Elgon
One year with the bees
The year for the beekeeper never begins and never stops. It's a continously ongoing process. I used to say it started in late summer. But I have changed to say it starts in the second half of May. That's the time you know which colonies are best in different respects.
Those colonies are the ones you should make splits from, new colonies, that will grow so that they will be strong enough to overwinter and be production colonies the year to come.

With me the splits are made in second half of May and first part of June. During the summer those splits will grow enough to fill enough number of brood frames in late July, early August. The bees born from these combs will be those that will take the new colonies through the winter. The splits from the best colonies will make their own queens which will mate in their apiaries. You want to increase the best genetics in your locally adapted stock

The weak colonies in May will get their queens replaced by daughter queens from some of the best colonies.

The inbetween colonies are those that will give you a crop, together with the splits that grow enough to give a crop.
This is the appearance I like when making the colony ready for winter, three boxes full of bees. This is the goal for the whole season from spring till autumn. And bees should be born healthy with little interference from mites and viruses. This is especially important in July and August.
The bees born late in summer are those that will take the colony through winter. They need good quality food, honey and pollen to be strong and healthy. And the nurse bees have to be healthy to be able to produce good quality food and feed the larvae well so that they will become healthy bees. Diseases and pests need to be absent.

If the colony is of good strength and it have good food recourses and young bees to nurse the brood and older bees to get nectar this should be fine. If there are too many mites in the colony it can cause stress and problems with viruses and other pathogens, especially if there is too much of bad chemicals present, like agrochemicals and miticides.
I use the shallow frame, 448 x 137 mm, in a square box with 12 (or 13 frames) all through the hive. I'm converting them to Hoffman type to suit uncapping machines, though a good uncapping fork works well and fast when you've learnt the skill, to make one long uncapping along the whole side at a time. When you have learnt the skill well enough, it makes the uncapping quicker and you save your joints from aching.
I use Langstroth width on my frames. In Sweden otherwise the kind of standard is not Langstroth size, but something called LN, which is 366 mm long and 222 mm high. The full depth Langstroth is 448 mm long and 232 mm high. So the LN is smaller than Langstroth. A still older size which happens to be almost the same as the old American size as well, 12" x 12", which is 300 mm long and 300 mm high is also used by a smaller number of beekeepers. Langstroth size, especially the medium size (448 x 159 mm) is used by more and more.

I use the shallow frame all through the hive, the lowest Langstroth frame (I think), only 137 mm high. I use it because I use square boxes instead of 10 frame or 8 frame boxes. I had the idea that a long frame in a square box gives the biggest bottom area for maximum swarm prevention. So a square box with shallows woun't get too heavy when filled with honey. Also the shallows need no wiring. I solder the wax foundation in the underside of the top bar with liquid wax. You can use 12 or 13 frames in a square box. One square Shallow box has about the same volume as a 10-frame box of medium sized frames, which are 159 mm high.
Part of a system
Every part in a beekeeping operation fits together with another part. You can't really discuss one part in a beekeeping set up compared with another variation of the same part, without comparing the whole systems.
For example the frame size. You must look at the whole system into which this frame size fits. Every solution has its benefits and drawbacks. You will be able to choose some solutions, not all possible, if you start with some parameters you look at as your starting point, for different reasons, for example the localities you have or other limiting parameters.
In Sweden there's a lot of insulated boxes in use and probably far up in the north close to the polar circle the colonies benefit a lot from such boxes. Maybe also because the most common frame size is smaller, colonies going into winter are smaller, and smaller colonies benefit more from good insulation than stronger. Stronger colonies can stand cold winters confined to the hive during long periods better. The Langstroth sized framed makes it easier to get strong colonies for winter. Though to benefit from that, the bees must not brood during winter or very little, which is more difficult for a strong colony. Some breeds like Italians have more difficulties with that. Strong colonies where I live, on the 59°N latitude 15°E can make it well in uninsulated, single walled boxes I use. This is how they look like all through the year.
In Sweden beekeepers use a lot of insulated hive boxes, supers. I use single walled wooden ones. Cheapest is fir tree, soft and light. Such boxes don't rot very easy in our climate, if they don't stand directly on the ground. I don't paint the hive parts. Still havn't lost a box due to rotting.

