Is bigger better?

Learn how to manage nucs, and how they can add to your beekeeping success.
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GregV
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Is bigger better?

Postby GregV » Thu Apr 06, 2017 5:35 pm

Not to pollute anymore this topic, I figure I split.
viewtopic.php?f=12&t=843


Nordak wrote:.. A large hive is not necessarily detrimental to a TF outcome from my experience.


I don't disagree.
But I do disagree with advice I got recently to just grow a single nuc into a single big hive for the winter so that "it will winter better".
I am choosing a route of making few smaller hives instead and winter them, and have some redundancy on hand as soon as possible.

Per the documented observations (even this year, for example), the large hives fail just as often as small hives if not more so.
People started the winter with 5-6 large hives and now have one or even zero (per our local list).
Well, so much to show for wintering the large and the strong.
All of these people do treat too.

Wintering small hives is just an issue of methods and works fine per what many people report (surely need better equipment; clustering them together works too - see MBs site).

Jason Bruns in his podcast with SP (Episode #19) talks how he routinely catches small feral swarms in this one location (like a grapefruit size).
He talks about how these feral bees live in a small tree cavity somewhere there and they keep throwing small outcasts year after year and don't really care about conventional teachings (the bigger the better). Jason did notice that these particular bees are NOT particularly honey-productive when in his care. But they are very stingy, winter in small cluster and are un-destructible (great material for selection).

The bigger is better for honey production - no doubt.
So some management to arrange the big honey producing hives is appropriate (split combines, what not).

But is bigger better for the long-term sustainability?
Not so sure.
Wild/feral bees seem to survive in varous places just fine (but mostly small because there are more of the small cavities available).
For sure, they do swarm a lot.

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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby SiWolKe » Thu Apr 06, 2017 5:52 pm

Nordak wrote:.. A large hive is not necessarily detrimental to a TF outcome from my experience.


I´m with Jeff here. He told us about the brood brake his bees make in summer dearth.

In my eyes the problem are colonies which get stronger and stronger up to the moment they shut down brood amount to winter bee numbers.
The mites concentrate into the brood frames left, which in my case went from 8-12 frames dad ant to 4-5 frames winter bee brood.

We have no summer brood brake and no winter break often. So I have yet to see what the bees will teach me and adapt my methods and selections to them.

The hives which had the highest bee density in september were the first to fail. The summer bees over, the winter bees short living, even if no disease like DWV to be seen.

So it could be a hive which expands very early, makes a brood brake and later breeds winter bees could be better of, no matter how large.
IMHO
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GregV
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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby GregV » Thu Apr 06, 2017 6:13 pm

:D
Why not just quote MB:

How strong?

This question comes up a lot. I used to combine weak hives and I seldom lost a hive over winter. However, since I started trying to overwinter nucs I've realized how well a small hive takes off if it does make it through the winter. So I've overwintered much smaller clusters.


http://www.bushfarms.com/beeswinter.htm

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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby SiWolKe » Thu Apr 06, 2017 6:18 pm

Not bad, Greg! :)

I would like to know how big small clusters are?

how well a small hive takes off if it does make it through the winter.


And how are the relations in survival rate between small and big hives ? Michael?
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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby Nordak » Thu Apr 06, 2017 8:47 pm

I've overwintered 6 comb tbh nucs just this year. My results were excellent. Both overwintered well. One of them I combined due to a failing queen. I am certainly a fan of nucleus colonies. My only point in posting my experience was that I sometimes think perhaps there is a misconception that splitting and creating small colonies that never get large is how bees do it in nature. The truth is, bees will utilize whatever space is available and they deem fit to propagate in. If you want to see some massive colonies, look up some JP the beeman cut out videos. A lot of those colonies are at least twice the size of anything I could grow in my 4' TBHs. Are many of them utilizing the comb of previous colonies that lived there before? Most likely, and they are expanding upon it. It's not dissimilar to what a beekeeper does, providing already drawn comb to which the colony can expand upon.

