Expansion Model Beekeeping
What's on this page?
Do you ever get that feeling when
someone puts something you have been
thinking about in to a nice neat concise
terminology that makes sense and
summarizes your thoughts into a cogent concept?
I do, all the time. Itís okay
though, I donít have to put a name on everything
I think about.
But I can innovate and modify it.
That's what this whole project is about.
There are very few true innovators in any
genre. Beekeeping is no exception.
Virtually every idea was born in someone else's
mind. We beekeepers take it and innovate
it and make it our own.
Something like this happened at NEOBAís Big Bee
I was enjoying a presentation by Sam
a beekeeper of some renown who keeps bees in a
bit of an unconventional way. His
current push is for box hives. He
is also big into topbar hives and even
calls himself a bartender.
Hilarious, you had to be there.
I have been suggesting for some time that to
succeed in treatment-free
beekeeping, one needs to understand how to
increase, growing oneís own queens
and though I donít use the term ďoutbreed the
mites,Ē it does work. I have found that it
takes several years of outbreeding
the mites and then at some point, the bees quit
dying in large part. Donít confuse outbreeding
the mites with
causing brood breaks, I donít rely on brood
breaks for mite control.
So my idea is to focus on perfecting rapid
expansion methods rather
than spending time studying about what
treatments to use, how to use them, and
burning money on them. And
Iím going to call it Expansion Model
Sam thinks itís a good idea
said the name first. Full credit to
that. I took his phrase and added it as a
title to my idea. He's okay with it.
A far better investment than any treatment is a
I have been promoting queen castles since
They are hives where one
essentially divides a full size box into two or
three frame nucs and then uses
those nucs, with full size normal frames, to
raise queens, either as traditional
mating nucs, or as a place where one can put a
swarm or supersedure cell with
its frame and bees to hatch out and mate and
found a new hive.
Small hives like this are
amazing machines, excellent
at rapid expansion, comb drawing, brooding, and
They can quickly be moved into a larger
or used to requeen a lackluster hive whose main
problem may be disease issues.
If caught in the right time, a hive preparing to
swarm can yield as
many as a dozen new queens and nucs, but only if
you have the equipment to put
If managed to produce queens, a
hive can produce dozens at a time, every few
castles can turn all the queens who
successfully mate into new hives.
hives draw comb and expand very rapidly.
the same time, you are placing firm
selective pressure on these hives to deal with
and survive mites and other
In just a couple generations,
diseases are no longer a major problem in your
day to day management of hives.
more selection techniques applied to the
resulting queens, you can do the same thing with
gentleness and productivity.
Where do you get them? If you have a table
saw, you can make them. Follow the simple
design found in the Mating
section of the Queens page.
You'll need a bottom, and you can cut slots on
the bottom edge of the box for entrances.
They don't need to allow any more than two bees
to pass at a time. Remember, the smaller
the entrance, the fewer problems with
robbing. I recommend 1"+
ventilation/robber holes that are
screened. Robbers are following smells so
they'll overlook a small entrance in favor of a
big one even if it is screened over. I cut
1x6s for inner covers then cover the whole thing
with a telescoping cover. The other way to
get them is to buy them, several of the
beekeeping supply websites sell them, but you
could make them for probably 1/4 the cost.
You can also get them at various beekeeping
supply stores, I know Brushy
Mountain has them
The next tool I'd say is vital to this effort is
the next thing up from the queen castle, the
5-frame nuc. You can use the 2-3 frame
nucs to requeen hives, but a better idea might
be to graduate them up to 5-frame nucs.
Check them out here
and find a link to the design. These are
awesome because they are still building machines
and can be sold for a decent profit. They
can be used as queen cell builders and
incubators. They make convenient swarm
I also recommend learning to graft
immediately. Grafting gives you the
opportunity to create the most queens with the
least amount of resource expenditure. It's
scary, I know, I was scared of it for many
years. But once I tried it, I realized it
is really easy. Check out the Queen
for how to combine queen
rearing to create an effective holistic method
of creating a lot of hives really quickly.
This isnít a quick "take two and call me in the
Itís not a treatment,
something you can toss money at and expect
Treatments donít produce miracle results
anyway, but thatís a topic for another day.
This is something that takes learning and
as Iíve said often enough
before, you gotta jump right in.
Timidity at the beginning often ends in
Weíre working with bees whoíve for the
part not been bred for survival, instead relying
on treatments to keep them
alive and focused almost solely on production.
Furthermore, mass numbers of bees,
queens, and nucs, are shipped out of
the south every year because people demand early
queens and packages and
these bees are not accustomed
to your climate.
Their mothers just
survived a winter that looks more like your
Halloween than the proper winters
youíre accustomed to.
And this is the
case for just about everyone north of 35 degrees
latitude which is a major
portion of the population.
If youíre getting bees from the South, your bees
are not accustomed to
your conditions in most if not all categories. This
leads to common
problems like when bees starve to death inches
from capped honey. For some ridiculous
reason, this common
problem is pawned off on mites or some other
I had it happen a fair number of times
always to bees originally raised in climates
with milder winters like California
Itís an unacceptable symptom and it can
be avoided for the most part by maintaining bees
adapted to your conditions.
Catching local swarms is another excellent
aspect of Expansion Model
Sam Comfort mentions that he
puts up 100 swarm traps every year.
Swarm traps are a good way to enhance
your collection with new and
varied genetics, whether they are from local
feral swarms or from other local
Concerned about watered down
Your winters and diseases and
mites will take care of those issues for you.
Use selective pressure to your benefit.
Allow the natural selective pressure to
weed out the weakest hives for
your focus is on
out-breeding the problem and adapting to it,
just like Nature does. We have a strong and
virulent organism in the
It has an incredible ability
to adapt and survive in all sorts of conditions
But it needs some time and new
The idea behind this whole philosophy is
operating, at least for now,
like you want to be a commercial beekeeper in
The focus is increase.
quickly as Iíve found out, the bees
quit dying out so much.
Now Iím at the
point where I have the number of hives I want to
have the volume of equipment that I can
So what do I do with the extra
The first thing you can do is continue to
develop strong, gentle, and
You can do that by
continuing to breed or split from your best
queens and requeening poor
If you have extra at the end
of the year and donít want to overwinter a
certain number, combining is easy by
killing off the less favored queen and placing
her hive on the better
are various ways to do that,
newspaper combines and the like. You
keep some hives as nucs and they can be used to
draw comb without feeding, or
keep queens in reserve.
Another thing you can do is use your bees to
make a little more money
or give gives or use them as trade. You
can do this by raising queens, selling nucs, or
selling packages or shook
swarms (packages with their original queen).
Maybe you donít want to ship or sell out
of town, but you can help your
friends and neighbors get started. Form
small cooperatives where you can rely upon your
neighbors to provide you a
frame of brood to restart a hive with a missing
queen, or market your honey
together. Some municipalities (like the
city of Boulder, CO) limit the number of hives
you can keep on your property. By forming
a little cooperative you and your friends can
act like a larger scale beekeeper.
It would be fantastic if more beekeeping
associations were able to
provide the packages, queens, and nucs that
their members need without needing
to have them shipped in.
members were able to provide even limited
numbers, it would be enough to get
their friends started or help associates sustain
their hives and replace their
The focus needs to be on
local production and adaptation rather than
buying bees seemingly Ďoff the
The ultimate goal is beekeepers whose bees donít
die in large numbers
and who have a strong support group to help them
grow and learn how to keep
bees without resorting to medicating them or
expending large amounts of energy
trying to keep them alive. They
stay alive on their own and leave you the
beekeeper to do the things you
started beekeeping to do.