Though in spring when bees make a lot of brood and raise temperature, then condensation moisture that are produced, as the nights are quite cold then, may make the box corners twist. So I have to repair some of them.
I use queen queen excluders with my hives. I find it easier when taking off honey as I use bee escape boards and a bee blower. It wouldn't be nice to blow queens on the ground I guess. But I have done it.:( Most often she finds her way back again. This one did.

As the distances between my yards are relatively short I put all boxes that are ready to be harvested above the escape board and go to another yard and do the same. Then I can go back and blow the rest of the bees left. Not all bees at all have left the boxes, but many have and that makes it easier to blow out the rest of them. And I don't need to blow the bees close in front of the hive, but just somewhere in front. The bees find their way back.

The escaping board keeps the colony quite separate from too much disturbance while blowing. There are advantages and disadvantages with every kind of solution.

These later years the main reason for using queen excluders have been to keep the queens from laying eggs in frames with bigger cellsizes as I don't have only 4.9 mm cell size frames throughout all boxes and supers. The bees at first didn't draw 4.9 well up in the supers, so I have only got a limited number of 4.9 frames drawn well each year.

I was pretty well finished with the 4.9-frames for the brood boxes when the mites came attacking the first time and hit hard in 2008-2009. Now when half the bees died in winter 2008-2009 and some more the next year, the bees now drew 4.9 perfect almost in every hive high up in the supers even in the outer yards. But there are many 5.1 frames still to be changed before all combs are 4.9.

My goal is to leave the three bottom boxes for the bees to live on and I take the honey that is above. But all bees don't work with me good enough. And as I don't want the bees to winter on bigger than 4.9, as few as possible anyway, I feed those that don't fill up enough with honey in those three boxes. I have got a very short time every late summer for making the bees ready for winter so I give some sucros-solution in addition, but not HFCS.

I want a big colony to have 30 kg of food stores when it's ready for winter. It needs about 10 kg to survive the winter. But also it needs to feel rich and start making brood somewhat in late February, still more in March and after the cleansing flight in March after being confined to the hive without flying out for five months the brooding is really speeding up. Then food is really needed, especially as new nectar in big amounts can be delayed far into June in bad years. But good years the first good crop for the season will be harvested in early June from winter rape.

Now that some years have passed by and I seem to have enough of 4.9-boxes I'm considering starting wintering colonies on 4 boxes with the upper two containing containing a good amount of honey. I want to replace the botttom box in spring and put it on top as a super. After extracting its combs later, those will be sorted and the bad ones will be melted down.

I'm also seeing more and more bees filling up the two upper boxes, when I use three boxes for winter, with a lot of honey when season goes to an end. It's selection and genetics involved here too. Bees from John Kefuss do this good. Elgons are varying but is well on its way doing it good enough. In USA I think Russians and Caucasians are this type of bee. Italians are usually not.
In beginning of November, most of the old bees have died and the bees left are the ones latest born sitting in their winter cluster to take the colony through winter. I check them then and replace the outermost combs if the bees have contracted enough. Those removed combs that contain food end up in a storehouse awaiting spring to be given to colonies that need to be fed. Or, they will be used when I make nucs or splits.
In the beginning of November the bees normally have had no brood for a couple of months. Many of the old bees have died. And the bees have formed a winter cluster that may still be a little lose. The real winter low temperatures may not have arrived yet, maybe the temperature is somewhat above or around freezing.

I check the colonies lifting the plastic sheet from each side a little to check if the bees are sitting only between the middle frames in the upper box. If so and if the colony is very heavy I remove one or two combs at each side which now have no bees on them. I instead put in dummy combs made of hard polystyren insulation for ground insulation about 35 mm thick. In that way the weakest colonies get some insulation.

