Healthy hives grow a bee beard now and then. The recent spate of hot weather, and the fact that the bees just lost their honey super, meant that the best place to spend the evening was on the porch. This hive has been a productive wonder so far this year. It started out in April as a four-pound package of Caucasian-cross bees. As I understood, the queens were raised from Caucasian mother queens that were mated naturally with a mixed bag of drones. The colony produced a full super of honey and has filled the top brood chamber as well. In fact, I took three more full frames from the top box just to make a little more space for the remainder of the year. So probably about 50 lbs. to harvest and at least that much again for the winter.
These bees have been a real pleasure to work with. They seem to have the renowned gentle Caucasian temperament. The queen has been productive, and best of all, the mite load has been next to nonexistent all season long. Maybe I’m just lucky and have bees that came with very few mites and I’m far enough away from drifting drones. The real test will come in a few months as the queen scales back her brood nest, stops making drones, and the mites are forced onto the bees where they can then fall on my mite board. So far, I only occasionally find a mite or two on the drop board.
In addition to this hive in my yard, I have two more at my friend Mike’s place. Also four-pound April packages, those colonies are producing a good quantity of honey as well. Having three almost identical colonies from packages provides an opportunity for a comparison of management techniques. I have a love-hate relationship with queen excluders. I really like extracting whole supers of honey without dealing with brood in the honey, but the bees never really like crossing the excluder. So for the side-by-side identical colonies, I used an excluder on one and a 9.5″ x 15″ piece of 1/4″ hardware cloth across the center of the brood box on the other. This was a trick I learned from an old Washington beekeeper many years ago, and my experience is that it usually works to keep the queen out of the supers — but not 100% of the time. The bees are happy to crawl up into the supers along the edges where there is no barrier. The queen, with the brood nest in the center combs, will encounter the screen if she tries to go higher. This time, it worked as it was supposed to.
The two colonies with queen excluders, one in my yard and one at Mike’s, both produced a nice full super of honey and also put a lot of stores in the top brood box. Conversely, the hive with the hardware cloth “queen discourager” produced two full supers of honey, but with somewhat less stores in the brood chambers. I guess this is more or less what you would expect with less impediment to moving upward. I removed the queen excluders as soon as a complete “honey cap” was evident in the brood boxes. At that time the super was only half full, but it filled very quickly with the excluder gone. The old adage that queen excluders are honey excluders seems to prove true — but really it is just where the bees are putting all the honey that changes. I could still end up pulling some honey from the hive that had the excluder, to give to the two-super-producer for more winter stores.
The point is to crowd your bees just enough going into winter. You want plenty of honey, but not so much that there is no room to raise bees. At this point in August, it’s location, location, location for bee forage. Much of the rural agricultural areas are crispy brown with not a honey bloom in sight. In those locations the bees have all they are going to get. In town, my neighbor’s Russian sage bush sets the example for late season urban bee forage. At Mike’s place, the blackberries in the woods are just finishing, and pennyroyal is blooming in his cow pastures. With hordes of bees on hand, any available forage will be exploited. It is a pleasure to be dealing with providing enough space for productive bees in August for a change, rather than contemplating bee diseases, pesticides, and weak colonies!