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Queries on common practices

 
Vern Faulkner
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I've long wanted to keep bees, know a fair bit for one who hasn't, and am sucking back new bits of data as I prepare to build some top bar hives in the next few months, and go searching for ways to obtain a hive.
My intent is to be completely organic, and as "natural" as possible.

Some questions

a) I can see the merits of things such as a split when there are signs of queen cells being produced, but I am curious to find out the thoughts behind that practice - which essentially circumvents a swarm before it happens. To me, it seems a reasonable trade-off, given that it prevents the potential loss of a viable strain (who knows what site they will select and if it will be sufficient for the bees' long-term survival); plus, there is a bit of a risk in some situations of being the source of a swarm that ends up finding a place to settle down in a neighbour's chicken coop, barn, or plow truck.

I am having a bit of a challenge wrapping my brain around other such common practices.

b) What are the general thoughts of using a nuc - basically yanking comb from a perfectly good hive and shocking the bees into producing a queen?

c) What is the logic, if any, of capturing and caging a queen, save for introducing into a queenless hive - and in such cases, why not find young brood comb from a viable hive and simply remove that to trigger a queen cell construction/creation, then in turn using that to rescue the queenless hive and, furthermore

d) in such cases as a hive has lost a queen, might it be better to let the hive die, assuming that it has demonstrated it isn't of sufficiently robust/diverse stock for the threats/environment at hand?

 
tel jetson
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I don't personally make splits, but it has more to do with my generally hands-off approach to my bees than with anything inherently wrong with the practice. I just don't like to fuss with them or interfere with their business.

setting up bait hives can substantially increase your odds of hanging onto your swarms, but liability for swarms isn't generally an issue beyond potentially souring relationships with neighbors. good communication ahead of time can solve that problem, too.
 
Zach Muller
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I don't keep any bees yet, but back in central ok one of my neighbors had hives and did splits. One day I was working out in the garden with my dogs and started hearing a buzz. Next thing I know a swarm is all in my backyard circling and circling. They were not aggressive in the slightest and ended up collecting into a mass on one of my trees. I did not know much about bees at the time but apparently I could have captured the swarm while it was collected, had I been prepared. About twenty minutes later they all took off I guess toward a more suitable place for a hive. I asked my neighbor and somehow during the split these guys had all taken to swarming.
My point with recounting that story is that Tel is totally right about good communication and bait hives. Had my neighbor given me the heads up on timing, I could have recaptured the hive he lost, and had there been bait hives in the vicinity they would have a high likely hood of looking no further.(assuming the bees had an appropriate amount of habitat in the vicinity to start with)
 
David Williams
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There will always be lots of debate about "whats right" and what "works best", And so all i can do as offer some insight from my own experience
A) 100% right it circumvents swarming (a natural split) Bees will make numerous queens and the strongest will kill off the others, then leave with workers to form a swam till it finds a new home, the remaining hive makes another set of queens sensing their loss and the strongest of those queens stays to run the hive (natural system)..... this makes for the strongest hives and most viable queens ... but does limit production over this time... In a commercial set-up several practices are used at this point , some squash the queen cells , and add another super to make a larger hive giving them higher numbers as a workforce ... OR they split to make 2 hives so no swam .... OR they squash the queens cells and add a queen frame in to get the to produce many queens (emergency) for seeding into queen-less hives or creating new ones (splits).... while the Apiarist isn't liable for the swam , (commercial thinking) is 1) a loss of workforce = profits 2) seeds wild hives that cant be monitored for AFB, EFB and beetles/moth ect and can be a source of infection to your existing hives ....
B) Every hive has a nuc and doing the technique you mention isn't favored as downtime is too long, and not all take, most seed queens with a few brood frames and a honey frame into new nuc hives, speeding up the process significantly , downside is it's usually an emergency queen (inferior)
C) The "trigger" to a queen-less hive is mostly (not always) a pheromone released by the queens death .... often hives die out/die back before they realize they are queen-less
D) In a commercial sense, Apiarists don't like loss, Inhibits production to they tend to avoid it , also the new queen might be better suited to the job and create workers who are better suited also...
most "emergency queens" aren't strong queens and Apiarists find the 2nd queen in the hive does much better , even to a point where i know Apiarists who kill the emergency queen (to release pheromone) in the second year to create a "Natural queen" in the second year of a split ...... Making them better suited to local environment (robust/production wise)
Peace and Love Dave oxoxox
 
