Improving Honey Bee Survival and long-term Sustainability in Indiana by Using Three Deep Brood Boxes vs. Traditional Two Deep Boxes
2014 has been a challenging year for our grant work. Almost immediately after submitting our application, we realized we did not account for a control set and are depending on national averages to fill that gap. While some have criticized this, we feel that national averages do work as a suitable control set to gauge our progress. Long before receiving grant approval, we then faced a significant setback due to the severe winter weather otherwise known as the Polar Vortex. Both Steve and Tim had significant losses due to the severe weather with Steve experiencing a 90%+ loss; Tim had a 50% loss. Michiana Beekeepers Association averaged a 70% loss. Based on review of the deadouts the cause of death was freezing. In nearly every case, full deeps of honey were left with a cluster of frozen bees. They did not starve. Reports from across the country support our belief that it was pure cold that ravaged so many hives. Rather than stop or delay our work we decided to continue since part of our goal is to show that working with nature is what makes for more sustainable beekeeping.
In order to continue we needed to adjust our study sets. Tim worked on planning for splits of his colonies to use in the study and Steve began a search for replacement bees. Steve received a recommendation for Northern raised Nucleus colonies from an Illinois beekeeper. He also placed an order for 5 California packages. The packages arrived as promised but significant delays occurred with the nucleus colonies. Late April turned into late May and June delivery. The Nucleus colonies were advertised as Illinois raised Minnesota Hygienic or Italian bees on deep (9 5/8”) frames. Upon pickup, we learned that only half of the bees were ready and the frames were nonstandard 7 5/8” frames. Two inches less per frame is a significant loss of brood space and bees. Upon inspection at home, the colonies were some of the most pathetic looking nucleus colonies we have ever seen. We found very few bees, old comb that was in horrible condition, and very little or no brood. Strangely, we found queen cages in the boxes, which is not normal for a nucleus since it is supposed to be a multi-week laying queen. The beekeeper selling the nucleus colonies was quite difficult to work with and did not feel there were any problems with what he sold. He also refused to supply the required documentation/certification for transporting bees into Indiana. During the second, and final, pickup we learned that while the bees might have been raised in Illinois, the queens were not. He admitted to purchasing queens from the lowest priced southern seller and putting them in with some of his Illinois bees. There is also a significant difference between queen cages from the south and California and in the second batch, we found evidence of southern packages dumped on drawn comb and sold as an Illinois Nuc. This all set our work schedule back several months. Steve also had a challenge hit in August with the health of a family member that did not resolve until December. It has been a challenging start but this is also real life beekeeping.
While dealing with the purchase of bees for the study, other work and expenditures continued. Tim purchased the FLIR E6 Infrared camera and began familiarizing himself with its operation. Tim managed his colonies to split for use in the study. Twelve colonies were designated to be 2 deep (9 5/8”) hives. Steve purchased the equipment required for colonies he would designate for the study. Steve also purchased materials for hive stands and began construction in preparation for the bees. A location was also secured and prepped. Five packages and five purchased Nucleus colonies were designated to become 3 deep (9 5/8”) hives. Tim used 2 packages, 2 overwintered colonies and 6 nucleus colonies of his own. In all, expenditures focused on materials, bees, and travel as expected in the original proposal and budget.
All colonies went into winter at their designated size, two or three deep with the exception of one. None of the colonies were fed any sugar, syrup or protein patties. Tim’s stock is his own, multi-year sugar-free survivor stock and located in an urban environment of mixed industrial and housing. Steve’s colonies are of unknown breed and origin and located in a wooded rural environment with some corn and soy farmland.
Due to uncontrolled delays, mite counts did not begin as early as we planned. Mite numbers per colony did rise as summer progressed which is expected. Unfortunately, Steve’s mite counts jumped to extremely high levels as of October and we believe this is related to the nearly seven week late start. Colony populations were also low, due to fall brood shutdown, which ties in with high mite counts. Tim’s mite counts stayed negligible throughout the summer.
While it is too early to have extensive study data, we have some valuable information to share.
- It is possible to build packages, splits and 4 frame nucleus colonies to full strength in one season without supplemental feeding.
- The cutout handholds in most hive boxes provide a significant area of heat loss. While this may not be a problem during normal winters, during deep extended cold such as that of January/February 2014 it might. Use of the FLIR clearly shows heat escaping from these thinner areas of the boxes. Using exterior cleats or insulating these cutouts might be prudent in northern climates.
- You must inspect any colonies you purchase prior to handing over any money. Unfortunately, we did not have that option and paid the price.
- The demand for chemical, and sugar-free, beekeeping techniques is rapidly growing. We have come to know many beekeepers from all across the country, even world, eagerly following our work.
- Steve lost one of the nucleus colonies in November due to queen problems. The poor quality of the colonies purchased in Illinois are adding a new challenge and this loss is evidence of that. The colony never built up in size and kept experiencing queen loss. The colony could not sustain itself and finally succumbed and dwindled away.
- Hive beetles have been severe in our area. Only the one colony of Steve’s had evidence of takeover but this was after it had dwindled. We are monitoring and using non-chemical traps in an attempt to control them.
- The FLIR has shown significant heat difference between overwintered 3 deep vs 2 deep colonies. Steve’s new 3 deep systems do not show as significant heat signatures. This could be due to the quality of the bees or their failure to build before fall. Once they have gone through a winter we should see more usable results.
- We have also learned that the FLIR gives us the best images when the outside of the hive boxes have not received direct sunlight. Gloomy days, and nights provide best results. As winter temps drop it will will also help.
The plan for 2015 is to continue our minimal management and monitoring of the colonies. We will evaluate colony strength and cluster location in the hives through winter. In spring, we will physically evaluate the strength of each colony and make splits as necessary to prevent swarming. Mite counts will continue as soon as weather and colony strength supports.
In January, long before our grant was approved Steve and Tim attended the annual ABF (American Beekeeping Federation) conference in Baton Rouge, LA. We met many new individuals and talked about the work we are doing and indicated our hope to win the grant. Many of these individuals have stayed in contact with our study now that we are in process.
We have stuck to our plan of using social media to share our work. Our Facebook group, Beekeeping with Ives Hives and Peace Bees grows daily. As of this writing, the group has 482 members. Peace Bees page has grown by nearly that number at the same time. Both Steve and Tim participate in multiple Facebook beekeeping groups and share our knowledge and process to those interested. Our personal contacts have also increased with beekeepers wanting to build friendships with us around our beekeeping work. Demand for Steve’s classes continues to grow and with two full-day sessions scheduled for January and February 2015.
Tim gave a short presentation at the Indiana State Beekeepers Association fall meeting and both Steve and Tim have discussed parts of the study at Michiana Beekeeper Association meetings.
There are also some new opportunities coming in 2015 to share our work. The annual Heartland Apiculture Society will be 2 hours from our homes so we hope to be on the speaker list for that event. While we have sent press releases to local media, only one farm related paper shared our story. As we come through winter, we intend to push the media again with some of our results. Both Tim and Steve have some potential speaking engagements in the works that should provide opportunity to share our progress.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Ives Hives, LLC
27151 S.R. 23
North Liberty, IN 46554
Office Phone: 5749100060