Which bees are the best?

Bees can develop rapidly in spring, or slowly, or in between. Carnica bees (Carniolans) are usually known to develop rapidly in spring, while black bees (A. m. mellifera, AMM) usually develops slowly. If the bees are developing quickly, they eat more food as they make more brood. It is brood that requires a lot of food, both for feeding the young and for keeping brood temperature in the hive.
Carnica bees usually start brooding early and strong. Mostly they react quickly to availability of fresh pollen, especially later in summer when chilly weather keep them inside the hive and brooding thus is greatly reduced. The AMM bees are often adapted to a late honey flow and weak early flows. The late heather flow in the Nordic countries has been involved in forming this bee. The yellow Italian bees come from a warmer climate where it may be smaller weaker honey flows during a long time of the season. They often tend to breed most of the time the whole year long. Therefore, there have been management methods of beekeepers in Sweden to handle this. For example, to hinder the bees brooding in winter by wintering them in one box only with ten frames of Swedish standard frames (366 x 222 mm). Then they let the bees fill the box with as much sugar solution that they can, thus leaving very little space left for brood. Such a small box full of Italian bees should not be well insulated. But if the colony is not very strong, a good insulation is necessary in our climate.
A cold spring like this in 2017 is a hard test for the bees and the beekeeper. It may not have been such a cold spring since temperatures began to be measured in Sweden, probably since the mid 18 hundreds.

Which bees are then the best?

For survival of the bees, they obviously should develop slowly in spring, and have no or very very little brood in winter. Thus they are more able to economize with the food so that it lasts until they can collect more fresh nectar from flowers in nature. They must also be resistant to diseases that can create difficulties when spring is cold and long, especially nosema.
But a beekeeper who wants a little better honeycrop than just 10-15 kg in average, and is trying to make a living from his bees must have a little different goal for his bees. This beekeeper needs a bee that can be wintered stronger than just on one box of smaller frames. It shouldn’t breed in winter. But it should develop strong in spring, if there is food enough.

I prefer the Langstroth length of the frame, to get strong colonies. The frame height can be anyone of the available options. The goal is as strong a colony as possible going into winter, with plenty of food. Preferably at least a box on top full of feed.
Large amounts of food are not needed for wintering, but for making brood coming spring. Where I live, with my bees, brooding begins in smaller amounts in late winter and increases at the beginning of March. Later in March the queen lays a lot, especially after the main cleansing flight that normally takes place later in March.
A year like this, the amount of brood will vary in line with the ability for the bees to fly out of the hive and get water for the brood. Bee types differ in ability of flying at lower temperatures. The beekeeper must ensure that there are always at least 2 frames with capped food so that the bees can make brood without risking running out of food. (Italian bees, unfortunately, often breed strongly with almost no food left, which is very risky for the bees, with starvation as the result.)

 A few days ago temperature was 8-10 °C. Many colonies was more or less packed in the first super above the queen excluder. They got two more supers if they were more packed, one more supers if they were less packed. Today 18 May it is summer. The picture shows colonies in an apiary before they were supered a few days ago.

In order to be able to get a crop from early honey flows, the bees must be strong enough to fill at least one super above the queen excluder (one box more than expected room for the broodnest of the queen) and a second for the development of the strength of the bees, when the first early flow begins, which usually is from winter rape.
A long cold spring like this means you have to check the bees frequently to ensure they have food enough. The best is to give the bees capped food combs. I get them from my stock of capped food combs which I established in November removing some outer food combs from heavy hives in which the bee strength was smaller. Those combs were replaced with insulation dummy combs. Food combs can also come from colonies that have died during winter. Combs that have been heavily defecated on and can not be cleaned are not used. A few spots of defecation a strong colony can handle. Another option when food combs are not available is sugar fondant. The last option is sugar solution. It will can cause the colonies to make too much brood.
Especially a spring like this you see a difference in the bee colonies. There are those who have bred too much and used up too much food. And there are those that responded too much to the cold periods and stopped brooding almost altogether. And then there are the perfect ones that did not need extra food but still developed continously and developed enough good strength, albeit not the very strongest. Then there are those which developed very well but needed some extra food combs. The two last types of bees are those that should be favored when selecting for breeders. First priority is though of course Varroa resistance.

Aiming for a new season

In the beginning of March the bees had their main cleansing flight after winter. In the beginning of April most of them had more combs and boxes given. At the end of April another round checking food, need for thymol, collecting some dead outs and putting on supers took place.

Previous years winter losses were about 15 % with another 30 % were saved through thymol and queens shifted (no or little crop), This is the investment price for developing a more varroa resistant stock. I give some thymol when I see wingless bees.

Last year winterlosses were about 10 %. This winter losses are also about 10 %. A good development is that only another 10 % are saved with thymol and will have their queens shifted later. Also breeders have been treatmentfree longer and VSH value for the breeders are better. And bees are putting more honey closer to the broodnest for winter storage, thus there is more honey for winter food. The bees are shutting down brood already in August and waiting till January or February before starting again. Thus they use less food in winter and save it for brood when starting the new season, which is started even somewhat before the main cleansing flight. The bees know what’s coming.

Most colonies got a super above queen excluder in late April and those splits wintering on two boxes their third brood box. And those 10 % fighting varroa and virus and/or something else maybe a few drawn empty frames, some food frames and maybe a piece of dish cloth with thymol (4-5 gram).

Bästa samhället 2015-04w

The best colony so far

The best colony in April was the best producer last year, didn’t need any thymol last year, didn’t swarm and has a very good temper. It was wintered with 20 kg (44 pound) honey and 10 kg (22 pound) of sucrose sugar.

