Improving the Quality of Queen Honey Bees produced in the Northeast by Modifying Standard 10-Frame High Body Boxes

Final Report for FNE11-729

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2011: $14,971.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Northeast
State: New Jersey
Project Leader:
Karoly Toth
Toth Apiaries
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Project Information

Summary:

The purpose of this project was to demonstrate how to economically modify a 10-frame high body hive to accommodate 2, 4-frame hives and to test the use of the modified 4-frame hive in queen and colony rearing. The 10-frame high bodies were modified by installing an innovative vertical divider panel in the middle of the box, an inner top cover for each compartment, screen bottom boards, and variable entrance gates. Queenless colonies were installed in each compartment, and then ripe queen cells were introduced. The results indicate that these modified 4-frame units work well for queen rearing since 90% (modified) as compared to 35% (conventional style) units produced mated queens by mid-summer. Results also show that the variable entrance gate is an essential component of the modification as it prevents robber bees from entering the newly established hive. The cost of modifying a hive is about $10 each (not including labor) so this is a good choice in helping to ensure a healthy hive.

Introduction:

2. Farm Profile
I have over 40 years of apiary experience both in the U.S. and Europe. Currently I live in Somerset County, N.J., and my apiary farm consists of several locations within a 20-mile radius of my home. These different locations, each being several miles apart, allow me to do continuous isolated queen breeding studies at each location without genetic mixing from other locations.

3. Participants

Nicholas Polanin, technical advisor, gave willingly in the preparation of the grant and in the final report.
Duke Farms, Hillsborough, NJ provided workshop space for carpentry work.
Suydam Farms, Somerset, NJ provided an area for the hives on their farm.

The objectives of this project were:

1) To describe an easy low cost method to modify an existing standard 10-frame hive box to accommodate 2, completely separate 4-frame hives.
2) To evaluate how these modified 4-frame units performed in the cool early season (May) and the hot midsummer (July) season for queen rearing. Evaluation was based on survival rate of the queens as well as various qualities of the surviving queens as they develop.

Both objectives were geared towards providing information that may be useful to bee keepers in the Northeast, and other areas as well, regarding cost reduction while producing good quality, locally produced, queens for their own use and/or for local sale.

4. Project activities

This project was designed to use 10-frame high body hives modified so that each contained 2, 4-frame units. The modification included the installation of an innovative vertical divider board, individual top covers, bottom screen boards, and variable entrance gates.

The original plan was to purchase bee packages (nucs) and introduce them into the modified hives, remove the queens and then introduce my own queen cells. However, because of the inclement cold and rainy weather we experienced in May of 2011, I did not have queen cells available, nor could I buy them locally at that time. Because of the unavailability of queen cells, the bee packages were placed temporarily in standard 10-frame hives where the colonies thrived. On June 20, 2011 these colonies were split and placed in the 20 modified 4-frame hives, the queens were removed, and 4 days later (June 24th) queen cells were introduced. These queen cells were purchased from a supplier as my stock of queen cells was still not ready to be used. As a side experiment, the variable entrance gates were not installed on these modified hives. This was done in order to question the necessity of these gates.

Observations were made periodically and after 3 weeks of the 20 original hives, only 7 had mated queens. The other 13 contained queen-less colonies. The seven mated queens were removed and queen cells from my own stock were reintroduced into all 20 modified 4-frame hives. At this time variable entrance gates were also installed on all 20 hives.

Periodic observations continued and after 4 weeks (Aug.1 5, 2011) 18 of the modified hives had mated queens. At the end of September, the 18 viable hives with mated queens were moved to standard 10-frame high body hives.

Of note is that throughout the entire project each hive, modified and standard was supplied with liquid feeders containing sugar syrup. Observations continued through the fall and Sugar candy blocks were provided just prior to the onset of winter. At that time all 18 hives were in good condition to enter the winter season.

