on a "just in case" basis? I would appreciate any thoughts on this matter.
 

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In my hives I traverse the fine line of just enough/too little food by the first significant spring nectar flow every year. I want plenty for spring brood build up on feed already in the hive into spring nectar but not any extra that will taint my honey crop.
You could say I want them close to running out of stores by spring nectar. It is a fine line.
Excessive stores in the brood nest limits the open comb and is not desirable during build up, whether from natural nectar or left over winter feed.
 

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Providing sugar blocks all winter long keeps the bees from reducing the amount of capped honey in the hive.
I think that could be a fatal flaw in your theory - which is otherwise quite logical. In my experience, bees will consume capped honey before anything else on offer. However, I've often seen them leave frames of capped sugar-water untouched, which will then restrict brood-rearing unless it's removed or relocated.
LJ
 

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In my experience, bees will consume capped honey before anything else on offer.
yes. unless perhaps if the sugar block happens to be located just below a nicely insulated top that is trapping heat just below it and rising moisture is 'liquifying' the block.

i can't answer your question dudelt because i've no experience with sugar blocks.

what i notice down here is that very little honey gets consumed through the winter months maybe because are average temperature is about 40 degrees f. of the 40 lbs or so of honey i leave maybe about 10 lbs gets consumed prior to the build up.

then, most of the rest of what i leave gets turned to brood food. in some cases i have to move honey out of the way and open up the nest with empty comb.

i think this is one of those considerations that takes a bit of experience and is location specific. even then, deviations from 'normal' weather patterns can throw a monkey wrench in the cogs.
 

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I am certainly not suggesting that the hive should be allowed to get critically low on stores but there needs to be a "cleaning out" of the old honey and the creation of space for the spring build up. Is it not better to wait until the hive actually needs the sugar block rather than on a "just in case" basis?
If I have any concerns that a colony "might" end up being low on stores a shim and sugar blocks are added. If I've done my job properly in the fall months they will have plenty of stores to easily make it through the winter, but I don't want to take any chances. If I'm late figuring it out the outcome could be a starvation loss.

When we get into spring build up, if a colony is found to have too much honey, I will do the "cleaning out" and rearranging myself. Some of the capped honey frames will be pulled and replaced with empty drawn brood comb for the queen to lay in, and the capped frames will be moved up into a checkerboarded box above the brood. If the bees don't expand the broodnest up into that box then it will end up being one of the supers. I use all mediums so it makes these manipulations fairly easy to keep up with.
 

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Interesting theory. I have no real opinion since I am not that experienced. However, like Mike Gillmore, I typically rearrange and "steal" frames of unused honey right before the spring flow so I am doubting the theory. In my case, we have a heavy and fairly sustained flow in the spring and summer swarm season. I have a hard time keeping up with how fast they fill up the brood nest even though I have stolen a lot from them. J
 

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My experience here in Montana is that the bees mostly ignore about a frame and a half of honey on the outside of the brood boxes. The cluster moves to the highest point it can pursuing warmth early in the winter. They end up very near center front of the boxes which face south and are wrapped with black material. I often harvest honey in the fall from the center frames of the upper (I use 2 deeps) brood box if the weights are there moving the outside honey frames into the center and putting the empty frames on the outside. I was just stealing honey because I'm greedy, but I may have inadvertently something more important than I realized by making empty comb. I'll pay more attention to how this plays out from the brood space perspective this year.

Dudelt, you made a comment in the Walt Wright thread about how swarming diminished dramatically when you left a deep with empty comb below the nest in the spring and I think that is something I'm going to pay very close attention to.

Lee
 

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In my hives I traverse the fine line of just enough/too little food by the first significant spring nectar flow every year. I want plenty for spring brood build up on feed already in the hive into spring nectar but not any extra that will taint my honey crop.
You could say I want them close to running out of stores by spring nectar. It is a fine line.
Excessive stores in the brood nest limits the open comb and is not desirable during build up, whether from natural nectar or left over winter feed.
Totally agree! I do not add sugar to every hive, but a handful of hives each year do need some. I consider this practice as an emergency measure to save the colony. If I have more than 6 or so colonies that need sugar, then I consider that I've misjudged populations and conditions. I too run my colonies close to a margin. This does require more diligence monitoring weights, and occasionally I get burned and lose one, but my swarming is very minimal. Perhaps if I was doing beekeeping full-time, I'd have more time to manage monster colonies in March. As of now, I have adopted an approach where the bees build up to make a good spring crop, but aren't running me to death trying to keep ahead of them.

Also, as Mike Gillmore points out, I want the bees to (completely as possible) burn through most of last years honey, so my spring crop is as close to "spring" honey as possible. This matters to my customers.
 

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I am certainly not an expert. But here is my opinion. Bees (nuc's and packages) are expensive but sugar is cheap. I keep sugar on top of my hive all winter. If any of my hives has extra frames of honey i will pull them in the spring and use them in my splits. I want a large hive in march so that I can pull some splits off as nessary and still get a good honey crop.
 
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