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Increase vs Honey

For me, the main joy of keeping bees is having them successfully live through the Winter. I view this is a minor validation of my efforts, even though I am sure that it is often a validation of a bee’s ability to survive in spite of my activities! But, as of my third year beekeeping, I have learned that I also enjoy increasing the number of hives that I have, selling bees (Nucs) and harvesting honey. The first two go hand-in-hand, but the latter can be contrary to the former two.

What is Increase? This is simply beekeeping vernacular for increasing the number of bee hives that you have by means that do not include purchase. Basically, how do you take the hives that you currently own and increase their number, relying only on your existing hives? The main activities that push this are ‘creating Nucs’ and ‘making Splits’. In both cases, you take from an existing hive to create another hive. For my area, I am of the opinion that the primary time to do this is the March/April/May time frame. This is the time frame that I stand the highest chance of success in taking frames of bees from an existing hive and ending up with two strong hives. I call these new hives starter hives, which basically means any hive that has not completely built out its brood chamber (1 Deep and 1 Medium for me.) As it so happens, this also applies to caught swarms and cut-outs, but that’s another topic.

Instead of ‘increase’, you can also manage towards a honey harvest. Here, you are simply trying to delay or prevent any swarm activity and allow a hive to grow to its full potential without taking any resources from it (when you take frames of eggs, bees, honey or pollen to do increase, you sort of set the hive back a bit – you do not want to do that on the honey producer.)

For me, I do a bit of increase and a bit of honey production each year. From my strongest hives/queens, I do all of my increase off of them. There is a very good chance that the very strongest hive will effectively be decimated. As an example, in 2011 I had a hive named Larry with a super queen that was clearly my strongest line. I ended up creating 14 Nucs off of that one hive, throughout March and April. By the time April was through, Larry was really no more (the queen and all of her offspring were going strong – well most of them were, but the hive itself had been cannibalized piecemeal in the creation of a bunch of new hives with the strong queen genetics. I can definitely do NOT expect to build 14 Nucs from 1 hive every year. But, it serves my point on increase. I take my strongest hives to make more hives (both for myself and for others.)

The honey increase comes from my mid-tier hives. These hives have good lines of queens, but simply are not in my top 3. I manage these hives for honey production (which really just means that I try to prevent swarm activity and keep empty supers on them during the nectar flow.) Eventually, the queens on my mid-tier hives either swarm or are superseded. When this happens, one or more of these hives will rise to the top tier (on the backs of the new genetics in the hive) to become an increase candidate.

The final tier of hives are my duds. The go into Winter weak and come out weak. They build up poorly and simply do not have what it takes to be in my apiary. I try to identify these bees quickly, as they are producing drones that are mating with either the queens in my outyards or the feral queens around my outyards. In most cases, I kill the old queen and, 1 day later, combine the hive with one of my Nucs from the Spring. On occasion, I will simply kill the queen and let them raise a new one. The only time that I do that is if the old queen did have some redeeming qualities – qualities that I would like to see make it to my other beehives, but she simply did not have enough to be a proven winner in my outyards. Letting the bees raise a new queen from her genetics/eggs is one way to try to keep those good qualities around.

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