5. Results
Like much in farming, results and/or production is highly influenced by weather conditions. This project as originally designed had to be modified as a result of cold and rainy weather in May 2011 which prevented production of queen cells as scheduled. Thus, the overall design schedule was modified as follows:
May 27, 2011. Bee packages (nucs) were received and installed into standard 10-frame high body hives. The original design was to install these nucs directly into the modified 4-frame hives, remove the queens, and install queen cells, but rain and cold weather in May had delayed queen cell availability.
June 20-24, 2011. The original nucs, now thriving colonies in the standard 10-frame hives, were split and installed in the modified 4-frame experimental hives. Since my queen cell were still unavailable queen cells were purchased, and installed. Variable entrance gates were not installed.
July 15, 2011. Upon close inspection it was discovered that of the 20 colonies installed on June 24, only 7 had mated queens and 13 colonies were queen less. The seven mated queens were removed and new queen cells from my own stock were reintroduced into all 20 experimental hives. Also, variable entrance gates were installed on all 20 modified hives.
Aug. 15, 2011. Observations showed that 18 experimental hives had mated queens and only 2 were queen less.
Sept.30, 2011. All 18 colonies continued to thrive and at this time they were moved to standard 10-frame high body hives.
These results, although admittedly based on only one season and a small number of samples, show that several critical factors influenced the final results. Clearly weather conditions played a major part in this project as rain and cold temperatures prevented queen cell production, and thus availability, when originally planned. Even my own queen cells were not ready by the 3rd week of June, thus forcing me to purchase them.
Hive configuration is important. In this project the elimination of the variable entrance gate seems to have greatly affected the results. When comparing mated queen percentage of the June 24th installs (35%), with the July 15th installs (90%) one surely gets the idea that the use of the variable entrance gate, which prevent robber bees from entering the hive, greatly improved colony survival and queen mating. Another factor that may also have come into play is the difference in the queen cells used as they came from 2 different sources, and again, differing weather conditions between the 2 install periods.

6. Conditions:
As previously described, weather conditions played a major role in influencing the project design, modification, and results. Cold, windy, rainy weather conditions prevent bees from flying and slow down most of their activities. Thus these weather conditions in much of May and part of June delayed setting up the modified 4-frame experimental hives until late June, which was originally planned for mid-May. Also the inclement conditions delayed my queen cell production, forcing me to purchase queen cells for late June installation. Because of these modifications in time only 2 data sets were taken and only 1 using my queen cells. If favorable weather conditions in May and June had occurred the project could have started on time in mid-May and at least 4 sets of data would have been recorded.
Other recorded data observations were: Brood pattern in all surviving colonies was normal. No unusual queen behavior was noted. The demeanor of the 18 newly established hives was quite gentile. No disease was observed in the new colonies.

7 Economics
Clearly the 4–frame hives as modified from existing 10-frame high body haves is a very inexpensive way to raise queen cells, queens, and nucs. Excluding labor, each modification should cost less than $10. This modification also is a very inexpensive means by which individuals can more effectively and economically produce their own queens.

8. Assessment
The results, although limited to only 1 shortened season seem to confirm my belief that modified 4-frame hives will readily work for queen rearing. Important aspects, aside from the economics, of the smaller modified hive are the use of individual screen bottom boards to improve air circulation and the variable entrance gate which prevents robber bees from larger colonies from attacking the smaller colonies.

9. Adoption

I will definitely continue to use these modified 4-frame hives for queen breeding and selection. Economically it makes sense. Also, the space required for each hive is reduced by 50%.

10. Outreach

I will be giving a demonstration and holding a discussion regarding the production and use of the modified 4-frame hive at the NJ Beekeepers Association, Spring State Meeting on May 12, 2012. The spring State meeting is usually attended by about 250 people. This year the meeting will be held at the North Hunterdon High School in Annandale, NJ.

11. Summary

The purpose of this project was to demonstrate how to economically modify a 10-frame high body hive to accommodate 2, 4-frame hives and to test the use of the modified 4-frame hive in queen and colony rearing. The 10-frame high bodies were modified by installing an innovative vertical divider panel in the middle of the box, an inner top cover for each compartment, screen bottom boards, and variable entrance gates. Queenless colonies were installed in each compartment, and then ripe queen cells were introduced. The results indicate that these modified 4-frame units work well for queen rearing. Results also show that the variable entrance gate is an essential component of the modification as it prevents robber bees from entering the newly established hive.

Cooperators

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  • Nicholas Polanin

Research

Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.