I collect these food combs and store them till spring. In March I begin to check which hives may need extra food combs. Also I can use them when doing splits in late May or early June. Spring may have such a climate that the bees will not have the possibility to collect a lot of nectar.
On top of the colony, built in the outer cover (removed here), I use 5 cm, 2 inch, of insulation, either polystyren or soft board made of wood. Kind of inner cover I use a plastic sheet, soft board (12 mm), the excluder when it's not used and then a hard board (12 mm). The boxes are single walled fir wood.
The bottom board is waterproof plywood with two four inch, 10 cm, holes in the back corners with ventilation metal mesh. The bottom has one inch air space up to the bottom bars of the frames. The entrance reducer gives two 7 mm high entrance openings with 8 mm wood in between them. I use no top ventilation. The colonies are sitting on a one foot high bench for two colonies with a space in between which is big enough for putting supers temporarily.
During prolonged strong cold, which we thankfully seldom experience in my area now (59°L-15°E), condensation which freeze to ice can build up in the entrance. It is good to check if you need to clean the entrance to give enough air to the colony.
If it's snowing a lot and it still looks like this in March, when temperature is approaching + 10°C, it's good to check that the bees can fly out on their cleansing flight after their winter confinement. You may need to clear off snow that covers the entrance. Skiing may be required to reach the hives.
January
In January I check the colonies so that entrances are not blocked buy either dead bees or ice from condensation. That can happen if the winter is very cold, like minus 20-30 centigrades for a couple of weeks. In our climate with low sun above the horizon in winter due to our high latitude (59°) there is no big difference in day and night temperatures. Some winters I have had to take the skies to the yards.
February
Depending on temperature and amount of snow I have had to do it in February too. If the snow covers the hives I don't have to worry about blocked entrances from ice. The breathing air from the bees will melt ice in the entrance as the covering snow insulates the hives. And this breathing air will melt snow around the hives somewhat like a bubble around each one. These later years we have had very little snow.
March
In March I start checking if the colonies have food enough. I bring with me stored food combs to give to those that need it. I check the top through the plastic inner cover and if needed lift it at the ends to remove an empty frame and replace with a food comb or sometimes even remove one of the dummy frames as I may have misjudged the amount of food in that colony. Most often the bees now havn't been out of the hive for a cleansing flight since the beginning or so of November.
Cleansing flight most often will take place in late March, sometimes somewhat earlier, sometimes later.
Cleansing flight in March after being confined to the hive since late October, about 5 months.
April
In April the need for supers starts. Still it's important to check the food amount. In March brooding is normally somewhat more intense. But not heavy until the cleansing flight has taken place and bees can fly for the first pollen, which happens when for example crocus and the hazel tree flowers. A little later the most important spring tree flowers, the willow. Then come Dandelions followed by Maple trees.
May
If there is winter rape it normally flowers in May. The colonies now are on three brood boxes under the queen excluder with two supers above. In late May the colonies start to develop differently. The best quickly need more supers.
In middle or late May I start making splits from the most Varroa resistant and strongest colonies and let them raise queens themselves and thus multiply the genetics of good colonies.
June
In the first part of June I continue making splits from the best colonies. Grafting larvae for making queens is now in conflict sort of with harvesting and extracting winter rape and dandelion honey, if there is any.
Splits
I havn't been moving splits to other yards from where I make them for a couple of years to see it that will have any effect concerning Varroa resistance. Earlier I did move most to other yards. Compared to that I havn't been able to see any differences concerning varroa resistant. Other aspects have had more effects on varroa resistance, like monitoring varroa level and focusing on not allowing higher varroa level in any colony higher than 3 %. I have found that treating with thymol those colonies that show a varroa level above 3 % as soon as they reach there will give the more varroa resistant colonies to show their resistance and not be reinvaded by mites by silently robbing the colonies with higher mite loads.
Most splits have been staying in the same apiary as the colonies from which they are taken. It's important that both parts will have enough brood and food. If I don't know where the queen is both parts must have eggs and young larvae as well as capped and hatching brood. The part that is moved must have a lot of bees as many of the bees will return to their original place. It's best for different reaasons if the queen is following the split moved. Focus is on multiplying the good genetics, not getting maximum harvest in the short perspective.
Here, each frame is taken out of the third brood box, shaken off of their bees back in the hive and then placed in the box to the left. When finished the queen excluder are put on top of the two lower brood boxes. The box to the left with the now empty brood frames are put above the excluder. Then the two supers just to the right of colony are put back on top. After half an hour, the bees (yes faster) have gone up to the brood in the box above the excluder so you can remove it. The queen is not in that box now but in the two lower brood boxes. You know that because you shook all the bees down below.
These two bottom brood boxes plus the bottom board can be moved to a new place in the apiary as a split. At the old place, a new bottom ar placed, then one of the two supers on the new bottom at the old place. It will be the first brood box later on. Next box will be the brood box without the queen, then the queen excluder and the remaining super on top. After about 6-8 days, the two parts are checked concerning bee strength. You may have to rearrange boxes according to bee strength, if many bee have returned to the old place. Remove all queen cells except one (or two close to each other to avoid swarming with a virgin queen).
Instead of moving the two lower brood boxes with the queen to a new place in the same apiary, you can take the brood box without the queen from above the excluder and move it to another apiary. If you plan to do this, it is a good idea to place a box with extracted combs from last year on top of the excluder before you put back the box with empty brood combs to be to be covered by bees again from below. Then, after half the hour, these two boxes, the one with brood combs without the queen and the one with extracted combs from last year are put on a new bottom board (maybe netting on top) and moved to the other yard. In this way you get somewhat more bees to the split.
If I'm in a hurry I may take the upper two boxes of the three brood boxes and move them to another bottom board on another location about 5 meters away, not to far away and not too close. The idea behind this is that the split may keep some field bees if the queen follows the split, which is the best. Sometimes I don't identify where the queen ends up. Which method I use in making splits depends on how much time I have for doing them.

