Here in southeast Texas, our key honey flow is from the Chinese Tallow tree anywhere from May to June, depending on your latitude. This year it was surprisingly early. Guess we can chalk that one up to El Nino. Middle of May and the tallow tree in my back yard is already half done blooming.
Now I suggested that the tallow is out "key" flow. That's because it's the one that almost undoubtedly every beekeeper will get something from. We have a lot of minor flows in the spring from things like blackberries, vetch, wildflowers, etc., but it's rarely enough to get a harvest. I have heard of folks getting a flow, depending on location, off of things like bottlebrush if they are in a neighborhood that just has gobs of it.
Anyway, I put my focus on tallow. Normally in preparation I put 2-3 medium 10 frame supers on my hives. On average my strong hives give me about 60 lbs off the tallow, which is right at two mediums. So the third is usually just overflow. Now an important note is that if you are going to pack on 3 supers all at once (in SHB territory) it needs to be new, undrawn foundation). If using draw supers, I would only add one at a time to make sure the bees don't get overloaded with patrol responsibilities.
Years past, adding three supers and walking away has worked fine, but this year I wanted to try a few different things. I wanted to see if I made a few different manipulations, if I could see an appreciable difference in the amount of honey a colony packed in.
BOOSTING - The first thing I did was tried to equalize and "boost" a couple of my weaker colonies. The idea was that if I could give them a shot in the arm of brood about a month before the flow then they would have a surplus of foragers right at peak flow time. To do this, I added as many as 10 frames of capped brood, sources from a handful of other colonies, to the weaker colonies. This is done with caution, as again, over working the colony can cause them to succumb to beetles. So I did it on hives that had a good support population but just not as much as I'd like. The idea is that the brood would be emerging in the next week or so, and boost the population before a beetle outbreak could happen, and then they'd be fine with the surplus of bees. And again, it should roll on to a bunch of foragers maturing just in time for the flow. I like to use my 5 frame nucs for this purpose. Some of them I took 3 frames of capped brood to boost another hive, and left the nuc to rebuild.
Once the flow is over, I intend to split them back out into smaller colonies or nucs to build back up for winter.
Now there is a risk here. What is the boost is too much, and the hive is then urged to swarm. Well, funny that should come up. Because it happened! I got lucky and found the swarm cells, so I went ahead and split the hive back a bit before they swarmed, taking the queen and leaving cells in the parent colony. And actually I don't see this as a bad thing. And here is why.
REQUEENING - I have read of others requeening, either with a cell, or "rolling" the queen during the honey flow on purpose. The idea here is that by taking the queen, you break the brood cycle, and rather quickly the bees can drop their focus on feeding larva. This should push the hive into a honey production mode faster. And it opens up the brood nest to have more space to put honey away in if the hive finds it. So in the instance above, the hive basically carried out this requeening for me. If the swarm would have escaped I may have been in trouble if they took too much of the forager population with them. But I'm hopeful that by making a good split, that will satisfy their swarm urge. I've now split two of my honey producers in this way due to discovering swarm cells.
JUNIPER HILL SPLIT - This is not something I'd claim proficiency on. But the goal with this method of split is similar to the requeening above, except that you leave the existing queen. The idea here though is still to take all the brood so the hive can focus on foraging. The easiest way to do this is with the use of a double deep hive. Three weeks before the split (and start of flow), put a QE between the deeps. Don't bother looking for the queen, you don't need to. When you go to make the split it's painless. One box with have eggs and larva, and one won't. The one with eggs has the queen. Now you need to find her, but you know which box to dig through.
With the queen in hand, she now goes into the deep without eggs and larva. And she stays in the original location. The other deep full of young brood is simply rotated 180 degrees and placed beside the original hive. The foragers in this box will fly out and go back to the parent colony location. Now you have a box full of young brood and nurse bees, and no queen. Introduce a queen cell or virgin, or let them raise a new one. But ultimately you are done. This leaves the parent colony with a queen and a whole bunch of foragers. Bring on the honey flow!
TWO QUEEN COLONY - This again is new to me, but is very exciting. Now we all know that naturally a hive does not have two queens. But two queen colonies have been run successfully plenty in the past. The key is just to have QE(s) in place to keep the queens from getting to each other. The goal is to take the population power of two queens and turn it into one monster forager force. A key component of foraging is communicating. If one hive finds nectar before the other, they will inadvertently communicate this with the other colony that they have been pair with. Traditional two-queen colonies put a brood nest on bottom and one on top, with a stack of supers between. I tried something a little different. I put two double deep 5 frame colonies side by side, and then laid one QE over the top and placed on a single stack of 10 frame mediums. As long as the queens don't somehow evade the QE, I think it will work out just fine.
All this being said, it's not to confuse you further. These are just ideas and different tricks. At the end of the day, the easiest thing to do is just stack on some supers and see what you get. I just wanted to share these different ideas and techniques that I'm trying out. I'll definitely have to give an update on the two-queen colony. I'm very excited about it!