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Author Topic: maximum practical colony size  (Read 1094 times)
charlieBnoobee
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« on: April 09, 2012, 10:43:04 PM »

This is my first post on this forum, and in regards to beeking, I'm profoundly green but coming, nevertheless, with some transferable skills. Just now I'm in Frantic Research Mode— really ste-e-p learning curve—and there is this one basic, and pressing, question that I can't get a straight-forward answer to, much searching and asking not withstanding.

My over-arching goal is to find a system of bee keeping that will maximize honey harvest and bee health with a minimum of labor and capital input, and that will be sized to fit within my resource parameters. Nearly as soon as I'd begun digging, it seemed like some type of vertical TBH system was the way to go, leaning more toward Oscar Peron's big "hand's off " hives rather than the little stacks of little Warre' boxes. Very soon The Question arose: Just what are the limits to colony size??? Judging from what others have said, the limits to colony size are set mainly by 1. what the beekeeper can handle and keep secure in terms of weight, size, and strength of the hive's structure (as well as his/her own "structure"!), 2. the amounts of nectar and pollen available throughout the year, and 3. the presence or absence of stress (whether from  humans, animals, disease, internal and external climate, etc.) The limits imposed by queen and worker physiology/genetics would seem to be less restrictive than the first three factors. This may be at least part of the thinking behind the Perone hive. In short, if there's any concensus at all among the experts, (and that's a huge 'if'), it would be that for bee colonies: bigger = healthier = stronger= bigger still, up to the limits imposed by bees themselves and the quantity and quality of nutrition easily available to them.

 IF the above three conditions can be taken care of in such a way that they impose little restriction in and of themselves on colony size, just what size might a colony attain over a few years' time??

Can anyone shed some light on this?  huh
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beyondthesidewalks
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« Reply #1 on: April 09, 2012, 10:59:52 PM »

From my experience, I think the weather ----> honey flow is the biggest influence on hive size.  The next biggest influence would be the bees themselves.  You can only provide the space they need to get that big and prevent swarming.  The biggest hive I've ever had was so tall that I had to stand on the tailgate to get to the top super.  (Be careful backing up to a hive, ask me how I know Smiley)  I'd say that I'd prefer a second hive that was easier to manage to a hive so tall I had trouble dealing with it. 

The bees from that hive were MEAN!!!  I'd say that the hotter the bees the more honey they produce.  I purchased those bees from a man in Alabama who, I think, is out of the business.  The last packages of bees I purchased from him, I think in 1993 or 94, were the meanest but most productuve bees I've ever had.
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Michael Bush
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« Reply #2 on: April 10, 2012, 09:55:33 AM »

There is a limit both on the total size they seem to want and on the total amount a queen can lay.  100,000 to 150,000 bees is a very strong hive and I don't think you'll get past that without doing some combines which will then dwindle back to that.
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Michael Bush
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charlieBnoobee
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« Reply #3 on: April 10, 2012, 11:06:42 AM »

Thanks for the input;
Now the next question: How many square inches of well-filled comb space would 100,000 – 150,000 bees occupy? (@ one deep frame = approx. 140 sq. ins.). You can probably see where this is going; namely, if height, weight, strength, and accessibility concerns are adequately dealt with, what size hive (in linear dimensions) is required to house a colony of that size in bees? The answer is a matter of simple arithmetic once the bees per comb area is known. That, plus a good deal of experimentation and research into optimal frame/comb dimensions, no. of combs per body/box, etc., etc. But that's the fun part!  grin
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Appalachian wisdom for home & hive relationships: "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!"
sawdstmakr
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« Reply #4 on: April 10, 2012, 11:49:53 AM »

I keep reading and hearing that there are about 1000 bees per side of a frame keeping about 2000 brood cared for. That is a normal frame with brood in the middle pollen around it and honey around the edge. Hope this helps.
Jim
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derekm
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« Reply #5 on: April 11, 2012, 03:13:46 PM »

With a large colony you will  get the problems common to all large collections of animals, stress and  disease...
on top of that you can add heat stress as the heat produced goes over the boundaries of the bee behaviour.
   large thin wooden hives in full sun will also have tremendous heat gain... Yry thinking about maximising honey yield per acre rather than per colony.
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If they increased energy bill for your home by a factor of 4.5 would you consider that cruel? If so why are you doing that to your bees?
charlieBnoobee
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« Reply #6 on: April 11, 2012, 11:27:27 PM »

'Lo Derek;
Thanks for your input— "Try thinking about maximising honey yield per acre rather than per colony." Honey yield/acre is precisely the metric I'm seeking to maximize. Pretty much. Like I indicated, stalking the ever-elusive Consensus among expert beeks is an enterprise fraught with futility. It seems like what I'd found (nearly all of it nestled between the lines) is that disease and stress tend (maybe, perhaps, sorta) to decrease with colony size up to some never-really-specified level, rather than increase as you're suggesting. As you point out, heat stress is certainly a factor that must be addressed, but one that can readily be surmounted. So what about other stressors? As Michael B. offers, "I don't think you'll get past that [100,000–150,000 bees] without doing some combines which will then dwindle back to that" (my emphasis). I think it can be reasoned that the combined colony would "seek", in the sense of water "seeking" its own level, a lower level/smaller size, both as it waxes and wanes—"dwindles back"—, if a lesser size were preferable, or less stressful in some way, to the colony-as-super-organism.
   All this is assuming, naturally, that the hive design and arrangement meet the criteria mentioned in point 1. of my initial post and touched on by B.T.Sidewalk. I couldn't agree more that the main issue (and a Whole separate topic) is that honey/acre is first and foremost a matter of forage per acre-and-season. More accurately, wouldn't it be proportional to the product of (not sum of) (1.) forage compassed by a given radius out from the hive/s times (2.) the total number of hours that forage is available to the bees over the foraging season, times the number of bees available to gather and process this aggregate forage?
   My by-no-means-unique challenge is to find a way to cultivate the few acres I have to work with in order to best utilize the massive —albeit short-lived— flood of tulip poplar (tulipfera liriodendron) nectar soon to arrive. This is the key part of the "resource parameters" mentioned in the first post.
     
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Appalachian wisdom for home & hive relationships: "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!"
charlieBnoobee
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« Reply #7 on: April 11, 2012, 11:38:15 PM »

Oops. Re: "disease and stress tend (maybe, perhaps, sorta) to decrease with colony size." Allow me to clarify: "... stress tend(s)...  to decrease as colony size increases. is what I meant.
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Appalachian wisdom for home & hive relationships: "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!"
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