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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby moebees » Thu Apr 06, 2017 9:36 pm

I'm not sure it is necessarily big versus small as much as size of hive relative to size of colony. I see allot of people fail with big hives because the hive is too big for the colony. Allot of empty space is not helpful. The work of Seeley and the success of people wintering nucs would suggest there is something to small colonies though. I am not disagreeing with what anyone has said previously. Just my 2 cents.
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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby Nordak » Fri Apr 07, 2017 12:07 am

moebees wrote:I'm not sure it is necessarily big versus small as much as size of hive relative to size of colony. I see allot of people fail with big hives because the hive is too big for the colony.


Agree.

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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby GregV » Fri Apr 07, 2017 12:58 am

Nordak wrote:The truth is, bees will utilize whatever space is available and they deem fit to propagate in..

I don't doubt this a bit.
Attached is a pic of a cut out I did last year - from a huge concrete well, size of a car. I just climbed inside and worked in there.

The current issue with the large cavity would be - higher susceptibility to mites if bees don't need to swarm often enough (lots of space).
With that, the bees from smaller cavities have a higher cleansing ratio due to higher turn over - that is a more healthier setup, hygienically speaking.
One theory, anyway.
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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby Nordak » Fri Apr 07, 2017 1:15 am

The assumption would be the smaller colony would or should have less mites. From a survival standpoint, I'd be more interested in a large colony that's been self sustaining for a number of years. Those are the genetics I would want to propagate as a beekeeper. That tells me there is something going on besides just the continual swarm cycle. Certainly the large colony would swarm as well, but less often one would imagine.

That's a neat cut-out for sure. Is that colony still with you? I'd like to try a cut-out one day for the experience.

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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby Nordak » Fri Apr 07, 2017 1:23 am

I just read your note on the last pic. That stinks. Sorry.

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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby GregV » Fri Apr 07, 2017 1:27 am

Nordak wrote:The assumption would be the smaller colony would or should have less mites. From a survival standpoint, I'd be more interested in a large colony that's been self sustaining for a number of years. Those are the genetics I would want to propagate as a beekeeper. That tells me there is something going on besides just the continual swarm cycle. Certainly the large colony would swarm as well, but less often one would imagine.

That's a neat cut-out for sure. Is that colony still with you? I'd like to try a cut-out one day for the experience.


I agree that bees that simply do not need any of this dancing with brood breaks and the like are the best.
Well, I do not have such bees yet (pretty sure).
Until then need to dance and carry on somehow.

Cut out:
unfortunately, I lost that colony line due to a combine of two cut-outs;
I decided to let the bees to decide which queen they take;
they chose a marked queen from another cut-out over the feral queen.
Unsure what was the better way.
In the end, I lost this nuc last month anyway - they froze.
Last edited by GregV on Fri Apr 07, 2017 1:29 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby GregV » Fri Apr 07, 2017 1:28 am

Nordak wrote:I just read your note on the last pic. That stinks. Sorry.

Actually, I was wrong at the time of picture taking.
I did find a queen in that mess.
A couple of day later.

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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby Nordak » Fri Apr 07, 2017 1:39 am

As Sibylle pointed out in this thread, I have held the belief for awhile now that one of the key components here as to the success of the bees in this region, while maintaining some resistant level behaviors, is the extended break in brood during summer dearth. That might be one reason why I can get by with larger colonies going into winter. That and our Winter is so mild compared to northern regions.

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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby GregV » Fri Apr 07, 2017 2:07 am

Nordak wrote:... one of the key components here as to the success of the bees in this region, while maintaining some resistant level behaviors, is the extended break in brood during summer dearth...


Also true.
This is a good localized trend to have.
One way to select for this - never feed and let those unfit for the local seasons just run out of food and drop off.

This is one component of the Russians' being successful - they are very quick to break the brood (in theory; because they come from a shorter summer).
Some people complain about this Russian trend to break brooding too quickly before the secondary fall flow starts again (then compare them too the Italians who never break and, consequently, run out of all the honey before winter AND run up huge mite numbers while at it).

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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby Nordak » Fri Apr 07, 2017 2:21 am

One way to select for this - never feed and let those unfit for the local seasons just run out of food and drop off.


Precisely right. A lesson learned after my first year. When you have the right bees, locally adapted and the ones that are making it on their own, the selection has already been done. Most would be light years ahead tapping into the local gene pool where available.

