I had the opportunity to work for Michael Palmer for the past two summers. About a month last year, and a little less than four months this year. After only having kept my own bees for a year or so before arriving, the best way to describe the last two summers is "a flood of knowledge". I want to thank Mike for hiring me and taking the time to teach and answer the questions I had. He is a true beekeeper in every sense of the word.
I arrived last year in June, at the beginning of the queen catches. I had practiced spotting my own queens before coming to Vermont, so I caught on pretty quickly. We would work as a team finding the queens in the quad mating nucs, bring the queen to Mike so he could mark and cage her. I even marked and caged a few myself. Also, making sure the mating nucs had enough laying room, by providing foundation or drawn comb, was very important. I think queen catch days were one of the most enjoyable days for everyone.
The cell builder yard, which I would say is easily one of Mike's favorite places during that time of year, is a busy place for the bees. It was great seeing the Brother Adam method in cell building first hand. The capped queen cells in these hives were so big and healthy looking.
When not catching queens, we would spend the other days making up nucs to overwinter or adding cut comb supers. Both summers we made up nearly 500 nucs to winter in about a four week span. Propagating more hives via making up nucs from weak production hives or other nucs(brood factories). There are other posts and presentations that talk about how this is done so I won't go into detail. The fresh queens we caught went into these in the afternoon after making up the nucs in the morning.
Mike produces some of the best looking cut comb pieces I've seen. Most of the regular honey supers were already on the hives(at least the first supers) before I arrived both years, so while the flow was still strong we had to put on the cut comb supers. You need a really strong hive and a strong flow for cut comb, and some years it doesn't produce. We would find a strong hive whose supers are full and we would place the cut comb super below those, forcing the bees to draw it and fill it. The second year, my wife and I actually cut these out into sections. I was also trained in extracting the normal supers. It was nice seeing our work pay off!
After extracting the light honey, and this was actually started before we were done extracting, we went back around placing a super back on strong foraging hives. Not necessarily to get a crop during the fall flow but more importantly to keep those bees from swarming and to keep the broodnest from getting plugged.
After all the honey supers are pulled off, the hives are to start being prepared for winter. Treatments and feeding where necessary. For feeding, each hive is weighed with a scale. Those needing fed get the appropriate amount of gallons of sugar syrup.
There is so much more that I've experience and learned, too much for one post. I guess if I had to sum up what I've learned about beekeeping, its that beekeeping isn't as black and white as all those beginner books portray it to be. Bees will do certain things for no apparent reason, with no real explanation. And that's the beauty of it; it is because of these mysteries that we have a motive the continue to learn, and that's what I plan on doing.
Now I have accepted a job beekeeping in Hawaii for Big Island Queens/Olivarez. Flying out next week. It will be very different from the northeast, but hopefully I'll be able to use some of what I've learned. It will definately be another great experience none-the-less. Beekeeping is awesome.
I will be going into more detail on my experiences with Michael Palmer in upcoming posts.