Our local club past President, Danny Cannon, delivered one of the best lectures I’ve ever sat through at a MSBA meeting several years ago. It was titled Flexibility in Beekeeping, Being Flexible in Beekeeping, or some such similar title. It literally changed my beekeeping.
That lecture keeps ringing through my brain lately and for good reason. One of the ideas in the lecture was the understanding that we must move backwards and side to side as easily as we move forward in our management. For instance, recently I’ve been playing musical chairs with supers, frames, and bees. Let me explain.
In the Spring it’s all about adding, expanding, and growth. Things seem to get bigger. A lot of “addition” taking place – boxes, hive stands, and new hives. The thinking is, If I can stay ahead of them with “more” they won’t swarm. Add, add, add. Grow, grow, grow. Feed, feed, feed. Gotta add more boxes! Look and act – usually with more, more, more. Find a swarm and be prepared and flexible enough to have an extra stand, bottom board, and box – capture, and add to the apiary. And that’s how most of the management goes in the Spring.
And then comes the post flow Summer, Fall, and early Winter management. But can I break my addiction to adding? Can I be flexible enough to read the bees and act according to the situation? The queen will slow her production down as nectar wanes and more so when the days start getting shorter. Can I tap the brakes, slow down, make changes? I sense that I’m reluctant to pull that super off that I worked so hard to build them up to needing. Or maybe they’ve swarmed and the hive is half empty now, yet I want to leave those boxes on in hopes they will build back up – and they very well might if I’m flexible in my management!
Maybe a queen starts to fail and it becomes noticeable at the hive entrance that activity has slowed. But it’s hot and I’d rather not suit up and look inside; say it isn’t so because I’d really rather not have to track down a replacement queen.
Or I have two hives that are in steep decline, should I combine them with stronger hives? After all, I have a vision of how many hives I need to complete the mental picture I have of my hives sitting on their designated hive stands in my well designed apiary. I want X number of hives not X – 1 hives.
And so, I return to the topic of flexibility. Can I be flexible enough to respond appropriately during these months post nectar flow? Oh, it’s difficult. But if I don’t employ the discipline of flexibility in removing sparsely or unpopulated boxes, combining weak hives, or replacing a failing queen what penalty is paid? Unlike the threat of swarms in the spring, the lack of my flexibility now is paid for with increased pests, hive failures, and loss of valued comb. Hives no longer able to cover comb with bees allow Small Hive Beetles to go unchecked and run amuck in nectar. Worse still is the bane of Wax Moths that move in on weakened or poorly populated hives and destroy your most precious resource – your hard earned comb. Weak and declining hives, if disease free, may need to be combined with strong hives and I have to accept that empty spot on the hive stand and tell myself that maybe a split may be possible later in the year or at least next spring.
It’s all flexibility. I’ll read the bees as best I can, make adjustments, go with the flow every time I visit the apiary or open a hive. I must accept that it’s a roller coaster with ups and downs, round and rounds, bright lights and dark tunnels. When I get off the ride I don’t want to say I enjoyed the ups but not the downs or the round and rounds. No, really I enjoyed the ride itself. Be flexible.