Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Natural Cell Size

If you've read the blog for a while, you'll know that I was trying foundationless frames this year.  If you want to get caught up, go ahead and go back and read.  I'll wait.


Okay, you're back.

Well, I only have one comb to show you, because it just so happens that the hive it was in happened to die a few weeks ago.  No worries, this hive was a split from the hive the frame was previously in (still alive and well) and the frame certainly had nothing to do with it.

Here, you can see the frame and you can compare it to what it looked like soon after it was begun.
It's not too bad, though not perfect.  It had several queens made on it over the course of the year so that also makes it a little holey.

So, how did it turn out?  I measured the cell size on the frame in a number of places and different directions.  Here are the results:

Here's a 4.9mm section.

Here's a 5.1mm section.

Here's a 5.2mm section.

As you can see, there is natural variability.  However, the natural cell size is certainly on average below the smallest standard sized foundation available at 5.2mm.

In the future, I'm switching wholesale to plastic frames and foundationless frames, but until then I still have quite a bit of foundation to run through.

How to Use Nucs.

Here's my most recent yard pic:

I recently watched this excellent video on keeping nucs as part of one's operation.  It's long so that means if I'm recommending it, it's really good.  This is just part one, there's also a part two.

Mike Palmer 4/2011 The Sustainable Apiary Part 1 of 2 from PWRBA (Prince William Regional B on Vimeo.

The idea is that keeping nucs, even as many as you have regular hives gives you all sorts of flexibility and sustainability in your bee yard especially if you are raising your own queens.  At this point in history, any serious beekeeper should.  As Michael explains, queens and packages are becoming more and more unreliable.

Among other reasons, nucs offer the ability for quick requeening, quick hive replacement, quick increase, the ability to use a nuc as a 'bee bomb' to boost a hive's production, the ability to raise and test queens before devoting much equipment to them, the ability to draw out new combs rapidly without suffering honey production, and as a consistent product to sell.

I currently have the equivalent of 10 nucs that I will be attempting to put into circulation this next spring.  After this disastrous summer we've just had, the idea of selling nucs primarily appeals to me as such a thing can be done even with zero honey production in a calendar year.  The really big thing that I learned was not to make nucs from your big productive hives, but to make nucs from mediocre healthy hives, but make queens from your big productive hives.  Thus far, I have been splitting queens the old Emergency Queen way but this next year, I'm going to be grafting.  If that fails, I'll try the Nicot system or Jenter. 

I could go through and explain the whole system to you but it would take hours to type and read and you can watch the whole video yourself.  So please go watch the video.  You'll find it well worth your time.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Long Hard Summer and New Developments

Here's the most recent photo...

Business has been good.  I just sold my first two nucs last Saturday.  A gentleman drove up from Texas to purchase some late season nucs.

As you may be able to see in the picture, the grass is green again but it hasn't rained in two weeks.  Here's about the worst it got.

Here, I recorded temperatures of 114.8F and went from June until August without significant rainfall.

Fortunately, the temperatures are far more reasonable than they have often been throughout this warm season.  Since I last posted, I have set up my second outyard at a local organic free range chicken farm.

This pallet is on the bank of a small pond which is often dry.  I put extra bricks on top in case the local goats decide they want to play king of the hill.  With that many bricks, it's quite stable. 

In preparation for the move to mediums, I have been buying equipment that will fit.  As you should know by now, Mann Lake sells 4.95mm (PF-120) plastic frames which look something like this:

You can also see one of the medium division board feeders I bought and am currently using even though they're being used in deep hive body equipment.  In fact, two hives have two each due to the fact that I sold those two nucs.  And one could go even further if one wished.

Here are four feeders in a box just for fun.  That would total about five gallons of syrup if you really wanted to pound it down.  However, the drowning of bees could very well be quite significant.

I also purchased a little batch of Walter Kelley's foundationless medium frames.  As is my custom, I trimmed the end bars to 1 1/4" and as you can see, eleven fit in a box.  The box they are in is a former deep box which I trimmed down after the lower part rotted.  There are five more that I have marked for this same modification.  I did notice that the space between the topbars is pretty small, but I think it's still large enough for small cell bees to fit through, especially after the endbars have been propolized a bit.  In the future, I think I may trim the topbars a little bit so as to maintain a larger beespace.

Here you can see the beveled edge of the Kelley frame.  I was expecting more of a sharper edge, but we'll see how this works.  I have heard good things.
I am going to have to make a financial decision on which direction to go.  These frames are priced a little bit lower than Mann Lake's medium frames (which are standard types, not foundationless).  On the other hand, Mann Lake's frames are clearly superior in quality.  Mann Lake will be getting my business for the PF-120's which I plan to offer at a ratio of about 2:1 to foundationless frames.  Kelley also offers cheaper boxes as well, but I am not sure which direction to go on that either.  But that still may be in the future.  I still have to cycle through all my large cell equipment and systematically sell it as nucs.  10 frames down, 600 to go.

Going into fall, situations surely could be better.  I harvested no honey and many of the hives, in fact all the new ones, are either very low on stores or have none at all.  I am usually against feeding artificial feeds, but in this case, even if I had all the honey I ever produced, it might not be enough to get these hives through.  So I have to feed.  The heavy splitting I did earlier in the season allowed an increase in hives but a massive decrease in honey.  Such are Arkansas' seasons.  I am considering the fact that in the long run, it may be far more profitable to produce nucs rather than honey.  We shall see.  Until then, I need to get these bees through the winter.  Lately, every week I have been taking two and now three five gallon buckets filled with four gallons of 3:2 sugar syrup to the yards.  That's $15 a bucket.  No bueno.  Soon, I'll fill the feeders up with granulated sugar as the bees will stop taking syrup.  Then, it will be up to them.  Gotta keep a little survivorship in there.

Don't forget to check in at from time to time as I continue to add content there as well.  Suggestions are always welcome.  Visit where I am the moderator of the Treatment-Free Beekeeping section of the forum as well.