tel jetson
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I've only got one objection to your description of swarming, Dave. it's generally the existing queen that leaves with the first swarm of the season, called the prime swarm, before any new queens have hatched. prime swarms are frequently followed by one or more cast swarms that will each include a young queen.

there's some disagreement about the timing of the fight to the death between remaining queens. the prevailing wisdom seems to be that the first queen hatched immediately sets about stinging any un-hatched queens to death. if more than one manage to hatch, they will battle. then the one survivor will go on a mating flight.

that prevailing wisdom does not account for cast swarms, though, so more and more folks are becoming skeptical of that description of events. to me, it seems over-simplified at best. what really happens is likely rather more complicated.

back to the point at hand, natural swarms have many advantages over shook swarms, splits, and nucleus hives. the simple advantage of being basically effortless is enough to convince me, but there are plenty of other things recommending allowing swarms. a broodless period helps with mite loads. a mix of bees especially suited and physiologically prepared for starting a new colony. workers descended from the queen avoids issues of potential rejection. &c.

there are plenty of folks who like tip fuss with their bees, and that's fine. manipulations such as splits can be a lot of fun. working with bees is fun. and if one's approach to beekeeping is compatible with that sort of thing, the potential exists for it to be quite a productive and effective means of increase. the potential for short- and long-term disaster also exists.
 
David Williams
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there's some disagreement about the timing of the fight to the death between remaining queens. the prevailing wisdom seems to be that the first queen hatched immediately sets about stinging any un-hatched queens to death. if more than one manage to hatch, they will battle. then the one survivor will go on a mating flight.

@ Tel
I wont disagree with a word you say , as i said from my experience only i used to tend 10,000-30,000 hives annually , heavily manipulated commercial hives, saying that , limits how much time i could observe any single hive and it's dynamics.... Also ALL the queening we did was artificial so all queens emerged at once.. so not as versed as i should be other than texts i have read .... Personally i do agree that a natural swarm queen is the strongest.... And why i spoke of "emergency Queens" as they usually undersized and at best , average genetics, there are tricks to making them stronger , though it's a system i personally don't favor..... But each to their own

Peace and Love Dave oxoxoxo
 
Vern Faulkner
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tel jetson wrote: ... a broodless period helps with mite loads....


That statement, right there, carries some weight, methinks.
 
David Williams
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It's one way , we didn't ever have mite loads as we used DE or Borax in sale board similar to This link , kills beetle and mites, as well as other dust treatments... Also being in Australia (heat / isolation) may have a lot to do with it
 
tel jetson
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yup, no Varroa destructor in Australia yet. will it arrive some day? seems likely, though pretty serious efforts are being made to avoid it.
 
David Williams
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We export a lot tho our wages are high, i'd say if we start importing more , anything is possible, I wouldn't discount it happening, and @ your comment
generally the existing queen that leaves with the first swarm of the season, called the prime swarm, before any new queens have hatched. prime swarms are frequently followed by one or more cast swarms that will each include a young queen.
I cant say i have seen this due to the nature of the way our hives have been manipulated , any queen after mating doesn't leave the nest , as all queen cells are squashed and hives expanded to keep her in , if hive numbers start to drop off because the queen gets "old" she's usually removed and replaced by a fresh "emergency queen", I have read exactly as you describe , But not something i have witnessed first hand
Peace and Love Dave oxoxox
 
tel jetson
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I think Dave's point about commercially bred queens being emergency queens is an important one. this is something that seems to be lost on many small-scale beekeepers. they purchase what I would call fancy queens believing they are getting the very best genetics.

if fairly drastic measures aren't taken to prevent the hive from raising a new queen, though, those very best genetics will be diluted by half in rather short order.

that's actually a good thing, from my point of view, but skipping the fancy queen altogether gets there faster and saves money to boot.