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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby SiWolKe » Fri Apr 07, 2017 5:11 am

Nordak wrote:
One way to select for this - never feed and let those unfit for the local seasons just run out of food and drop off.


Precisely right. A lesson learned after my first year. When you have the right bees, locally adapted and the ones that are making it on their own, the selection has already been done. Most would be light years ahead tapping into the local gene pool where available.


Yes, precisely. My AMM had only brood, no stores in summer and, being a dumb inexperienced beekeeper, I fed them. What a mistake!
Could be they made a break, since I once observed the pure bred mother decided once to do this on her own because of high mite level.
Hope the two descendants keep the genes.

Looking at the cutouts I sometimes wonder how old the " great strong" colonies are which are in. Maybe only one season?

After expansion and a survival rate of 30-50% I believe it possible to try to have some established two year colonies, one year nuc, second year production hive to see how they fare.
Too early for me. I need more hives first.
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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby Nordak » Fri Apr 07, 2017 5:21 am

Hard to say on the cut outs. I would guess one or two years for most. Of course you always hear about 10 year colonies from some folks. Hard to validate, but who knows. I am considering such an experiment myself. I have access to a remote location that I'm considering basically dropping off a hive and seeing how many years it can make it with 0 interference. The area has documented feral bee colonies over the years, so it should sustain that kind of experiment.

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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby SiWolKe » Fri Apr 07, 2017 8:09 am

Very cool, Jeff.
Would be nice to mark the queen and see how long she endures.
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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby moebees » Fri Apr 07, 2017 2:01 pm

I have access to a remote location that I'm considering basically dropping off a hive and seeing how many years it can make it with 0 interference. The area has documented feral bee colonies over the years, so it should sustain that kind of experiment.


Consider at least two hives and a control. If it is an experiment one hive would be a zero degrees of freedom test. :) In other words useless.
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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby Nordak » Fri Apr 07, 2017 2:12 pm

Hey Moe, maybe I will. We'll see.

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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby GregV » Fri Apr 07, 2017 2:32 pm

Looking at the cutouts I sometimes wonder how old the " great strong" colonies are which are in. Maybe only one season?


Hard to say on the cut outs. I would guess one or two years for most..


Most cut-outs are short-lived, in fact.
Those cut-out pictures I posted show a colony that survived there at least 2 seasons (judging by the combs appearance).
I would not bet on them surviving as-is for yet another season if left intact and undisturbed. Maybe yes, maybe no.
But, I do know that that cut-out very probably swarmed before I cut them and, thusly, went through normal cleansing cycles (there were used swarm cells). This is a good thing and improved their survival chances.

Really, a sustainable colony should survive 3-5 years non-stop before it is a worthwhile case.
But as for me now - I don't care.
I will scoop up any free bees I run across so to build a starting base first.

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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby Rurification » Fri Apr 07, 2017 4:34 pm

Great thread. Thanks for exploring it further.

I liked the point about feeding. Something I need to think about. I get a lot of robbing here during the dearth. Feeding makes it worse. I have to be very careful when I do inspections not to start wholesale pillaging just by opening a hive.

I bought 2 Russian queens from Kelley a couple of years ago. One re-queened immediately and I lost the other during that next winter. The one that re-queened has been great. Threw some swarms last year, which I got. They're tough bees and I like them. I do think that the Russian genetics - even as a cross - have probably helped me.
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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby lharder » Fri Apr 07, 2017 5:08 pm

Nordak wrote:I've overwintered 6 comb tbh nucs just this year. My results were excellent. Both overwintered well. One of them I combined due to a failing queen. I am certainly a fan of nucleus colonies. My only point in posting my experience was that I sometimes think perhaps there is a misconception that splitting and creating small colonies that never get large is how bees do it in nature. The truth is, bees will utilize whatever space is available and they deem fit to propagate in. If you want to see some massive colonies, look up some JP the beeman cut out videos. A lot of those colonies are at least twice the size of anything I could grow in my 4' TBHs. Are many of them utilizing the comb of previous colonies that lived there before? Most likely, and they are expanding upon it. It's not dissimilar to what a beekeeper does, providing already drawn comb to which the colony can expand upon.


