Beekeeping Plans for 2012

During the course of 2011 I took over a number of hives from other local beekeepers wanting to reduce the number they had.

Four colonies that I took on at the start of the year were at a nearby farm, though one colony turned out not to have made it through the previous winter due to a woodpecker attack. Twelve more were actually located within a few metres of my house, in a field belonging to the neighbouring farmer. These I took over after the honey was harvested.

My first plan is to create a new home apiary area with a shed for storing kit, but I’ll cover that another time. Other than that the main issue is that I now have twenty colonies in a mixture of British National single brood, brood and a half and double brood configurations. I really need to rationalise things.

The bees I’ve kept in double brood seem to do well and get through the winter fairly easily, though I was wondering if double brood was perhaps a little too big. Brood and a half is a pain in the neck for comb changing and manipulation though, so it was a case of staying with double brood or changing to a different hive type. After quite some deliberation over Langstroth and 14×12 hives I finally decided to stick with double brood. If I were starting from scratch I may well have gone with Langstroth, but I have sixty or more National wooden supers and I’d prefer not to have to replace them all.

To address the issue of the double brood perhaps being a little too big, I’ve decided to experiment with some polystyrene hive bodies to see if the colonies get larger in the warmer environment. I have ordered enough for four double brood colonies, with one poly super to go on top of each. I have also pretty much completed all the little repair jobs to patch up wear and damage to hive bodies and supers as I’ll probably need most of those to take everything to double brood with a few singles left for swarms.

So, my current plans are:

  • Double brood colonies that weren’t set up last year will have their top brood box moved to the bottom and the bottom box refilled with foundation and replaced on top
  • Brood and a half colonies will have the super removed, perhaps by putting it under the brood box first, to move the bees out of it, and then have a new brood chamber full of foundation placed on top
  • Single brood colonies will be taken up to double brood

A friend has set up an apiary for me in one of his fields a couple of miles away, so I’ll take five or six colonies there, swapping two into polystyrene hives.
I’m also talking to someone else about a second out-apiary where I know large quantities of field beans and oilseed rape are regularly planted. If possible I’ll move another five or six colonies there.
That should leave me with between four and eight colonies at home depending on how well they come through the winter. If I can find someone a little further away I may well look to set up a third out-apiary with some of those. Either way, it will mean a good reduction of hive numbers at home from sixteen or more, which should be a benefit in terms of available forage.
There are lots of other issues to think about, too. I need to move the three colonies at the farm onto mesh floors as they’re still on solid ones. The Dartington style floor appeals to me, though it’s more work to make. I need to re-think my record keeping to be able to handle a 400% increase in hive numbers, and to decide how I’m going to keep track of which kit has come from which hive at which apiary so I don’t start mixing things up.
I also want to investigate the possibility of drone-culling as a method of varroa control. I might well build some special frames for drone culling and put one in each hive.
Finally, I need to make sure I have enough clearer boards, insulated roofs, feeders, nuc boxes and so on to get everything through next winter.
It’s not like I’m going to be short of things to do…

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