I believe a stationary and low-intervention commercial beekeeping industry is in its first stages right now. managing the 30,000 hives Dave mentioned is an enormous task if swarm suppression, pest treatment, requeening, &c are part of the equation. caring for the same number of hives becomes much more manageable if they're left largely to their own devices but for an annual harvest.
 
Vern Faulkner
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David Williams wrote:I cant say i have seen this due to the nature of the way our hives have been manipulated , any queen after mating doesn't leave the nest , as all queen cells are squashed and hives expanded to keep her in , if hive numbers start to drop off because the queen gets "old" she's usually removed and replaced by a fresh "emergency queen",


I may be in way over my head here, but this speaks, to me, of the kind of manipulations that have really led to a shift away from the nurturing relationship that we might well want to have with one of our primary pollinators. Maybe we're playing around, too much, with the natural forces of selection?

Which leads back to my questions, which are really more about philosophy than protocol.
 
David Williams
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100% agree , I personally dislike "emergency queens" feeling a natural selection by the bees themselves usually raise better queens.... I tended so many hives as part of commercial production with the sole purpose of queen rearing, My Mate (the boss/Hive owner) had 10+ workers and a travel range in excess of 500 km following the honey flows of various flower types... I personally think the system is a perversion of the natural system... but is also the most commonly employed around here ... A lot of the selection criteria for "emergency queens" were about less aggressive / more production orientated ... and less about what was suited to any individual area or cold climate production ect
 
tel jetson
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David Williams wrote:A lot of the selection criteria for "emergency queens" were about less aggressive / more production orientated ... and less about what was suited to any individual area or cold climate production ect


this past swarm season, I collected an enormous swarm that had just left a new beek's new hive. he didn't have equipment to hive another colony, so he offered them to me instead. Italians. very, very gentle. of my eleven colonies, that one had the most trouble with yellow jackets this year. suggests to me that gentleness has downsides. as my management style doesn't involve much hassling of the bees, there really aren't any advantages for me to gentle bees. I take comfort knowing that they'll very likely get mixed up with some local mongrels early next season, though, and probably regain a lot of the defensiveness that would serve them well in their struggle with predators.
 
David Williams
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@ Tel, you'll find the remaining bees after the yellow jacket invasion are more resistant , If you de-queen them and they make a new one , you will find the whole colony will be more resistant to future attacks.. A general rule we use out here is the color of the queen also determines the temperament, Darker colored queens usually have more resistance to disease / pests , with slightly less production , and ones with more yellow have higher yield and more docile and more vulnerable to outside influences... there is always exceptions to this rule of course , tho noticeable over the amount of hives i used to tend
 
David Livingston
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Vern
I would head on over to Biobees.com And Check out what they are doing there. I think there is a world of difference between trying to keep bees as a commercial or profitable enterprise And having a couple of hives just to have for your self And a few gifts or a little swapping.
I am getting some bees next year And intend to try a low intervention low cost approach with local bees. I have nô wish to get into the more honey more equipment more bees more honey roundabout . I Will leave that to other folks

David

David
 
tel jetson
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David Williams wrote:@ Tel, you'll find the remaining bees after the yellow jacket invasion are more resistant , If you de-queen them and they make a new one , you will find the whole colony will be more resistant to future attacks.. A general rule we use out here is the color of the queen also determines the temperament, Darker colored queens usually have more resistance to disease / pests , with slightly less production , and ones with more yellow have higher yield and more docile and more vulnerable to outside influences... there is always exceptions to this rule of course , tho noticeable over the amount of hives i used to tend


this particular colony is in a large fixed-comb hive so artificial re-queening is out of the question. she was a purchased queen, though, so I'm guessing they'll replace her on their own.

regarding bee color: one of my very healthiest colonies has a wide variety of coloration. some of the workers are entirely black and some are entirely yellow, with most somewhere in between. when I see that, I know I've got a wild-mated queen and that the colony will include a lot of genetic diversity.
 
