Thursday, 21 April 2011

Spring - Under New Management

Having spent the winter reading and researching about bees and how best to "manage" them in a more natural manner to optimise their preferences - and their health and well-being, we have emerged into our second spring relieved at both our young colonies having survived their/our first winter, and have decided to manage our 2 conventional hives in a Warré-style manner.

Amongst support for this method, we've also seen a bit of teeth-sucking on various online forums (forii?) directed at other beekeepers who suggest this - even from advocates of Warré hives!
This appears to be partly due to the difference in size (the Warré hive being smaller but deeper than a National or WBC super and more conducive to the colony style that bees like best) but there seems to be quite a bit of support for this amongst the more experiences natural beekeepers, and our choices are limited by two things:

1. The extraordinary costs of setting up both of our conventional hives (a WBC and then a National) just last year (an expense my credit card is still trying to recover from);

2. The extra costs we would incur if we bought not 2 but 3 Warré hives this year (as we are planning to extend to 3 hives this year).

Our choices then are:

- to carry on managing both conventional hives in the conventional manner (with high-performance orientated sugar-syrup boosting in spring, full hive inspection/disruption every week to check for Queen performance & hive health etc, using framed foundation, and extending the colony by adding supers at the top, and nicking all the honey at the end of the summer, replacing this with more sugar syrup for the bees to overwinter), or;

- letting the bees do things their way as much as possible: by allowing them to increase at their own rate in response to available forage (keeping an eye of course that plenty is going in every day simply by standing and watching - ready to provide emergency feed if necessary), daily external observation outside hives and through viewing windows to check bee behaviour (and therefore Queen-rightness), food store intake, and hive expansion; allowing natural expansion and free-comb building to the bees own spec by using top bars only without foundation but with a double height box (by using two supers with top bars in top one only, placed underneath the existing colony), with no queen excluder so the bees can use the space provided as they see fit. Oh, and leaving enough of the honey for the bees to overwinter by only harvesting what looks to be surplus amounts (which is what we ended up doing last summer, the bees having consumed alot of their stores over a wet August).

The excellent article kindly posted online by Spenbroc here discussing the natural management of conventional hives by J. E. Pile in 1966 helped us to make up our minds. After all, size isn't everything, and if the bees might prefer starting at the top and working their way down, building free comb to the shape and drone-to-worker-to-honey ratio they see fit, then who are we to argue?

I'm also (still) building our first hTBH from scratch for our 3rd Hive, using the Biobees/Barefoot Beekeeper Phil Chandler's basic prototype. We're hoping to be able to collect a "wild" colony which has set up shop in a Dove cot in Longton in the next week or two, and I'll write about this shortly, but in the meantime am happy to stand back and watch spring getting into full flow...

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