Raising Good Bees in Horizontal Hives

At ForestBeehive apiary we are miles away from industrial & agricultural pollution, we have sufficient Spring-to-Fall foraging resources for our bees and we don’t use any supplemental sugar feedings. We also don’t use any human engineered chemical treatments or even organic pest control substances in and around our beehives. 

Raising Good Bees in Horizontal Hives. Swarm Traps, Queens, VSH ​

Although during this winter, the temperatures here at times were lower than -25°F (that is -31°C), all of our bee colonies have overwintered well and the bees are now bringing pollen — a protein that they feed their young brood with. 

The color of the pollen that they are bringing now is almost exclusively light yellow which may indicate that it came from American alder trees that are in bloom at this time. 

It’s Spring now and just like last Spring I am setting up swarm traps to attract wild survivor honey bee swarms, so that I could expand my apiary with wild survivor bee colonies that are already familiar with local nectar flows and are likely to have developed local pest resistance based on their own Darwinian way of natural selection. 

I never buy commercial bee packages with artificially inseminated queens that need continuous chemical pest control treatments. 

To start the apiary, I purchased bee nucs (nucleus colonies) from another local treatment-free beekeeper. I set up 2 kinds of swarm traps with deep Layens frames: the conventional kind and what I would call the redneck special kind – as in the picture. 

The conventional swarm traps are built with ECO plywood, metal corners and aluminum roof, while for the redneck specials I used food-grade plastic containers, zip-ties, duck tape and just some odd pieces of ECO plywood. 

Both kinds of swarm traps are set up the exact same way: with standard Layens frames of old dark brood comb, propolis, lemongrass essential oil in slow-release plastic tubes, and even a few dead winter bees so that the traps smell and feel like old abandoned beehives. 

Despite not-so-pleasing esthetics, the advantages of the redneck special swarm traps are their low cost and light weight. I am eagerly expecting the bees’ verdict, however, on which kind of swarm trap will work the best this year. 

In my 1st Spring inspections I am making sure that my bee colonies have sufficient food & that they have started with rearing their brood. The bees have overwintered in a smaller 1/3 of the 20-frame beehive containing just 6 frames flanked on both sides by divider boards and topped with a sackcloth pillow filled with natural wool. 

Overwintering in a smaller area allowed the bees to conserve their resources by not heating a whole wide area of the hive in wintertime when there are fewer bees. Now that the number of bees in Spring is increasing again, I am again expanding the number of frames, this time gradually, every couple of weeks. 

The colony in the video came from a local treatment-free beekeeper whose bees were a mix of swarm-caught wild survivor bees and USDA VSH bees. VSH stands for Varroah Sensitive Hygiene – a genetic trait in honeybees that enables the colony to survive without artificial mite controls. 

VSH bees usually interfere with mite reproduction by uncapping and then re-capping mite-infested cells. You may notice that Queen Alice and her bees are mostly dark gray. 

This is probably because Queen Alice has some genetics linking her to the original North European dark bees that were introduced by settlers to North America way back in 1620s. Those bees quickly became feral and multiplied in great numbers all over North America. 

North European dark bees are also known as German dark bees and the name Alice is of German origin meaning “noble”, which fits our majesty Queen Alice perfectly. Queen Alice was born in 2022. 

As Queen bees do not live more than 5 years, according to a long-standing International Queen bee marking convention, only 5 solid colors are used to mark the Queen bees by their YOB. 

A picture in the video shows that for the first 5 years of each decade, starting with year 1, the solid colors with which the Queen bees are marked, change each year from White to Yellow to Red to Green to Blue. And for the 2nd part of the decade (starting with year 6 and ending with the 10th), the 5 Queen bee marking colors again repeat themselves: White, Yellow, Red, Green, Blue. 

A good system of mnemonics to remember the sequence of these 5 repeating colors WYRGB and figure out the age of the Queen is based on the starting letter of each color and goes as follows in the form of a question: Will You Raise Good Bees? To answer this question, I am largely delegating raising good bees to each of my Queen Bees including Queen Alice by hosting the bees within this Wonderland of unspoiled woodlands and meadows adjacent to 3K acres of a state-owned wildlife sanctuary where the worker bees have rich natural Spring-to-Fall foraging.