Yes I mostly disagree with the notion that nature necessarily wants small colonies. JP''s cutouts led me to the same conclusion. A useful illistration of what bees actually do. The fact that most feral bees are like this is mostly a constraint of available cavity sizes, not pest control. However, if a big cavity is obtained, bees of the right genetics can fill it and hold it, make lots of honey and bees, then in spring produce many drones and swarms, produce them earlier and genetically dominate the local area. These are the genetics that beekeepers want.

I think I have some genetics that can produce big colonies and survive. Just not a big proportion of them yet. But I can't find them until they are tested their second winter.

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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby GregV » Fri Apr 07, 2017 5:31 pm

lharder wrote:..Yes I mostly disagree with the notion that nature necessarily wants small colonies.

What nature really wants is - variety.
Not small, not big.
Variety.

It is just at some specific point in the evolution, some conditions/traits are winning more. Others lose more.
From the evolution point in time - we are really busy here discussing a particular micro-second.
Funny. :D

Over time things will change.
A healthy variety will survive still due to having an wide array of options to choose from.
Overspecialized genetics (read - mono-culture) will die off as unable to adapt.

PS: the most deciding factor of the colony size is really a hard set home size; Tom Sealy (sp?) did document that most natural occupied bee dwellings rotate about 40 liters (give/take) - just how real estate in nature works; bigger homes are hard to find; smaller homes are many but too tight; so the predominant natural dwelling size in turn does affect the bee life cycle (starting with the colony size); with that bees have been successful bugs for the last 30-40 millions of years mostly living in pretty normally distributed accommodations by size (mean size being 40-60 liters; some bigger; some smaller).

PPS: and so during the "normal" times, bigger colonies may be actually winning more as more robust towards the conventional issues - wintering, etc;
but during some unusually hard times where a very quick adaption change is required in order to survive (new parasite!), smaller colonies maybe winning;
another theory to kick about. 8-)

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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby Solomon » Mon Apr 10, 2017 4:39 am

I have always liked very large hives. I got that from Dee Lusby's model when I started. What it got me was low swarming rate, and no comb storage need.

Large colonies do need more honey to make it through. Due to a hard year last year, I ended up overwintering most of mine in a single deep. I fed most of them because I thought they needed it, but they didn't need all that much. I have a five gallon bucket of sugar chunks to prove it.

I don't think it does much in the way of TF. Over the years, I was often told that the reason my bees survived was that I did so many brood breaks. What brood breaks? My hives don't even swarm. Of course I've been told many things about my operation that were a surprise to me.

At this point I say, find a model that works for you and go at it hard core. Try things. Experiment, get advice, but ultimately what works for you is what you should do.
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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby SiWolKe » Mon Apr 10, 2017 4:47 am

Solomon wrote:
At this point I say, find a model that works for you and go at it hard core. Try things. Experiment, get advice, but ultimately what works for you is what you should do.


That´s right. :)
Welcome back, Solomon!
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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby Solomon » Mon Apr 10, 2017 7:09 am

I'd like to hang out more, but I never seem to have time. Facebook is so convenient, and I no longer count myself as a beekeeping info consumer. I'm a creator. I have a backlog of about 30 hours of video that needs to be edited and posted right now.
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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby SiWolKe » Mon Apr 10, 2017 8:18 am

Solomon wrote:I'd like to hang out more, but I never seem to have time. Facebook is so convenient, and I no longer count myself as a beekeeping info consumer. I'm a creator. I have a backlog of about 30 hours of video that needs to be edited and posted right now.


Nice!
Hope to see the videos on u-tube since I´m not using Facebook. ;)
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Re: Is bigger better?

Postby GregV » Mon May 15, 2017 3:16 pm

And here you go:
Audacious Idea Four: Small Hive Beekeeping

http://beeaudacious.com/index.php/2016/ ... eekeeping/
Why should I argue for this when Tom Seeley can do it for me.

I have a fleet (12 now) of my own 40 liter custom hives for vertical Dadant.
This is maybe how I want to run it.
Toss in 3-4 large horizontals for the mega-honey producing colonies.
Otherwise, can just run a fleet of small hives targeting for for redundancy and survivability (not production).


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