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.