In beginning of April it had about 10 kg of food left and was full of bees. For safety reasons so the queen shouldn’t stop laying, it got a frame of food in the super from the storage.

In late April this box above the excluder was half full with willow honey and full of bees. So the colony got another super. I plan to check the infestation rate with the bee shaker (http://www.elgon.es/diary/?p=660) soon and also the VSH value (http://www.elgon.es/diary/?p=146). Of course I have to breed from it.

 

Food control again, soon increase

A month ago I did the first food control after winter. Spring was then still cold then in the beginning of March. A number of dead colonies were brought home. I divided the combs in three groups, food combs, empty combs still usable and combs to recycle the wax from.

Some colonies needed food combs. Those I had taken in autumn from colonies with more than they needed and space that could be decreased by taking out a few outer combs in the top box and inserting insulation “dummy” combs.

Now a month later I did a second food check. Some colonies needed food. A few more were dead. Another few will probably die in a couple of weeks. The winter losses will arrive at about 10 %. Previous years the winter losses have been about 15 %. Those years about 30 % of the survivors barely survived and gave no crop. And they got their queens shifted later in the season. This year those 30 % will be 10 %, a better figure. Also the quality of the breeder queens have been better concerning the years they havn’t needed any treatment. And the VSH value is better, Varroa Sensitive Hygien.

Spring15-10 This looks like an ideal colony. Three boxes completely full of bees. It’s heavy, but not as heavy as last fall. There is some room left. I can estimate the weight when lifting the hive a little on both sides. Experience helps here. This colony did not get any super now, even though it had so many bees. They will manage well until it gets one in 1-2 weeks. The next round to the apiaries will be with the car filled with supers and also some food combs that probably will be needed.

Spring15-13 This is also a very good colony, a split from last year wintered on two boxes. Full of bees, plenty of food, but space left for nectar and larvae. They will get their third box in a week or two.

Spring15-16 A colony that was more insulated with insulation combs in both boxes. It responded by making brood in late February and March almost using up their food. It’s interesting a smaller colony with a fresh queen can respond in such a way to develop their strength in off season like this. An insulation comb was removed from the light weight side and a comb empty of food had their bees shaken off. The colony was given two combs full of food. On the other more weighty side of the colony, the bees had one full comb of food. That’s the minimum I want for a colony, three combs of food (about 5 kg ≈11 pounds). This colony is the result of a queenless split last year, which failed to make themself a queen. It was united with a split, that had a new laying queen, that was too small to be able to survive winter on their own. This situation probably triggered the more heavily brooding in spite of the smaller size, maybe a survival instinct as the colony had many old bees to start with that probably wouldn’t make it through winter. They had to be replaced in some way.

Spring16-5 This colony is weakened, the bees sitting close to a insulation comb to keep themselves warm. The bees are covering two full shallows in the top box. They had enough food. Already in November they had started to go down in strength. That’s why several combs were removed and replaced with insulation combs. I could have removed the bottom box, but that will probably be done at the next visit. This colony is questionable if it will survive. Does it has it Nosema and/or virus problems? Next visit will tell.

Spring16-8a This colony is almost full of bees on three boxes and it is very heavy, as heavy as last fall. It has barely used any food or has collected a lot of willow nectar. The truth is probably a bit of both. The colony has built much new wax on inner cover plastic sheet. It’s too cold (8C=46F) to open up and replace a number of combs with empty drawn ones. The quickest and easiest way is to add a super above an excluder (or without an excluder), which was done.

Some colonies now in early April got an increase super. In a way it wasn’t needed as the weather still was to cold to really trigger the swarming instinct. But if the boxes of the colony are filled with bees and they either are empty of food or heavy as lead indicating no space left, then they got a box. Five colonies out of about 150 got it. The next round to the apiaries will be focused on increase and the car will be filled with supers with empty drawn 4.9 mm cell size combs. This will happen in 1-2 weeks after this visit.

I’m fascinated how small my bees actually are now!

Tussilago farfara

Second day checking for increase after winter I now came to some apiaries inside my Elgon area and almost all colonies needed a super above the excluder. The weather had turned warm after winter and the colonies demanded me to come to them in spite of the holiday, so I checked a couple of apiaries yesterday.

Tussilago before Just entered the apiary. Before the increase. Tussilago “field” in the background. Notice the heap of dead bees at the end of the cardboard in front of the hive. A good strong colony cleans the bottom board after winter itself. Soon I will check inside the colonies and put on a super above an excluder above the third box. The colony on two boxes is the one dwindling.

One colony in each apiary was dwindling and got a few grams of thymol, in first place to kill some mites so eventual robbing or drifting shouldn’t spread more mites than necessary.  If it survives I will shift the queen later on. I didn’t see any wingless bees. But something was wrong as they were dwindling. Shotgun pattern of brood also indicated mites. Could be just an old queen. No AFB. Glad for that. Havn’t had for years.

Tussilago after Cardboards in front of the hives are cleaned, ready to be checked later at visits, checking what the bees have dragged out, or other eventual interesting things to be seen there. Excluder and supers are on almost all colonies, now ready for the winter rape to start blooming in a week or two. At next visit some colonies may well need a second super.

At one of the apiaries a big area of fir trees were cut down and I had wondered how the bees would react on more sun and a lot more wind. They seem to handle the different circumstances well. A nice thing is the big areas with a very good spring plant for pollen and nectar, Tussilago farfara, like golden fields of them. Never seen that much of them before. Bees were eager for both nectar and pollen in the nice weather.

TussilagoSmal Tussilago farfara