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  • Why do people want lots of bees early / import queens?

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General Q&A, Bee chat and only Bee chat please
 #9246  by Beeblebrox
 15 Oct 2020, 12:14
OK I realise it is a bit of a strange question but there is something I really don't understand here.

As I understand it, BBKA training emphasises that to maximise Spring honey, you want lots of bees ASAP in Spring. So stimulative feeding is used in February(?) so when the first fruit trees are in blossom they can get lots of nectar. (Please correct me if I am wrong. I don't feed in Spring so may be ignorant here.)

Also some people import queens and even entire colonies early in the year, because these can be raised earlier in warmer climes.


Does this really give more honey?

The reason I ask is - my impression is, most people - like me - have 1-6 static hives in their gardens. And most people are not surrounded by early crops like orchards. So I would be very interested in knowing if they find the strategy above actually useful; if they just let the bees increase naturally without feeding.

I suspect though that if I were moving my hives around a lot (not just within a few miles of my house, but to another county, like bee farmers) then the early feed and fresh queens does make sense.

So... I'm interested both in the reason why this advice is given (and if I am misrepresenting it); and peoples' actual experiences of whether it works for their circumstances. I.e. theory and practice.

The BBKA seems to have a tendency to give one-size-fits-all advice.

Thank you.
 #9255  by Patrick
 15 Oct 2020, 16:07
A lot of standard texts date from a time when most beekeepers were rural clergy living in spacious vicarages in Middle England. Your experience may be somewhat different.

For much of the year many static hives are actually only bringing jn enough pollen and nectar to maintain the colony. Or less. For many, its only the short periods of abundant forage and good flying weather that account for the surplus they either winter on or we partially take as a crop and replace with syrup, Therefore, if your colonies are not large enough to take advantage of those short periods of plenty, don’t expect them to accumulate much of a surplus.

As you say, it only makes sense to have Uber lots of foraging bees early if there is something out there for them to gather coinciding with suitable flying weather. For many people more recently that meant Oilseed rape. For some in extensive arable areas, that might be it for the year. No big early colony = no surplus crop.
 #9258  by NigelP
 15 Oct 2020, 16:37
As to whether it works or not....there are several very different opinions.
One incontrovertible published scientific study showed that large colonies bring in more honey than small ones. Double number of bees will bring you approx three times as much honey.
So bee numbers are important.

Stimulative spring feeding needs to be started in Feb to have a work force for May/June, but stimulative feeding on it's own is probably not enough as the bees need pollen to rear more bees and there is precious little of that around in these months and also little within the hive. So perhaps stimulative spring feeding plus pollen/pollen substitutes/ might make a difference. I'm still playing around with this in spring but to date have no firm conclusions as no two springs have been the same.....I'll will certainly be trying it again this spring on 1/2 the hives in my garden apiary....we shall see, or not see as the case may be. But like yourself I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has some success (or failure) with this.
 #9259  by Beeblebrox
 15 Oct 2020, 17:40
Patrick, thank you, that is insightful and helpful.

NigelP, I agree more bees = more honey. Actually I thought 2x bees = 4x honey , but if a quantitative study has been done, I'll believe that.

I am not sure though I agree about the necessity of feeding in February. My colonies are big enough to swarm in May, occasionally late April without feeding. I've made sure they are near male willow trees and other early pollen sources. If I manage to dissuade them from swarming there are enough bees in the hives to get a half decent crop of honey. This may depend on local forage; I am in a village with many large gardens and trees. It's as if the bees know how many workers they'll need, and when, to work the local forage to maximum benefit. Let's see what others' experiences are...
 #9262  by Chrisbarlow
 15 Oct 2020, 19:18
Lots of bees Early work osr

Large colonies pollinate fruit trees which blossom early or get a crop ftom

Depends on your local area and when the flow is on.

Large colonies early can be split to make up nucs to sell in June

Or used for queen rearing purposes

Again depends why you keep bees or what your trying to acheive
 #9264  by Patrick
 15 Oct 2020, 20:14
Good list from Chris.

As Nigel says, the jury is out on stimulative feeding. I have never stimulative fed as such as I prefer them to expand at their natural rate. However, I have plenty of local early pollen they can gather if the weather is suitable and I will feed fondant if they are light, so their expansion is probably not held back either. If I did not, I would feed accordingly. Every year I wonder about pollen patties. I usually come out of winter in thirds. One third strong, one third middling, one third trailing. It is one if my things to note when deciding which queens to breed from.

Some of the YouTube commercial guys who are feeding very early have pollination contracts to fulfill and are overwintering hundreds of colonies in areas of uncertain forage. They simply can’t afford colony expansion to stall.
 #9266  by huntsman.
 15 Oct 2020, 21:18
Regarding pollen or the lack of in early spring, not all will know that winter bees have enlarge fat bodies and these bodies are washed by the haemolymph (blood of the bee,) to produce vitellogenin and this is a substitute for lack of a pollen supply when fed to spring larvae.

In essence, the winter bees store protein in their bodies and not in cells.

This is why it is very important to ensure the colony has raised a goodly number of winter bees earlier.
 #9267  by nealh
 15 Oct 2020, 22:50
Winters/springs have been mild over the last few years esp in the South/SE, early above warmer then average temps and hive type/husbandry allows for earlier colony build up and large early colonies and foragers. If one is lucky enough and lives in an area of good forage then by late May colony harvest/return can be better then the summer harvest.
In town my bees haven't produced great harvests for spring return, yet 5 miles away in a semi rural village set up they can be so much better and with no OSR around. 30 - 40kg from spring forage and then like this summer very little after maybe a tenth of the earlier crop, hope fully next year I will get results form my HMS sample to see what they foraged on. Yet this colony with no stimulus of feeding or extra pollen expanded very well in a Poly brood and wooden half brood with insulation above, they soon grew larger when double brooded very early in late Februaryand the quite full half brood placed above the QX and extra couple of suppers added once the flow was on in earnest.
It isn't always the same the previous year the same colony I had to feed very lightly and carefully until mid June to keep them going then the forage turned on and extracted about 36kg by late August, two marked and different years giving nearly similar harvest rates.

In the case of my village colony it will be interesting to see what the forage may have been as I know there are at least two decent garden centres within 2km range and a pick your own farm near by, also three other nearby out laying villages within 2 - 3 km and all the gardens and growers in between.
 #9268  by nealh
 15 Oct 2020, 23:19
I wait to see what next spring brings and how the winter /spring weather fairs.
For next year I have two full colonies a daughter queen the older Qu to make up the second colony. Also a third Qu produced and being over wintered in 6 frame nuc. It may mean that next year I can reduce my garden colonies for the more productive village colonies.
 #9273  by AdamD
 16 Oct 2020, 13:50
I know a commercial beekeeper who starts stimulative feeding at the end of Feb to have a large colony for OSR. I guess it works for him. For me, I have not fed in that way and let the bees do what they do when they do it. However last autumn there was not much ivy and colonies had little or no pollen in spring this year when wind and rain kept bees in their hives for some time when they should have been out and about collecting pollen from early plants. Colonies were small early on as a result and OSR was early, so stocks were too small to make the best of it. Maybe if I had supplied pollen subs and syrup early, I would have gotten more OSR honey.

For the question about imported queens, home-reared queens are always going to be in short supply in spring as customers want March/April nucs too early for queen-rearing or they want queens to replace ones that have failed over winter, therefore the demand is satisfied by queen imports from warmer climates.