Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Two-queen System: Tower Colonies for Easy Drone Removal

I've been thinking... The last two years the bees have had trouble with constant re-queening. Whatever is causing the failure (varroa mites, neonics, etc) the problem is the downtime between brood batches is causing the hives to get too weak. Ultimately they're not collecting enough honey and pollen to survive the winter.
But what if I ran a 2 queen system? Have you heard the saying "an heir and a spare"? They say that when royalty give birth they should always have two children.
 [Photos from the Penn State website].
If a hive had two queens if one failed the other would still be alive. There have been cases where the bees have chosen to go with 2 queens (mother/daughter) naturally and the queens don't kill each other.
I went to the internet to research how to run this system and came across this really interesting article on the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture web site.
Not only does it explain and diagram how to set up the system it also shows how to set it up in towers using the green drone frames for removal of varroa mites in the drone frames.
It's quite ingenious, the design is by Dennis vanEngelsdorp, Shane Gebauer and Robyn Underwood.
The premise for the design is that beekeepers are reluctant to put drone frames in the deep because all the supers have to be removed to insert and remove it and that is a pain. I admit that's exactly why I haven't done it.
So in thinking up an easier way to cover queen loss and varroa removal from drone frames this is the solution they came up with.
Treatments for varroa will still done on the hive and the drone removal was in addition but the results were a significant reduction in varroa all summer long.  The bees were able to produce honey faster as well, likely due to not having so many drones to care for.
In the end the two hives produced the same amount of honey as "normal" hives.  I'm sure the bees were much more healthy.
I really want to try this in spring. When doing splits I could put a queen cell in one deep and leave mother queen in the other (probably success is better with mother/daughter).  When the queen cell hatches she shouldn't swarm because she'd be alone in the box because of the queen excluders.

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