The field bees will start better built queen cells and thus better queen quality at the original place of the colony. That's because they have many field bees that bring in fresh pollen and nectar to the nurse bees.

If you are unlucky a split without the queen may loose most of the field bees if it's placed in the same apiary as the mother colony, yes most of the bees, and will get in trouble raising a good queen. They may need a ripe queen cell and an extra brood frame with hatching brood.

When I have moved the two upper boxes to the new place I check the remaining bottom box at the old place. It must contain at least some young larvae to make a queen of and some capped brood frames. And I have checked the amount of food in the supers. If the situation is not good enough in these respects I take the upper box of the two removed and put it back on top of the bottom one left at the old place. After I have shaken most of the bees in the box left at the new place.

Now if I do that or not I check that both the split and the number of boxes below the excluder at the old place will have two boxes with enough food and enough of brood and the right kind of brood. In the moved split there should be enough bees so that they still will have many bees after that most field bees have went back to the old place. To get the right amount of bees left in the split it may be easier to move it to another yard.
Replace the queens in the least good colonies
The weak hives or those that are least resistant against the Varroa mite will get their queens replaced. I try do that as soon as I have mature queen cells that I have bred from my best resistant colonies that have given a good crop and have a good temper.
The Bee shaker can be easily made by drilling holes in two lids and glue them together with a piece of mesh in between with 3 mm openings. First pour 2 dl of rubbing alcohol in one of the parts. Then 1 dl of bees from close to the brood. Shake them for 1 minute then turn the shaker around. The fluid and living mites gone dead plus some debris will go to the half that now is the bottom one. Lift it to the sky and count the mites. If more than 9, I would treat with thymol right away if I know my stock is not very resistant. The Easycheck variety of Bee shaker you shake and swirl but not turn around. I understand that one show almost all 100 % of mites in the sample while the first type show about 90 % (if you don't shake the bees twice).
In a number of my apiaries I now check the Varroa level with the Bee shaker making an alcohol wash. I do that twice per season if needed, in May and in August. If the Varroa level is above 3 %, more than 9 mites from 1 dl of bees they get a treatment with Thymol pads. Then they get their queen replaced as soon as possible or the colony is sold. The buyer will probably get better quality bees than from many other buyers anyway.
Also when I see one bee with deformed wings I make an alcohol wash with the bee shaker. Sometimes viruses may still be in the colony even if the mite population is very low. If the number of wingless bees are three or more at one time I have found they need a treatment right away, in first place so they don't will be a reinavsion source for other colonies in an 2 km radius (≈1.5 miles).

