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I began this blog to chronicle my beekeeping experiences. I have read lots of beekeeping books, but nothing takes the place of either hands-on experience with an experienced beekeeper or good pictures of the process. I want people to have a clearer picture of what to expect in their beekeeping so I post pictures and write about my beekeeping saga here. Along the way, I've passed a number of certification levels and am now a!
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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Carl Chesick and Sustainable Bees

Last weekend was the fall meeting of the Georgia Beekeepers Association.  I went because the speakers look better than in any previous year I remember and because I am on the board.  The most interesting speaker was Carl Chesick, Director of the WNC Center for Honey Bee Research.




Carl was focused on sustaining bees that can outlast the varroa vectored diseases.  He said that in Asheville and the Asheville area, his center was encouraging everyone who has an untreated hive that lives through the winter to split it in early spring.  This is a fabulous plan and one that is in some ways obvious.

I, however, keep hearing that we should be supporting survival stock, and hadn't exactly understood how little ole me would be instrumental in that since I am not a queen breeder. But Carl pointed out that a split and a new queen that results is in fact breeding (a) queen on a very small scale.  Duh! But I hadn't registered this thought.

It's basic math, though.  If I have a hive that lives through the winter, untreated and only fed honey, then in the spring, I split it.  I have doubled the number of hives in my yard that are survivor bees.  The bees in that hive are strong enough to live WITH the varroa and not be defeated by the varroa.  If everyone did that, imagine how quickly treatment for varroa would go away.

Basic split involved in this:

  • 2 frames uncapped brood with attendant nurse bees
  • 1 frame of capped brood (to replace aging nurse bees)
  • 1 frame of honey and pollen
  • 1 frame of drawn empty comb
I rarely succeed with a split because I am always scared to bring enough nurse bees.  But in this split, if I were to take the queen by accident along with enough nurse bees, then the hive that is left becomes the queen breeder!  

In three weeks, the new queen should be emerged and laying.

Carl's talk followed a talk in the morning by Kefyn Carley from WNC University.  Kefyn's main interest is in spiders and mites, but after his talk I wanted to scratch my eyelashes.  He said mites are necessary and EVERYWHERE (even - read that often - in your eyelashes)...



His main point was that we would lose if we try to defeat (read that kill off) the varroa mite.  That approach only breeds a stronger varroa mite.  Instead, we need to accept the varroa mite and try to work with natural selection.

To do that, we have to recognize that if the parasite (the varroa) kills off its host, it will die as well, so it behooves biology for a mite to develop that can co-exist with its host.

It will take from 6 to 12 years to get mites and bees that can co-exist together and neither kill the other off.

So after hearing him talk and then hearing Carl, I am determined to get my bees to live through the winter and then split them!



7 comments:

  1. Linda, I learned this year that cutting out all the queen cells does not guarantee that your queen will not swarm anyway...wound up with a large but queenless hive as a result. Next year I will use these managed early splits as a way to increase my stock AND pre-empt swarms. This video set (Beekeeping - Making A Split Part One and Part Two) does a nice job of explaining that:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQI21KrdEbo

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  2. I've been reading (on beesource mostly) that you should let the larger hive raise a queen because it has more resources and can thus devote more to the success and health of the queen larva.
    After this summer, I try to remember bee math with the +-5 days for queens. Mine took 37 days!

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  3. I have never tested or treated for Varroa. Last year I had two hive that overwintered. I only split one of them as the other had a late August swarm (Minnesota). My parent hives ended up being huge producers, the split struggled all summer with various queen issues. Heading into the winter I am not sure what to do. The U oF M entomology department suggests we don't overwinter more than one season. They claim the mite load is simply too much for the bees and even if they survive they won't do well. Do you overwinter more than one season Linda? What are your thoughts on this?

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  4. I will overwinter over and over as long as the hive survives - my longest hive lived four years. I don't requeen with purchased queens. Only once have I ordered a queen and killed the resident queen to replace her. That will not be me going forward. I will not do that again. I might move an old queen to an observation hive, but I trust my bees to know when they need a new queen. I have often put frames of brood and eggs into a hive when I thought they might be needing a new queen to give them resources.

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  5. Linda, you hit on a key point with splits. Put the queen in a nuc and make the original hive build new queen cells. Go back in 10-12 days later and harvest the extra cells to fill your empty nucs. Any queen's that fail to mate or lay poorly you can merge the bees from those nucs with the ones that have healthy queens. Best time to pull the queen is just before the flow when they are probably thinking they might want to swarm anyway.

    - Jeff

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  7. Four years, WOW! Your thoughts are very helpful! I am really struggling with what to do. I am a "four hive" hobby beekeeper and I don't want more than four colonies. We typically have overwhelming swarming issues here as a general rule so splits are a must do in the spring. Heading into winter with four strong colonies and one weaker one presents a huge issue for me in the spring if they all survive. That being said, not taking every measure possible to help the bees overwinter seems irresponsible. I never bother checking my mite load as it won't impact my beekeeping management. I let the bees decide what to bring in and don't add any chemicals or treatments. So I guess if they are strong enough they will survive which would indicate a strong colony that should reproduce. I don't have the where-with-all for the population explosion of splitting four or five in the spring nor do I want swarms on the farmers land I am lucky enough to have access to. I might have to go looking for folks to take bees off my hands if they all make it. Thanks again! Love your blog!

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