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Making Increase in Honey Bee Colonies (Method 1)
A method of increasing the number of bee stocks, whilst maintaining the line of a particular breeder queen.
This method was originally developed by Miller and described in a book “Productive Beekeeping” by Frank Pellett (published 1916). The version detailed here has been modified to suit UK conditions and week-end working.
To start this method we need to make a few preparations… We need at least two apiaries separated far enough apart to stop bees returning to their original site.
We require ten colonies (or more) in apiary No.1, one of these should have a selected “breeder” queen that we wish to propagate against the background of drones that are available. Space is needed in a second apiary for the extra colonies. The colony containing our “breeder” queen should be on stand 1. Spare drawn brood combs will make life much easier as they will be used to fill the spaces in hives that are robbed to provide sealed brood.
The extra equipment can be made or acquired week by week, as the method progresses on a Saturday to Saturday weekly timetable (Sunday if Saturday is wet). Two extra colonies (strong nucs) are produced every week.
The starting date will be dependent on the season and how advanced or retarded the bees are. However the first or second week in May should be a good starting point… Fresh drones must have already emerged from their cells.
No mention has been made about the provision of suitable drones… But the more that you do, in this respect, the better will be the consistancy of the resulting queens.
I make no mention of feeding in the manipulations… Use your own judgment and feed as required. Similarly no mention is made of placing supers on colonies H2-H10 as this will depend on your prevailing conditions.
H2 is closed up and moved to one side at a time when most of the field bees will be out flying.
It has been pointed out by Albert Knight, that more bees will be drained from H2 if closure is delayed until just before it is transported to Apiary 2. I would recommend this late closure as the number of flying bees that are trained to stand 2 at this early stage, may well be less than optimum.
H1 is moved to stand 2 so that it will receive those flying bees, but it’s own fliers will return to stand 1.
A fresh hive (H11 full of drawn comb) is placed on stand 1.
The breeder queen is found (H1 stand 2) and placed in H11 on stand 1.
Hives H3-H10 are robbed for combs which contain old and sealed brood, but no eggs or young larvae… These combs are placed in an extra brood box on H11.
Finally H2 is transported to apiary 2 and opened up.
Let us take stock of what we have just done… On this first week we have only increased our colony count by one. H2 in apiary 2 has few flying bees, but has it’s original queen and should recover quickly. The “new” colony (H11 stand 1) has the breeder queen, a flying force of bees, some ageing and emerging brood, but no eggs or young larvae. Eggs should be laid very quickly. H1 on stand 2 has the flying bees from H2 and as it is queenless it will raise queencells using young larvae that are the offspring of our breeder queen.
H1 is split into two 5 frame nucs (H1a and H1b) which are closed up and put on one side.
H11 is moved to stand 2.
A fresh hive (H12 full of drawn comb) is placed on stand 1.
The breeder queen is found (H11 stand 2) and placed in H12 on stand 1.
Hives H3-H10 are again robbed for combs which contain old and sealed brood, but no eggs or young larvae… These combs are placed in the extra brood box on H12.
Finally the nucs H1a and H1b are transported to apiary 2 and opened up.
Taking stock of what we have done this week… We have increased our colony count by two (total now 13). H2 in apiary 2 is still recovering. Another “new” colony, H12 stand 1, has the breeder queen, a flying force of bees, some ageing and emerging brood, but no eggs or larvae young enough to give rise to queen cells. H11 on stand 2 has the flying bees from our original H1 colony and as it is queenless it will raise queencells using young larvae from eggs that the breeder queen has laid during the last week.
H11 is split into two 5 frame nucs (H11a and H11b) which are closed up and put on one side.
H12 is moved to stand 2.
A fresh hive (H13 full of drawn comb) is placed on stand 1.
The breeder queen is found (H12 stand 2) and placed in H13 on stand 1.
Hives H3-H10 are robbed once more for old and sealed brood, these combs being placed in the extra brood box on H13.
Lastly the nucs H11a and H11b are transported to apiary 2 and opened up.
This week our colony count is 15. H2 should be getting stronger. Stand 1 has the breeder queen. Stand 2 is queenless and is raising queencells from our “breeder queen” larvae. The constant removal of brood from H3-H10 should negate swarming in these colonies.
H12 is split into two 5 frame nucs (H12a and H12b) which are closed up and put on one side.
H13 is moved to stand 2.
A fresh hive (H14 full of drawn comb) is placed on stand 1.
The breeder queen is found (H13 stand 2) and placed in H14 on stand 1.
Hives H3-H10 are robbed for combs as usual, the combs contain only old and sealed brood, these combs are placed in the extra brood box on H14.
Two more nucs H12a and H12b are transported to apiary 2 and opened up.
In apiary 2, H2 is “artificially swarmed” to provide two more nucs (H2a and H2b)
(Note… These will not be of our breeding line unless spare queencells from stand 2 are available.
Our colony count is now 19.
Using the same principles in the following weeks will provide two more nucs per week. As the first nucs get their queens mated they will need to be transferred to full sized hives which frees up the nucs for re-use. There may be occasions, in the middle of the season, when three or four nucs can be made from the queenless colony instead of two… Which gives even further increase. If we assume a ten week season (we might get 12) our colony count should be 35 or more. Some queens may not get mated, but you should have ample material to make good such losses.
The colony on stand 2 is always queenless, but gets a constant supply of brood. On the last occasion that this method is used this colony ceases to exist as it forms the last two nucs. Colonies H3-H10 can be (and should be) requeened, at any time during the season, from spare “breeder” queencells on frames in queen excluding frame cages.
In a very good season the first nucs in apiary two will develop strongly and quickly enough to allow the process to be allowed to flow in reverse as well, putting fresh nucs back into apiary no.1 (or a third apiary) for a few weeks at the end of the season.
When I was a beekeeper of only two years experience, I increased from 9 to 35 colonies by this method and the collection of a few swarms (which were mainly used for comb drawing).
This method is very stable, providing, the 5 frame nucs that are made are strong enough (the first few in a season may be a little weak, but they have more time to “catch up”). As with anything in beekeeping… The weather may wreak it’s havoc so no guarantees can be given.
If full size brood boxes are available they can be used to make the nucs with the addition of frames of foundation, dummy frames or drawn comb to fill in the extra spaces. This may save time later in the season.
Good luck with it.