Beekeeping Experiment Participants wanted
If anyone is interested in participating, Walt Wright and I have put together an experiment we would like to have people try.
Checkerboarding vs. Opening the Brood Nest combined with Checkerboarding vs. Neither
Question:Will bees given empty frames in the brood nest shift to "establishment" mode and make white wax well before the normal time and build up more because of more brood nest expansion and tend to not swarm. Will hives produce more/less/as much as when "Checkerboarded".
Background and Terms:
It would be better if you read Walt's manuscript, but I'll give a synopsis of the idea of checkerboarding here. Remember this is an oversimplification.
For a bee colony:
To put some of this another way, the colony goes through different goals at different times.
A new swarm starts out with the goal of getting established. They draw a lot of comb and try to expand the brood nest as much as possible to get established and then they go into winter preparation, which is trying to store sufficient stores for the winter. If they accomplish all of this and get over crowded they might cast a swarm to relieve the population problem.
The next year the hive will start out with the goal of reaching a safe position to cast a reproductive swarm. That means the population has to build up enough to afford to lose that many bees and the stores have to be high enough for them to lose that many foragers. Then they go into swarm preparation mode and start backfilling the brood nest. At some point, which Walt calls the Reproductive swarm cut-off, they decide they will or won't swarm.
The goal of Checkboarding is to keep them in the build-up phase until after Reproductive swarm cut-off by making them think they don't have enough stores and giving the brood nest room to expand.
If you look at your bees and your blooms and your climate, this Reproductive cut-off is usually the peak of the apple blossoms or a week after the apples START to bloom. The time to do Checkboarding is 9 weeks before that. That's about when the Elm blooms or four weeks before the Maples bloom or five weeks before the Redbud blooms or eight weeks before the apples start blooming or ten weeks before the black locust starts blooming. Hopefully you have some idea when one of those blooms in your location. NOTE: in theory these are all ways of pinpointing the same stage of vegetative development, they are just different reference points to figure it out for your location, I'm just listing all the different blooms in case you know when one of them is to calculate from.
At that time (9 weeks before Reproductive cut-off/the peak of the apple blossoms) you checkerboard. You put alternating frames of capped honey and empty drawn comb above the brood nest.
Opening the Brood Nest
The underlying beekeeping principles are similar to Checkerboarding except by putting empty frames (not frames with foundation, but frames with either starter strips or comb guides or nothing) in the brood nest, to shift the colony to establishment mode and drawing wax much earlier and prevent backfilling of the brood nest. This causes the brood nest to expand and it controls swarming. To make room for the empty frames you should move frames on the outside of the brood box up to the next box or down or out altogether (depending on if your equipment is all the same size frames) and move the brood combs to the sides and put the empty frames between two frames of brood. To prevent chilling brood, make sure that you have enough bees to quickly fill the gap you've left with festooning bees before you insert the frame. This will ensure there are enough bees to manage the empty space. If there are not enough bees for this, then postpone for another week or two. For the sake of the experiment, it would be good to check the brood nest every couple of weeks and add more frames if the brood nest starts to recede (because of backfilling) or if there are enough bees to handle the extra space. If you want maximum yields this should probably stop about two weeks before the main flow (about four weeks after apple bloom starts and about the time Black Locust starts to bloom). If the box is brood from one side to the other, three frames of brood can be moved up into the next box to expand the brood nest up and fill in those gaps with alternating empty frames. If you get frames of drone brood (which you most often will for the first couple of frames) move them to the outside edge of the brood nest when you find them and put more empty frames in their place. Anytime you don't see enough bees to fill the gaps in the brood nest, wait until they have built up more. Some of this timing may vary by race as well as climate, so try to go with the bees.
Walt and I discussed this at length and concluded we think the best time to try this right after the elm bloom or right at the Maple bloom or 2 weeks before the Redbud bloom or two weeks or four weeks before the apple bloom or 6 weeks before the black Locust bloom. NOTE: in theory these are all the same point of seasonal development, I'm just listing all the different blooms in case you know when one of them is to calculate from. I do notice that going by Walt's chart (in the manuscript) I'm usually about a month behind him. But that seems to be a little more than that in some places. For instance, the Locust bloom here was mid May last year and six weeks before that would be the first of April. Yet at the first of April I'm past the elm and maple blooms. Here, the blooms at the first of April are wild plums and other early fruit trees. You might just look for early fruit trees blooming in your area to key on for opening up the brood nest. Before that there probably isn't any flow coming in to make wax from.
The other up side to Opening the Brood Nest is the production of natural cell sized comb. If you are trying to regress you'll get this a side benefit.
The idea is to do these side by side and see how the results compare. If you only wish to do one or the other feel free to give your results, but a side-by-side comparison would be more useful. Walt is quite certain of the results of the Checkerboarding compared to the typical brood box reversal system, but if you'd like to compare it to that, both for this experiment and for your own enlightenment, that would also be useful information.
These should be third year or more colonies. First and second year colonies have slightly different timing and goals.
If you open the hives every week and use thumbtacks or push pins to mark the top of the brood nest (three pins would work nicely, one in the center and one a couple of frames in from each side). You can log the brood nest expansion by that date by how many inches up it has moved. Also monitor overhead nectar storage. If the brood nest starts contracting before the peak of the apple blossoms then, for Opening the Brood Nest colonies it's time to add more empty frames. Make sure you have alternating frames over the brood nest of honey and nectar or empty drawn comb. You can do these alternating frames all the way to the top. Once you are two weeks before the main flow (one week after apple's stop blooming) I would stop trying to get them to expand the brood nest. Once the main flow hits you shouldn't need to monitor the brood nest anymore, but rather make sure there are plenty of supers on to prevent overcrowding.
So, to recap:
One way to keep track of some of the blooms, like Maple and Elm is to go to www.pollen.com and see what they say is the prevalent pollen at the time.
If anyone has additional ideas please add them, but here's an idea for a template for a log entry:
Reason for the Experiment:
Basically Walt believes (he would correct me and say he knows) that there is plenty of nectar well before the "main nectar flow" and the bees just have a lull there as they make up their mind to either swarm or go into storage mode. He says that second year colonies are still in establishment mode and what he sees in second year colonies is different than established colonies. First of all they are drawing white wax earlier and they don't have the lull. In other words there is a three or four week longer "nectar flow" for them because they don't have the lull. The issue we want to discover is whether putting empty comb in will set off making white wax early and put them into establishment mode and be able to "cash in" on that three week or so lull.
Copyright 2006 by Michael Bush