I am very excited about the up and coming Honey Flow. That is, when the local flowers are blooming and there is sufficient necter production for bees to grow the hives. The Honey Flow usually starts some time in April.
2011 Honey Production
In the mean time, I would like to recap last years (2011) honey production. We started the season with a single hive, that had made it successfully through the winter. I decided to expand the apiary to four total hives. I thus needed to create three new hives.
In the past, I had always created new hives by purchasing bee packages. A Bee Package is a box full of bees (4 pounds worth) with a queen bee (in a cage) and a food source (a reservoir of sugar syrup). The queen is in a cage so that the worker bees have a chance to bond to her scent and thus adopt her as their queen. If the worker bees do not accept the queen, then they will kill her.
This year I decided to try a new approach to creating a new hive, split an existing hive into two hives. I had never done this before and had no idea if my attempt would be successfull, even though it was standard procedure in the world of beekeeping. Splitting a hive envolves the following:
1) Count the number of frames with brood.
2) Count the number of frames with only honey.
3) Count the number of frames with only pollen.
4) Move half of the brood frames into the new hive.
5) Move half of the honey frames into the new hive.
6) Move half of the pollen frames into the new hive.
7) Add a caged queen into both hives.
This procedure resulted in two identical hives. After three days, I opened the hives and made sure that the queens were out of their cages. The old hive now had two queens. They will fight it out, let the best female survive! The ultimate chick fight! So I started with a single hive, and now I had two hives. To get to my total of four, I created two more new hives from bee packages. Once I had the apiary up to full strength, all I had to do was let the bees do their thing.
Spring & Summer Tending
Over the course of the Spring and Summer I checked on the hives once a week. I made sure that each hive had enough free space. If a hive runs out of space, then the bees will swarm. This is essentually hive reproduction, in which the bees create a new queen. When the new queen emerges from a cell, she mates and leaves to start a new hive.
The new queen cannot survive on her own, so roughly half of the worker population leaves with her, after they have gourged themselves with honey. The result is that the old hive has approximately half the number of worker bees and the hive thus has more free space. This process is of no benefit to my apiary and does in fact weaken a hive. So I wanted to avoid a swarm as much as possible. Hence I frequently checked each hive and added empty supers if there was not enough free space. I always erred on the side of caution, better to have to much free space than not enough.
In 2011, the Spring was somewhat delayed, but we made up for it with a long, mild Summer. This resulted in a tremendous harvest! We averaged 16 gallons per hive!
The hives had 4 to 5 honey supers. I had to use a step stool to examine these hives!
I should take this opportunity to explain what a honey super is. The first two supers are for the hive to raise bees and store honey and pollen for the winter. Any additional supers are strictly for honey. I ensure that by placing a screen (called a queen excluder) on top of the second super. The wholes in this screen is large enough for the workers to travel through, but too small for the queen to squeeze through (she is after all somewhat larger than a worker bee due to her egg laying capabilities).
Once the Honey Flow died down in August, I decided to harvest the honey in September. And as previously stated, the harvest was awsome. I collected honey, honey comb, and bee bread. I also melted down the wax trimmings from the pure honey, so that I could easily save it and use it in the future for candles and such.
Colony Collapse Disorder
But once the summer ended and the temperatures cooled down, I started loosing hives. Three of the hives experienced Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Which means that the worker bees absconded and the hive was reduced to a very small number of worker bees (less than 50) to keep the hive health and strong through the upcoming Winter. So why did the worker bees leave? No one really knows for sure. The possible reasons include:
1) The worker bees were killed during foraging by pesticides.
2) The hive become infected with some kind of disease.
3) The hive become infested with mites, hive beattles or some other pest.
4) Parasitic wasps or flies that kill the worker bees.
5) The hive swarmed and the reduced old hive was too weak.
The bottom line was that once CCD hit, the hive was doomed. It was not strong enough to make it through the winter. Two of the hives died in November and a third died in December. When a hive died, I harvested the remaining honey and bee bread and discarded frames with dead brood.
So I am now left with a single hive. The hope is that this hive will make it to the Honey Bloom this year, and regain honey production levels reached last year. My next blog will be about my trip to Honey Bee Genetics to pick up the queens and packages for this years apiary. The pick up date is April 14.