Sustainable Apiary

When I first heard of this concept I was a bit skeptical. Nobody I knew that was keeping bees was using this as a model so I dismissed it. Then I heard the talk embedded below late last year and it was a game changer for what my goals were for my apiary.

Everything discussed in this manner just made sense and was very intuitive….but I didn’t have the resources to fully embrace this model.

Previous Model: Run 10-15 hives for honey, 3-4 for queen production, shake bees for mini mating nucs, have 2/3s of hives swarm, treat, lose hives over winter, buy packages. Rinse and Repeat.

My Sustainable Apiary Model: This is new to me and I’m still working out some of the kinks for 2021. I did try one 5 frame nuc in a beer cooler nuc that overwintered nicely. I will be moving it to a new 6 frame foam nuc this weekend.

I am still stuck in buying packages land to make up for some of my winter losses and to grow my apiary. I’m going to up my honey/queen production and I need bees!!! I’m going to start 25 packages May 1st. I will be running 17 of these as traditional 10 frame hives to make honey. The remainder of the hives will placed in a variety of gear for various purposes. Here’s a run down of the gear:

Palmerized Hives: I will be using 2 of the palmerized hives in a similar style to provide brood and bees for making queen builders. I experimented with these a little bit last year and had some issues with the follower boards not being tall enough and one side of the hive going queenless so I ditched them after losing a few hives. I’ve since modified those divider boards and will include these in my hive comparison for start packages. The common cluster, sharing of heat, and ability to super make these a great option. I should be able to take 1 frame of brood from these every 5 days without compromising the strength of the colony while having the bees produce a few supers of honey.

6 Frame Frame Blue Sky: These hives are reserved to hold our breeder queens. They are great hive for this because a super can be added to allow the hives to become very strong to produce great larvae for grafting as well as strong and healthy drones.

6 Frame From Hillco: These are new this year and I did a review here. I’m going to start 20 packages in these leaving the other 5 to start and compare various hives. After I transfers hives to 8/10 frame hives I will back fill these with brood and bees and use them as 3×3 mating nucs. Once the queens are mated they will house our heritage select queens and then overwinter our single drone inseminated potential breeders for 2022.

8/10 Frame Hives: Pretty obvious….will run for honey production and then overwinter as single deep 10s or a deep and medium 8. I will be running some all medium 8 frame stuff to outfitting my 3×3 medium mating nucs.

3×3 Medium Mating Nucs: These are experimental….we ran a few last year and have some lessons learned like early they have to be at least 2 frames of bees to prevent chilling. The benefit of these over using deeps is the space is much smaller and easier for the bees to regular temperature vs deeps. Need less bees than deeps, and at the end of the year you can combine 2 of them into 8 frame medium gear to overwinter. With a mini mating nuc you just let the last groups of bees die.

Mini Mating Nucs: These are the best bang for your bee bucks as far as resources go. You can successfully get queens mated with very limited resources. The downside is they abscond frequently and it’s pretty hard to get them to draw nice comb. Feeding w/ liquid is like genocide…so we started to use solid feed similar to what you would use for winter.

Start: I will be taking all of my over-wintered hives this weekend and getting the boxes switched, mite treatments on and feed rolling! Some will be used for honey production some to make some early season queens. Want to have some virgins ready for splits and have some mated in case anyone has issues with packages.

I’ll be taking 20 packages and installing them in foam hives on feed to get them built up asap. I’ll be taking 5 packages and starting them in various gear to compare on here to see if there are any differences. I’ll be comparing the foam 6 frame nuc from Blue Sky, the 6 frame from HillCo, a poly 10 frame from Hillco, a 5 frame wooden nuc from Hillco, a 10 frame w/ follower board from Hillco, and the Palmerized. Should be interesting to see what has the best growth.

Middle: Once everything had filled out and there’s sufficient bees I will be running 10 hives in Down’s for honey, 8 hives in Normal, IL for honey, 3 breeder queens from New River Honey Bees and HarboBeeCo, and 10 hives to provide bees for queen raising.

End: Once we are done with honey and the bees are ready for splitting I’ll be treating for mites if necessary, re-queening where necessary, and splitting all of my hives to get as many strong hives into winter as possible. The goal is to put 50 treated strong hives into winter.

So where’s the sustainability come in? The sustainable comes in by putting a strong nuc into winter for every ‘production’ hive you have to replace your dead outs with bees that survived. When you have to use up one of your nucs to replace a dead out you have saved the money from the package and now have propagated genetics tolerable to your area. You then have gear to put splits from your hives to repeat as well as having some extra bees that you can use to expand, sell as over-wintered nucs, or give away.

This process of becoming sustainable isn’t cheap and it isn’t easy. You need to expand your gear, purchase extra packages to ensure you have the number of bees needed to seed the apiary, the additional cost for more feed and treatments, etc. In the end it’s worth the time and money to set up an apiary that is self sustaining!

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