My very first year of beekeeping taught me a lesson that, while painful, was so helpful to me that I was, in the end, thankful for the pain.
My mentor that first year had been steeped in the mind-set and practices of the conventional/commercial beekeeping world... for over thirty years. So, with such a mentor, I too started down that road.
Along with my mentor, I bought a nucleus colony from a commercial beekeeper here in Colorado. I, in my ignorance, thought I was purchasing "Colorado bees." I took the nucleus home and installed it in con/com equipment, i.e., a Langstroth hive. (And I was immediately smitten with the world of the honey bee but that's another story.)
Things went along well that first season, and having what we call an "Indian Summer" I was able to inspect the hive, for the last time that year, on October 16th. All looked well.
Time went by...
On January 6th, we had an unseasonably warm, bright and sunny, perfectly still day. I decided to take a peek inside the hive to see how their honey stores were holding out. Here's what I found:
1) One remaining live bee.
2) All the rest dead and most of them laying on the bottom board.
3) In number, about half as many dead bees as I would expect to be there.
4) A total of about 6 queen cells, and they were at the bottoms of the frames.
5) One queen cell neatly uncapped at the bottom, the rest opened up from the side.
My conclusion? Sometime after October 16th, they swarmed. And, of course, the newly emerged queen failed to successfully mate that late in the year.
I scratched my head over that one for several months until I happened to learn that the nucleus colony I had purchased the previous spring had been made up using a queen that was bred in Kona, Hawaii.
Think about that...
Fast forward to today...
The bees have converted me. I am no longer a beekeeper embracing the ethos, and employing the practices, of the conventional/commercial beekeeping world. I am now a bee-centered honey bee steward with the goal of developing an ecotype. An ecotype is a genetically distinct geographic variety, population or race within a species, which is adapted to specific environmental conditions.
So, my long-term goal is to develop a variety of honey bees (still Apis Mellifera) that can survive and thrive in my region - both in hosted hives and in the wild - and to eventually encourage them to swarm and go back into the wild to repopulate my valley.
How will I accomplish that? How will I, over time, develop that genetic strain in the bees I host, monitor, and then re-wild in my valley?
Genetics, as part of my four-pronged approach, is absolutely key to that. For example, no more queens from Kona, Hawaii!
What are my best sources, over time, of these genetics? In my opinion they are, in descending order:
1) Feral swarms that have been successfully over-wintering for many years without human intervention.
2) Cut-outs that have been successfully over-wintering for many years without human intervention.
3) Swarms from my own treatment-free, natural-comb, not-supplementally-fed colonies that have been living in my Bee Tree Hives.
4) Splits from my own treatment-free, natural-comb, not-supplementally-fed colonies that have been living in my Bee Tree Hives.
I am currently pursuing all of these sources. It's so much fun! Oh my gosh.
Finally, a note about not engaging in supplemental feeding. If I want the bees I monitor to cast swarms that can survive and thrive in the wild, in my region, then, over time, each colony is going to have to develop a collective intelligence, and an innate memory, of the nectar flow rhythms in my valley.
Does this mean that I never engage in supplemental feeding? In truth, it does not. There are times when I may supplementally feed a colony. But I only feed them honey in broken comb, inside their own hive, in the in-hive feeders I have developed for my Bee Tree Hives. But an explanation of the whys and whens of that are a subject for another post.
Darwinian Beekeeping, Dr. Thomas Seeley, March 2017 issue of American Bee Journal
HONEY-MAKER - How the Honey Bee Worker Does What She Does, Rosanna L. Mattingly