Two things prompted me to write this article. Firstly the absolute need to keep colony records if you are going to keep bees. Secondly the notion that docile bees will not give you a reasonable honey return compared to their aggressive neighbours.
Below is a chart from my colony records of one apiary this year. I normally do not record the amount of honey taken from each apiary, but after the poor season that most beekeepers had this year I felt that this apiary might dispel the myth about docile bees.
With this in mind I marked the supers and recorded the amount of extracted honey in pounds from each hive. Hence the extra column in the record sheet.
I have been keeping records now for longer than I can remember and try to improve my bees every year with some queen rearing or simply by culling the undesirable ones. My theory is that no bees are better than cross bees. Most people are aware of how I despise being stung.
SO TO THE RECORDS:
The apiary in question is in Bansha with eight colonies of bees. Looking down column one you can see that half are descendants of instrumentally inseminated queens.
Colony No 1. Was a colony from carrageen in 2002. It was introduced into the apiary in 2003 and seems to have all the criteria for selection as a breeder. These are above 2.5 for docility and brood pattern, with a total rating above 15. However I replaced her in 2004 because her progeny were followers. One of the worst traits in bees, second only to stinging in my opinion.
Colony No 2. Is a descendant of Morrissey 1/2000 an excellent queen in her day. However not all her progeny inherited her good traits and some had to be culled. In my view sentimentality has no place in bee breeding. If the queen is not up to standard, replace her and do not make the mistake of putting her into a nuc box as this only affords you the chance of expanding her again next year with all her bad characteristics. Looking across this colony’s record you can see they have a total rating of 18.25 with five inspections this year. This is an example of a very good colony of bee and will probably form part of my breeding programme in 2005.
Colony No 3. Again from the same mother this queen is three generations on, she has a good rating of some 16.4 She will however not be used for breeding as apart from colony records your own reading of a colony is very important.
I would favour colony no.2 for queen rearing as it handles much better and reacts better to most manipulations carried out during the active season. I find it hard to put into words what I am trying to say here. But if you have handled bees for a number of years you will know what I mean. Breeding is a bit more than colony records but it cannot be achieved without them.
Colony No 4. The first descendant of an II queen (IIQ 63/02) she has an excellent rating 19.8 she is a daughter of the original queen and made an attempt to swarm in May this year. I just happened to be visiting the apiary as they returned, I ran her in the entrance with the bees. She made no further attempt to swarm only laid up the full brood and a half for the rest of the season. She will again be used for breeding in 2005.
Colony No 5. Came from IIQ83/01and was replaced in 02 and03. Her temperament actually disimproved as the season progressed this year from a rating of 3 in May to 1 in July. I replaced her with a queen from Glen 7 a queen I used for breeding this year. This queen was introduced to G7 in 2001and raised no swarm cells until June of this year when she raised two Supercedure cells.
Colony No 6. This was a swarm in 2003 and never built up this year. It was checked for disease and I gave it frames of brood from other colonies in the apiary. The Queen was also replaced with a queen ex G7 in July of this year.
Colonies 7 and 8 are also two reasonably good colonies of bees with total ratings of 17.4 and 15.4 and will be acceptable as production colonies for next year.
So to look at the overall table. Docility and Brood Pattern aside we look at how steady the bees are on the comb. A nice settled action in the bees is what we are looking for. This helps greatly in the examination of the colony.
Firstly in finding the queen a basic requirement in most colony manipulations. You are less likely to loose the queen as a ball of bees falls from the bottom of the frame. There will be less danger of the bees being crushed when returning frames to the brood box leading to Nosema. Less rolling of bees, which can cause bees to be aggressive. All this results in delay to the beekeeper during manipulations.
Pollen: After docility and brood pattern, pollen storage is the next most important thing in the colony. As without pollen, the colony’s ability to produce brood is severely curtailed as also its ability to produce winter bees, i.e. the production of fat bodies in the winter bee requires an abundance of pollen.
Some colonies seem to collect and store more pollen than others but one must be careful when rating pollen storage. You must take into account the size of the colony, the amount of brood present.
Small colonies seem to store a lot of pollen but keep in mind that there is no brood present to consume it in the production of brood food to feed the larvae. Whereas very large brood nests will have required large amounts of pollen coming in to create them. Always think before you assess pollen storage. Native bees also have a tendency to store their pollen throughout the brood nest all around and between brood cells.
Comb building: Relates to colony size, and occupation of supers in relation to the size of the colony. The amount of honey being stored throughout the year. The colony’s ability or lack of it to draw foundation and the type and quality of the cappings on both brood and sealed honey.
Our native bees are well known for having excellent capping abilities. They maintain a good air space underneath the capping which helps in the preservation of the winter stores for the bees It also makes uncapping much easier during extraction.
Column seven: Swarm cells, also very important in any breeding programme as swarmy bees no matter how docile etc. will not give you a crop of honey on a regular basis but will increase the beekeeper’s work load. This year was a terrible year for swarming and I have apiaries that I visited ten to twelve times to keep bees in their boxes.
Again it goes without saying that if you do not maintain a strong colony you will get no return. Therefore I have introduced this into my criteria for selection of breeder queens and hopefully over time, like docility we can produce bees that are less prone to swarming. With this in mind I returned two queens to Michael this year G7 (IIQ62/01) and M5 (IIQ63r/00) both of whom headed strong colonies this year and had not raised swarm cells during their long lifetime.
I do hope that this article has given you some encouragement to keep colony records if for no other reason than to know where your good colonies are and where they came from. Armed with this information and a little dedication I can assure that you can improve your bees temperament, increase your enjoyment of beekeeping, and above all increase your honey return by simply being able to manage your bees better.
My overall average this year was in excess of eighty pounds per colony. If you have one look back at the chart at the beginning of the article you will see colony No 6 a swarm of bees in 2003 of unknown origin gave me 42lbs of honey and colony No 4 a selected queen from a queen rearing programme gave 192lbs of honey. Both were given the same management.
NEED I SAY MORE?