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Christmas, Snow and Rearing Queens

Snow on the Geronimo Hive

The Last Snow of 2010 - Christmas at the Geronimo Hive

Christmas has come and gone, but a blanket of snow persists in the central Virginia area even today. I did not measure it, but it appeared to be about 4 inches of snow that came down between late Christmas day and the following evening. It was really the perfect snow for Christmas, blanketing everything (including the beehives) but leaving the roads mostly clear since the daytime temperatures had stayed above freezing since then. For the garden plants, snow is one of the best things around. It creates a blanket over the ground, effectively keeping it right at freezing (for the most part) even during the brutal nights when it gets down into the teens. But, does it help the Bees?

I doubt that snow has much effect on bees except that it provides water for the surrounding landscape, which indirectly helps the bees out. One of the things that folks up north worry about is snow that is higher (due to the depth) then the bottom entrance. Some folks (Michael Palmer, up in PA, for one) have switched to all or mostly top entrances to prevent this. Although I am not worried about snow covering the bottom boards of my hives, I am going to try a top entrance hive this year (2011) just for fun. I am interested in seeing how they work when it comes to managing the hives.

Thinking about the top entrance reminds me of one of my main goals of a beekeeper this time of year: identify and target achievable goals for the upcoming year. There are tons of things to do with bees. Many of the things you have to learn on the spot, as you are simply reacting to something going on in one of your hives. But, there are a lot of things that require planning. To do them all would be impossible (for me, anyway). To do them right, I need to identify the learning goals of the coming year and begin preparation in December of the previous year. For 2011, I have three main ‘learning’ goals.

Icicles hanging off the front porch at Wilton

Winter Setting In

My first goal is to dabble in Spring Nuc creation. I am currently thinking that I will attempt to start 4 Nuc’s the traditional way (traditional to me, at any rate), letting them raise their own queens. I will be happy with a 50% success rate, but will certainly take more! I will definitely keep one Nuc to watch it grow and might trade one for some local bees from another beekeeper, to continue to diversify my genetic pool. If more then two do well, I’ll worry about dealing with them later. The long term goal is to possibly start selling Nuc’s, but I will not sell them this first year, as this is a learning year.

The second goal is to start a Top Bar Hive. I have already cut a lot of the wood from an old fence to make it. The key will be getting some bees into it. Hopefully, I’ll get a swarm in April to use. Otherwise, I’ll figure out a way to transfer a hive from my Langstroths.

The third, and final, goal is to raise some queens. I received some queen rearing gear and books for Christmas that I am looking forward to trying. It included a system from Mann Lake which is basically the Nicot System and a queen castle (which is really a deep hive that has been divided into 4 cavities, each for a new queen). I hope to raise four queens, but will be happy (as with the Nuc’s) with raising just two. Again, I will use one myself and hopefully trade one for a queen from another local beekeeper’s stock.

The bottom line is that I have three goals in mind that I will begin working towards now. At this point, I simply want to do as much research as I can (to develop my initial plan for each goal) and to obtain/build/paint any gear that is necessary to make it happen. I want all of this in place by March 1 so that I can be working on my goals as of April 1!

All of this, of course, assumes that I am not wiped out (all of my hives perish this Winter)!

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