As we currently see it there are two systems of beekeeping. The first, the traditional Langstroth deep, but you can add the top-bar and Warré to this, and the second, which is what will be taught here.
The first system is a “to your first serious challenge” for many, it too often ends in failure and results in the beekeeper being sidelined until the following season. These beekeepers usually begin with a 3lb package and a mated queen. These packages are only available at the beginning of the season, then they are sold out until the next year. There are many causes for a colony/beekeeper to fail. Recently an article about solving problems in beekeeping was published in the American Beekeeping Federation Quarterly magazine entitled, “Solving Beekeeping Problems is Like Trying to Put Plugs in a Sponge to Stop Water”.
The starting-line of the individual/personal beekeeping race is in spring. Some are over immediately with colonies absconding, others over the next week find rejected queens. After 20 days of a colony being queenless laying workers appear bringing a challenge many fail from, and can ultimately cause challenges to nearby colonies. Some colonies starve right out of the gate due to having to draw out new frames in a new box with no resources and initial prolonged inclement weather. This journey continues with pitfalls along the way, each threatening to end the beekeeping journey. Varroa mites, Small Hive Beetles, American Foulbrood, European Foulbrood, Chalkbrood, Sacbrood, K-wing, and on. If that isn’t enough then there are unkind neighbors with vendettas against bees, pesticides, poor queens, robbing bees and wasps, and again on and on. Add to these challenges improper placement of the hive, no access or limited access to resources, or limited access to water, daytime sprinklers, rodents, vandals, theft, and again on and on. Add to the list overwintering issues, too much moisture, no food, too small of a cluster on too big of a frame, starvation, and on. Each of these challenges threatens beekeepers with failure and sideline participation.
So that is where we are at. Some issues can be solved with access to a new queen, but availability can be difficult or too late. Then add to all that the quality of the queen: has the queen been properly mated, perhaps she was banked too long, is mated with too many of her brothers, is of aggressive stock…the beekeeper has to be ready for ANYTHING at ANY TIME.
A second system is an alternative approach that mingles with other systems. The first goal is to teach the new beekeeper how to raise their own queen. This lesson opens the door to solving most future problems. Bees have lived for a very long time and know how to replicate. With this approach, the new beekeeper starts with a no grafting, entirely natural, “walk-away split”. The difference with this split is the frames are only 6″x6″, with a minimum of two open brood frames with eggs required. The new beekeeper is taught to supply food and protein and is to look for a queen cell over a 3-5 day period. Once the queen cell is identified a text with a photo is sent and another lesson is laid out. If the open brood failed to produce a queen cell then the beekeeper is to immediately return and one of their frames are shaken off and placed back into a hive, and another frame is given to retake the lesson. Essentially this method allows for continuous recovery and continuous experiences ALL SEASON. Each failure is overcome and reasons for the failure discussed.
When the hive is returned it is inspected. The onus is always on the new beekeeper. The mentor stays put and waits for the new beekeeper to bring up whatever is going on. The new beekeepers are encouraged to solve their own problems as much as possible, which is a vital part of learning the answers needed to succeed. This also allows a mentor to school hundreds of beekeepers via text messages.
The box that is recommended for the mentor is a 30 frame medium comb box. A 3lb package can draw out and fill this area in 30 days. A swarm can do the same thing in 7 days. However the box is started, it becomes the resources and piggy bank for students to learn from again and again and will continually increase. If by chance a frame is accidentally given out with the mother queen on it, over the next 3-5 days MANY queen cells will appear. If this is the case, each frame and or cell can be removed and placed into a 1/4 mating box called a MUB (Mini Urban Beehive). Still, the increase goes on. Either sell the newly mated queens or use them for increasing the number of colonies. Or give them to the new beekeepers to give them a head start.
After the beekeeper is trained and has successfully raised their own queen, they can perform splits themselves, and they can graduate to larger boxes. The MUB they started with is used later as their piggy bank for their apiary. With any issues they have with other colonies, they can go back to the MUB and cull resources – queen, open brood, capped queen cell, and introduce them to the colony in need. The MUB just goes on and replaces what was taken.
Any club or area can have a mother hive they cull from. One of these comb box hives can provide resources for MANY beekeepers ALL season, not just in spring.
Many potential beekeepers think about beekeeping in spring, or once plants have broken the ground. Sadly with the typical 3lb package method packages are only available in early spring. The Comb Box method allows for beekeepers to start at any point during the season. Some even start in fall with a small colony with a mated queen. Their first lesson is to learn how to take a colony through the winter. Two 6″x6″ medium frames of bees have been taken completely through a Utah winter with minimal skills and then built up fast in spring.
This discourse can go on but it is only meant to introduce, not fully explain. Other lessons will follow.
One system is to the “first failure”…the other is from “learning experience to learning experience”.