We have four Langstroth hives in our backyard. Each hive consists of two deep supers (or boxes). Our plan is to expand up to a maximum of eight hives this year by splitting the hives we already have. We’re hoping the population of all four hives will explode to fill three deeps per hive by sometime in June, and if that happens, I think we might be able to reach our goal of eight hives and still get a half decent honey harvest from at least two of the hives. We’d be happy with that.

It should go without saying that our plan is likely to have little resemblance to what actually happens. The bees will not always do what we want them to do, and we’ll just have to deal with it. But beyond the basic notion of expanding up to eight hives, we’re not planning to do anything too complicated because things will get complicated enough on their own.

We don’t plan to rear our own queens this year. We hope to get our queens from Jeff Harris and a couple of his cohorts who are taking a crack at rearing their own queens. We’ll need five queens. One for each of the new hives and one to requeen a colony with an ageing queen (she’s a whopping two years old). We’ll give Jeff as many drones as he needs — from the drone factory that is our foundationless hive — to mate with his queens, and by paying close attention, we hope to learn well enough from his experience to start rearing our own queens next year.

Instead of squooshing — I mean dispatching — the old queen from the hive we want to requeen, we might just put her in a nuc-sized colony to keep her around as a back-up queen for emergencies. We may start up an additional nuc for the same purpose if we have enough bees and another queen to go around.

Our main reason for requeening is to prevent swarming. A colony with a new young queen is less likely to swarm, and swarm prevention is a high priority for us. We keep our bees in an urban environment where the houses and backyards are packed in tight. We don’t want to alarm our neighbours with swarming bees. I know and you know that honey bees are in their gentlest state when they’re swarming (some beekeepers have even been known to dance among swarming bees), but our neighbours don’t know that and we’d rather not deal with their potential hysteria. So just in case one of colonies does swarm, we plan to set up a few swarm traps that will hopefully lure them away from our neighbours’ property. I don’t have much of a clue about setting up swarm traps, but I’m working on it.

Other than that, we don’t plan to do anything too different from what we did last year. We don’t have room in the world’s smallest backyard behind our house for any more hives, but we’re in the process of securing land within the city where we can set up our new hives. We’ll feed our nucs, put honey supers on the established hives and harvest the honey more or less like we did last year.

Until we can get an affordable extractor of our own, we plan to avoid extracting as much as possible. Extracted honey frames, when placed back inside a hive, are refilled with honey faster than foundationless frames. Extraction is the way to go if you want more honey. But establishing healthy colonies is more important to us than a large honey harvest. We’ll be more than happy to harvest mostly comb honey from our honey supers. Just between you and me, raw comb honey is way better than any kind of extracted honey.

At any rate, to expand up to four more hives, we’ll need to build at least 8 deep supers, 4 inner covers, 4 bottom boards, 4 top covers, and 80 deep frames. To set up some nuc colonies and swarm traps, we’ll need about 20 more deep frames and some additional lumber. We may have enough honey supers for our needs this year, but we’ll likely have to build some extra medium frames. Some of these components are already assembled, but most of them aren’t. We have a bit of work ahead of us.

9 Responses to “Beekeeping Plans for 2012”

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  1. Jeff says:

    Funny to see this post Phil. I am working on top hive feeders today. I’m planning for 5 feeders to get the bees off to a roaring start.

    Now I have 130 deep ready for this year, 5 colonies and a few nucs.

    • Phillip says:

      I need to get some extra top hive feeders on the go, too. I kind of hate them. Last year all they did was leak. There has to be a better way to feed the bees.

  2. Emily Heath says:

    Do you use artificial swarm techniques too?

    If it’s any consolation, your backyard space is about three times my garden size! But then my bees aren’t in my garden.

    • Phillip says:

      I’ll probably do some checkerboarding, but otherwise I don’t have any plans to do an artificial swarm. I don’t know enough about it. I’ve been busy with work and I’m falling behind in my beekeeping studies.

      I have a vague idea of artificial swarms. Something like this:

      If I find queen cells, I…

      — Remove the queen from the hive.
      — Take the frames with queen cells and place them in a new hive location, no farther than 4 feet away.
      — Cut out all but one queen cell.
      — Leave empty drawn frames in the location of the original hive with the original queen, so the original queen has room to lay.
      — Make sure both hives have honey and pollen.
      — The bees in the new hive will notice the queen is gone, but a queen cell remains. Thus they think they’ve swarmed and will raise a new queen from the remaining queen cell.
      — The bees in the original hive will think they’ve swarmed because the queen cells are gone, the queen has room to lay, and there aren’t as many bees in the hive.
      — The bees in the new hive will not abandon the brood, but the other non-nursing bees will return to the old location and help build comb, etc.

      Or something like that. I think I understand the basic concept of an artificial swarm (fool the bees to think they’ve swarmed), but I need to look into the fine details.

  3. Jeff says:

    Hey Phil,

    Took a look at the bees on Friday when it was warm (5°C) and sunny with no wind. There were a lot of cleansing flights that day according to the snow.

    Anyway all colonies are doing well and and there are still good stores of capped honey and candy in the colonies so it is looking good going into the late winter/early spring.

    I hope yours are favoring as well.

    • Phillip says:

      That’s good news, Jeff.

      I haven’t checked mine since February 15th when I added some pollen patties, but it was warm here on Friday, too, and I saw plenty of bees flying around.

      I love seeing the bees emerge from the hives. The sun comes out — that’s it’s. They go out and make the most of it. I’m looking forward to the spring.

      I also love having the hives right here in my backyard. I can look out my window and see them doing their thing.

  4. Jeff says:

    I hear you. I intend to spend a little more time watching the bees this year then manipulating the bees. Other than a few splits of course.

  5. Steve says:

    OMG! That honey you sent me. To be honest, it sat in my cupboard since then. I’m not normally a honey eater, so, I guess I needed a reason to try it. I saw it in there today, so I opened it, got a spoon, and tried some. Your posts describing the taste were in NO WAY exaggerated! It is delicious!

    I need to find another favour to do for you so I can earn another jar next harvest. Or was last year’s favour big enough for another jar this year? ;)

    • Phillip says:

      I’ll send my brother a case of honey this September and let him distribute it like Santa Claus.

      If you’re like me, our honey is probably the best you’ve ever had. I only knew grocery store honey before this. Raw honey is an entirely different beast. At first I could tell it was good honey, but I didn’t know honey well enough to know how good. But now I know. All you have to do is open a jar of our honey, smell it, taste it, and then do the same with a bottle of grocery store Billy Bee honey.

      Honey is a strange thing. If all you’ve ever had is grocery store honey, what’s the big deal? Who gets excited about honey? But things have changed since we’ve been able to make our own honey (or steal it from the bees). For a while I was eating it every day and couldn’t get over how damn good it was and how good it made me feel. Then winter kicked in, some of the honey began to crystallize and I got out of eating it every day. But whenever I do go back and take a spoonful, it wakes me up and I realize that this stuff is amazing. And it makes me feel better.

      I need to get back into having a taste of it every day, just because it feels good (and it’s good for me).

      Anyway, I’m glad you like the honey. So do we.

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