When a colony grow many mites their defense against robbers is getting lower. This often happens at the time when there is no flow, often when the season has turned towards the end, here in late July/early August.
Swarm cells
If a colony raises queen cells it's no use tearing them away. I usually don't look for queen cells, but when I come across a very crowded colony during swarming season, if I know the bees well enough I may just open the entrance to its maximum to make it easier for the circulation of air and pheromones and then put two boxes on top.

If I happen to find many queen cells in a hive I may just shut it and put on a couple of boxes or split the hive and trying to get the queen in the split. If I want to sleep better in the night and have the time I make a split from a hive like this, with the upper two boxes about 5 meters away in the same apiary.The split with loose most of its field bees. They will tear down the queen cells (if there are any) if the queen is with them. That's the best.
Again there should be two boxes available for brood at each place after the splitting.

If the split is placed too close to the mother colony and the queen is in the split, there will stay enough field bees with her so that the split will swarm some days later, if the bees are in that mood. In the box left on the place, shake all brood combs (they are not many) and tear down all queens cells. Be sure they have a comb with eggs and young larvae.

6-8 days later I check both parts, the split and the mother colony. Where there is eggs there is the queen, if she still lay eggs. It depends on how far swarm preparation had developed. If she is in the split there will probably be no swarm cells now. If you see her, take her away. In the queenless part you will find queen cells. Take them away. Give both parts a mature queen cell in queen cell protectors to help the queens to hatch alive. Or you can save a queen cell in each part (or two cells close to each other). You can also give the two parts a brood frame with young larvae and eggs from a good colony so they make queens of their own.
Queen cells of the right kind
I check the splits three weeks after I made them to get an idea of the situation. Are they queenright or queenless? It may look good but no eggs yet. Wait another week. If there is too few bees left and they are making a noise that's going up and down a little and not a steady low humming, they are probably queenless. I may give them a mature queencell or wait another week. Make notes. That's important. I may come back later and bring some queencells to those that probably need them. I may give a good frame of hatching brood from a good colony to someone in great need. And maybe a food frame or fondant if food is low.

In those weak hives and bad hives that maybe got thymol as well it's now time in beginning of June to kill the queen and a week later give a queencell. To be sure the right virgin queen survives I may well look through the hive and tear away the emergency queen cells made. Often a hatching queen will kill those queencells though, but sometimes the bees fool me if I trust them too much.:)
Swarm prevention
I almost never tear away queen cells. Most of the time I see them it's only a few of them. I carefully put combs and boxes together again so I don't hurt them. If there are a few of them the bees want a new queen without swarming. Often then there are 5 queen cells or less. If you tear a lone queen cell away you may end up with a queenless hive later in the season or in winter.

I never regularely look for queencells. I give the colonies enough room for the bees and for the honey, before they really need it.
Most important is to give room for the bees. Normally less than 5 % of my hives swarm. It's not worth the extra work to try to hinder that. I explain the low swarming by a combination of
1) the design of the hive,
2) giving plenty of room enough early and
3) genetics.
The first two reasons are the most important.
Catching swarms
When possible and time allows I catch swarms that I see or when someone calls on me. I use a swarm catching box I have found very useful with netting on one side which at the lower part has a piece of queen excluder. And a lid that can shut the box. It is also equipped with a hook so it can be hanged or placed close to where the swarm was catched. If the queen got inside, the rest of the bees will come in when evening comes. Then you can go get it and hive it where you find a good place.
Working the yards in June and July
When I come to a yard I start looking in front of the entrance to find out what the bees have dragged out or if there are crippled winged bees there. I have a piece of hard board there. It may be parts of pupae on it. It may be chalk brood. It may be a dead virgin. It may be a dead wasp. It may be young grey bees crawling (with some type of virus). It may be nothing, a clean hard board. That's indicating a healthy hive with no problems.
I watch the bees flying. Are they coming with pollen? Are there robbers about? Are there a lot of bees outside making an orientation flight? You get a lot of information before even lifting off the cover.

You watch the movements of the bees. You listen to the sounds, hopefully a steady humming. You smell the nice smell of bees bringing in nectar.

