In last month’s Bee Buzz Box we rabbited on about how to prevent swarming. Stopping swarming gets your bees to put honey into hives rather than into neighbours’ cavity walls. Letting bees swarm is never a good plan and anyway there is every chance the hive left behind will end up with cranky bees.
Talking about neighbours, some notable beekeepers have gone by similar namesakes. Firstly there was Ray Nabors who poked his head up five or so years ago in the American Bee Journal. He talked up the merits of running multi-queen hives not least making them honey machines.
Then there was Alfred Neighbour. His company sold bee gear aplenty and bee books for his time from around the mid 1800s. In that period beekeepers were moving from swarm-prone skeps to Langstroth hives: they were learning about how to look after bees rather than just trying to keep them.
George Neighbour’s Apiary
Image from Alfred Neighbour’s book The Apiary or Bees, Bee-hives and Bee-culture 1866i
By the 1950s a bright new breed of American beekeepersii had worked out that they could throw an extra queen into the ring and in the process stop swarming. Their schemes allowed bees, those that were limping along, to magically recover.
How did they do it? Let’s see what they said.
C.L. Farrar The Farrar plan
Clayton Farrar was the first to show experimentally that bee numbers equated directly with amount of honey produced. The key message was that the stronger your bees were, the more honey you got.
Professor Farrar’s plan was to start the season by installing a new queen on top of all hives, that is in separate independent nucleus colonies perched – like an attic – under the roof. The idea was to harness the power of a second laying queen down the track. Let’s not get into the detail, but once the small hive on top got going it could be united – with the parent hive below – as a two-queen hive. There is nothing magic about this but you can safely paste on (unite) two hives with both queens real goers, but as we all know you can never introduce a new queen directly to an already queenright hive.
So his scheme was simple yet complex. Well it was difficult enough to suggest that we might all give it a miss unless one wants to read up on two-queeners.
One barrier to Farrar’s scheme was the seemingly necessary requirement to acquire a crane driver’s licence. This was needed to remove honey literally pouring into his tower hives. He proffered a few helpful operating tips:
They [the two brood nests] must both have reserve stores, too, at all times before the flow. After the flow begins, supers are given to both units but the supers placed between the two excluders must not be allowed to fill up or you will have in effect two separate colonies.
Farrar’s bees were nevertheless swarm-proof. This is something we now attribute to the presence of the extra pheromone that the second queen produces. Remember that mandibular queen pheromone is the glue that holds bees together.
L.F. Miller Two queens to reclaim the weak colonies
Loren Miller operated his hives in very cold Minnesota climes so much so that he had to restart his hives each spring with package bees. Package bees have new season’s queens, have healthy bees and expand explosively under the near ideal conditions and fast lengthening days of America’s north.
Miller installed these package bees into shallow supers, then fed and supered them to get them quickly established. From here he united pairs of colonies, piggybacking them and using a queen excluder to keep the colonies and later the queens apart. Alone they were swarm prone, together they rarely swarmed.
His strategy was to place any weak colonies, those with good queens, on top of hives that were already strong, those that had established most quickly. By also uniting colonies of average strength he had a yard of beehives all with two queens and all of about equal strength. From here, with two laying queens, they became extremely powerful honey gatherers. The extra queen was his anti-swarming insurance.
Again Miller’s scheme is not one we might all try. However his technique is instructive. The scheme of starting queens on top of hives or using strong colonies to build weak hives is very attractive. It is one we could all routinely practice to build nucleus colonies with new queens.
Next month’s Bee Buzz Box will explain how starting new queens on top of hives can be used to requeen hives without having to find the old queen.
W.D. Dunham Dunham’s modified two-queen plan
Winston Dunham thought deeply about bees and what they were capable of. His trials, conducted at the Ohio Experiment Station [Ohio is on the same latitude as New York State] involved establishing a second queen in each hive in the same standard manner. He employed the technique pioneered by Farrar placing emerging brood and young bees in a new super, making up a nuc. This, together with a new queen, he placed on top of the hive above a double screen with its own flight entrance.
Later Dunham ran these piggybacked hives as two-queen hives, as Farrar had done, by replacing the double screen with an excluder. But his scheme differed in one significant way. With exquisite timing he pulled the pin on two-queen hive operation by removing the old queen as the honey flow intensified. He then moved the top brood box, containing the new queen, to the bottom board effecting colony requeening and returning the colony to its natural single-queen condition.
His scheme had the advantage of full swarm control during the buildup phase (our spring and early summer) facilitated by the presence of two queens. His real skill lay in his avoiding being flooded with bees (if he had kept going with two queens) when the party (the main flow) was over. Dunham had removed the complicated supering arrangements that so characterised the Farrar plan and also resolved the problem of too many hungry late season bees.
This plan is very versatile and allows also for preflow conditioning, making increase, and testing queens.
Dunham’s approach hit the sweet spot. His bees were ready – un-swarmed – to take advantage of the main Ohio district sweet clover flow where all bee effort was focused on honey collection not on a mix of harvesting and excessive brood raising. For Canberra this would translates to uniting hives, those sporting an extra queen, in the middle of our Yellow Box and Blakely’s Red Gum flow, returning the bees to their easy to manage single-queen condition through to the end of summer and into autumn.
