Roe Valley Beekeepers Association

Beekeeping Advice

Strengthening colonies

A talk delivered to RVBKA members by Sam Millar. 

May 2010

Sam talked members through his method of increasing stock by ‘doubling up’. He explained that bees have two basic instincts, and this method works with nature incorporating the bees changing behaviour with the evolving season. 

Getting bees off to a good star begins with preparation for the winter, ensuring that the colony is disease free, and has plenty of food reserves. In early spring feeding initially with fondant followed by sugar feeds will result in the queen starting to increase her laying rate. Feeding is covered under the knowledge section) 

By the end of April there should be a rapid increase in colony size, and the rate limiting step is likely only to be the weather. However bees will be having to juggle available space between laying and the emerging honey and pollen flows, and this may result in an urge to swarm becoming evident in May as the brood chamber fills rapidly. At this time of year bees are responding to the instinct to breed and colony division is integral to this. This results in the swarming behaviour now evident in mid May. 

Sam  advocated adding a second brood box ideally containing drawn comb on top of the original to provide plenty of brood space to permit laying to proceed unrestrained by competition for space. This should ideally be done in late April to early May when the queen is accelerating her laying rate. Adding space may check the tendancy to swarm but weekly checks are still essential. The queen will tend to migrate upwards in the brood space to continue laying, and prefers fresh comb, so by the middle of June both brood boxes should be pretty full. At this time the boxes should be reversed, leaving the queen now in the lower box. A queen excluder should be placed between the boxes. 

After about two to three weeks all of the brood in the top box will be hatched and this box will then provide capacity for honey storage, the second urge of bees being to lay in stores, after the swarming season is finished. By this stage in the season, the rate of expansion of brood numbers will be declining so that the queen will naturally need less brood space. The double brood will result in a hugh colony which will now be able to turn its attention to bringing in honey (since they have space to do this, and their nursery duties will be reducing.) Then simply add supers for the honey you are going to extract and sit back.