Marc Troyka
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Some notes from what I know:

Re Queen behavior:
The 'queen' will kill other queens, usually before they even hatch, and continues killing them for as long as the hive remains sedentary (ie as long as the bees don't run out of space, usually). If the current queen goes senile and starts missing queen cells, young queens can hatch and may kill and replace her (succession). If the bees run out of space, or if for whatever reason they otherwise feel like it, the queen will stop killing other queens and allow them to hatch and prepare to swarm. Young queens generally don't mess with one another as long as the hive is swarming, and sometimes after swarming a hive may end up with more than one queen coexisting in a super-hive. In other cases, the current queen and a young queen may sting each other to death leaving the hive queenless, which it may or may not recover from. Different breeds of bees may either tend more towards swarming or more towards succession, and commercial beekeepers favor the latter.

Re 'organic practices':
The main thing will be the type of hive you use and the maintenance associated with it. Most commercial type hives give the bees a poorly sealed living space that not only requires lots of human intervention but also weakens and stresses the bees, and additionally causes them to consume more honey in the winter. Commercial hives typically make up for this by feeding bees a sugar-water solution which is additional labor and expense, and further harms the health of the bees and can give them dysentery. Commercial hives attempt to increase honey production by providing wax so the bees don't have to make any, but beeswax is expensive (good if you're selling it, bad if you're buying) and the reuse of comb that occurs in commercial hives leads to increased rates of brood diseases. It also doesn't really increase yields due to the stresses induced.

There are a couple of 'organic style' hive options, most of which are very similar. They use smallish boxes stacked vertically, each with top-bars on which the bees build their own comb the way they want, and create compact internal spaces which leak much less heat and allow the bees to manage their own habitat efficiently. There are ways of 'splitting' these organic-style hives if you want to be really specific about breeding, but if you want to be lazy like Tel then simply adding enough boxes for each hive in the spring will discourage swarming, and purposefully adding too few boxes can encourage them to swarm if you want a certain hive to reproduce. You can catch the swarms as soon as they leave the nest or you can put out bait boxes beforehand and hope that the bees will settle in one. Since the bees naturally put their honey up top and their brood down at the bottom, management is pretty much nothing more than taking boxes off the top in the fall and adding new boxes to the bottom in the spring.

There are a number of other differences between 'organic' beekeeping and the way it's done commercially, as well as a few nuances to raising and breeding bees, but that's the gist of it.
 
tel jetson
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that differs a bit from my understanding of colony behavior, but not in particularly important ways.

when their eggs are laid, queens are no different than workers. they're both diploid, which differs from the haploid drones. queen eggs, though, are laid in queen cells. these are large vertical cells built hanging off the bottom of a comb. they're also fed differently than workers, which, among other things, allows their sexual organs to develop.

the "emergency queens" previously mentioned in this thread, are not reared in these vertical queen cells. these queens are laid in regular horizontal brood comb and begin developing as normal workers. at some point relatively early in their lives, the workers extend the emergency queen's brood cell out and down, so it resembles the entirely vertical queen cells. the difference of some number of days without a queen's diet is, to my knowledge, what makes the difference between these two types of queens. this is, of course, how the colony itself takes care of things. commercial queens are raised artificially, but they most closely follow the emergency queen pattern.


I should note that the name "queen" can be a bit misleading. she doesn't rule the colony. she isn't a monarch or a despot. she might not really even make her own decisions. in some ways, she's really just the reproductive organ of the hive, though she might also be described as the organism while the workers are appendages. a queen is led around the hive by her retinue. if the colony wants a new queen, they can pretty much force her to lay into queen cells. they can also keep her away from those queen cells while they develop. the queen is obviously very important, but she doesn't call the shots.
 
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