E.A Schaefer Two-queen swarm control method
Harry Schaefer from fairly far northerly Wisconsin predicated his swarm control measures:
…on the fact that a colony with its own young queen, mated before the flow, will not swarm.
We came across this novel idea last month but it is worth restating. He treated all hives hives the same way but only after bringing up weak colonies to strength by adding sealed brood from his strongest colonies.
First he removed the colony from its stand replacing it with an empty brood box with a new bottom board to which he added a few frames of honey and pollen taken from the parent colony. Between these frames he placed a comb with eggs and young brood without bees also taken from the parent hive.
He then added a body of combs above which he placed a double screen and two sheets of newspaper, the double screen entrance facing backwards. He then put the remaining supers, with bees, brood and the colony queen on top. Bees returning to the new brood box on the bottom board built queen cells resulting in the lower colony raising a new queen. Meanwhile the old colony above the double screen was allowed to continue to build as it would have done without the manipulation.
Once well established with its own brood the double screen was simply removed and replaced with a sheet of newspaper. At the next visit to the apiary Schaefer simply moved all the brood down so that the hive could be run as a single-queen hive, brood downstairs, honey supers above and now headed by a daughter queen.
The simplicity of Schaefer’s scheme, not finding of old queens, not introducing purchased queens and reliance on the new daughter queen to supersede her mother has much to commend itself. Clearly the original colony needs to have had a reasonable calibre queen – the daughter queen needs to have good genes – while the stock in the apiary should also produce ample first class drones to increase the chance of good matings for the queens raised in situ. Importantly the scheme will only work well under near ideal spring conditions. In any case the temperament and laying capacity of the new laying queens would need to have be carefully assessed before uniting the bees.
J. Holzberlein Another way to start two-queen colonies
John Holzberlein from Colorado in the central west of the United States again used the standard procedure for establishing a new queen at the top of each colony. He was a two-queen hive guru.
He started with strong colonies with entrances provided in all hive supers left open. In hives of his era it was standard practice to drill auger holes in the central front face of each super and to control bee access by corking entrances. These days, it is more common to provide upper entrance hive access using thin ~ 15 mm deep rims (sometimes designated shims) with a closable entrance.
In a first step he stoppered all hive entrances except the standard bottom entrance. He then followed the familiar practice of introducing a caged queen to sealed brood and ample nurse bees to a new super placed above a double screen on top of the parent hive (effectively a new hive). By forcing all field bees to use the bottom entrance he was assured that old bees returning to the new hive would not reduce the chance of new queen acceptance. A back entrance was needed of course to provide the nucleus hive flight access.
Once the new queen was well established he united bees using two excluders (to maintain the two-queen condition) making sure that honey supers could be worked above hive broodnests, a serious downside to the Farrar Plan. However this is getting too much into the area of operating two-queen hives.
The better route for common or garden operation of single-queen hives is to take advantage of the early presence of the second laying new queen and to simply remove the old queen and move the top super with the new queen and her brood nest to the bottom board to effect seamless requeening.
Like other schemes involving the even temporary presence of a second queen in a separate top colony above a double screen, the risk of swarming was greatly reduced though the logic for achieving this end will be lost unless you read Holzberlein’s article.
G.H. Cale Reversal, separation, and reunion
Bud Cale’s scheme is text book swarm control. Its methodology lies in last month’s Bee Buzz Box lesson from Nebraskan beekeeper Ralph Barnes: ‘Divide or requeen’. The difference this time round was that Cale did both.
To help get his bees going, and at the beginning of spring, Cale simply reversed boxes (AB → BA). This put the queen and brood down on the bottom board while the bees carted up any honey surplus to brood raising requirements upstairs to make room for the queen to lay.
Cale then reversed his boxes regularly, to simulate a light honey flow, and in any case to keep his bees busy. Then as the bees became so strong as to be at risk of swarming he simply split his hives. Cale allowed his bees to raise a new queen: my preference would be to time the arrival of new queens in the post to supply queens to splits. Then as the flow started Cale simply united his bees. Instead of having two fairly good hives Cale ended up with an exceptionally powerful colony that spent its time harvesting, not swarming.
Cale’s scheme has nothing to do with establishing colonies with two queens but his of splitting hives – the bees put into in a forced swarm condition – prevented them from swarming.
Next month and based on this and last month’s scribblings on swarming I will outline the many approaches taken by beekeepers to successfully requeen hives with tired old queens, that is with newbies. And yes it is high time to order young queens for spring from your favourite queen breeder that is if you have not already done so.
iNeighbour, A. (1866) The apiary or Bees, bee-hives and bee-culture being a familiar account of the habits of bees and the most improved methods of management, with full directions, adapted for the cottager, farmer, or scientific apiarian. Kent and Co., Paternoster Row; Geo. Neighbour and Sons, 149 Regent Street, and 127 High Holborn, London, 1865. https://victoriancollections.net.au/media/collectors/51d110e42162ef12e06aa06b/items/5341f0202162ef0a84dbc1c6/item-media/5341f0c52162ef0a84dbc6e3/original.pdf and
iiFarrar, C.L., Miller, L.F., Dunham, W.E., Schaefer, E.A., Holzberlein, J. Jr. and Cale, G.H. (April 1954). Panel for April: How to use two queens for automatic requeening, swarm control, and crop increase. American Bee Journal 94(4):128-132. https://archive.org/details/sim_american-bee-journal_1954-04_94_4/page/128/mode/2up