I lift off everything except the plastic and take a quick look to see how the bees fill up the upper box. If they fill up 2/3 of the space it's probably time for the next box. I take away the plastic and look. If the bees are filling up the space as expected compared to the last visit and have no crippled winged bees in front. If when lifting the hive from one side it's heavy enough, I just give them another box. This is normal in beginning of the season.

In the honey season, the hive may be packed with bees and draw out combs and honey all the way up when I check them. If I bring enough boxes with me they may get two boxes at a time.

If the strength of the colony is not as expected I look at a couple of frames in the brood nest. Is there a good amount of capped brood? Eggs? Crippled winged bees? Queen cells? Chalk brood? AFB? Maybe they have swarmed? I may take some action due to the information.

If I have some queen cells with me in the cell carrier I may use some if I find a colony that has no brood or no eggs. Has the season reached the second half of July I may give the colony a laying queen or plan to combine it with another colony. Very rarely I need to look for and see the queen. But I see her anyway now and then.
Maybe three crops
In June the winter rape honey must be harvested as soon as the flowering has stopped. Otherwise this honey will crystallize in the combs. Everything in the supers must be removed, capped and uncapped combs. There is no risk with high moisture content in this type of honey. There can also be honey from Dandelions at this time of the year. Dandelion honey also has to be removed quickly if it is a lot in the hives as it behaves in a similar way has honey from winter rape. These two gives a good blend. Around middle of June comes the wild raspberry flow. About the same time the summer rape if there is any. White clover is yielding later in June if there is high enough temperature and humidity.
Winter rape – May
Wild raspberry – June
White clover – June/July
Fireweed – June
European Linden – July
Heather – July/August
Neither of these colonies swarmed. In July the colonies normally are at their peak with stored honey and bee strength. This particular summer was warm and humid and I was in a hurry harvesting and put back supers.
In beginning of July a second crop may be taken and white clover may continue giving nectar and also fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium). European type of Linden trees starts flowering in July. Thistles and herbs bloom and other weeds.

In early August comes strong flavoured heather honey. Honeydew may be present both on leaves of linden, oak and similar trees, also on fir trees and pine. Usually in middle or late August a good year the third and last crop is harvested.

Heather and honeydew honey may put stress on the bees during winter as these types of honey give a lot of residues in the digestive system. If the colony makes no brood during winter and wait with this until March it usually is okey. Selection is playing a role here too for the bees to be able to have a lot of these types of honey in their winter stores, at least with our long winters.
Monitoring the varroa level
In late July and early August it's important that the mite population is not to big. If it is, the bees born at this time and somewhat later, which will be the winter bees, will be weaker due to mites and viruses. Such a colony is at danger and may not make it through winter or end up weak in spring.
If you have a good varroa resistant stock it may not mean much if some odd hives are sorted out this way. But if your bees in general are not very varroa resistant it's a good idea to make an alcohol wash with the bee shaker to know the varroa level. If you find more than 9 mites from 1 dl of bees I have found it a good idea to treat such a colony with thymol pads right away, make a note and replace the queen as soon as possible coming season, or sell the colony.

Winter stores
Late August is the time to check the hives so that they have enough winter stores. A colony packed with bees on three boxes I want to have at least 65 pounds (30 kg) of food. Not in first place for winter but for the needs next spring to make brood and build up bee strength until the first flow begins, which some odd years may be delayed to the second part of June. Those colonies which are low in stores in late August I give sucrose solution. When I have more 4.9 cell size combs I will be able to use more honey for winter food.
Storing boxes
I remove the boxes above the third box and store them in a cold barn with tight bottom and top against mice and rats. It's an old stable with cement floor and insulated walls keeping the temperature somewhat similar to an earthen cellar, lower than outside when it's warmer. Enough low to keep good control of wax moth. In winter temperature gets well below zero at least a couple of times, which will kill wax moth. I have had only minor problems with wax moth.

I know a guy who stores his boxes outside on one foot elevated stands with netting mesh on bottom and on top of the stacks standing in the shade. With somewhat uplifted covers to allow a draft through the stacks of boxes. Moth don't like draft in stacks. Wax moth is of no or small problems in his stored boxes with drawn combs.