Miller Alaska Maneuver
                                                              aka
                                                     Tom's System

                                             Tom Elliott and Deb Luper

What is the idea?

What is involved is making a split at the beginning of the nectar flow.  This accomplishes several things.  It virtually
(actually in my experience) eliminated swarming.  I have never had a swarm using this system.  It maximizes honey
production and virtually eliminates brood in all honey frames.  Results in a nucleus colony which can be used for a
couple purposes.  Results in a new queen in each colony treated.  And it seems to eliminate varroa mite problems.  
I will touch on each of these areas.

What exactly do I do?

Four weeks before the date of the honey harvest, I go into each colony and remove the queen with two frames of
brood.  It is important that some eggs be left in the parent colony for the raising of a new queen.  

As far as the original colony is concerned this amounts to a swarm.  They will not have a queen laying and thus no
new brood.  They will raise a new queen using some of the eggs I pointed out must be left in the brood nest.  To
ensure a good quality queen (as much as anything like that can be ensured) it is important to go back into the
parent hive on the fourth day and carefully remove sealed queen cells.  Leave unsealed cells to produce the new
queen.  

It is important to remove the sealed cells because any queen cells already sealed before the fifth day will have been
produced with larvae a day old, and may well result in inter-caste queens.  That is queens that have started out life
to be a worker and were switched after a day or so to be fed as a queen.  These queens will usually be of a lower
quality than a larvae that was fed as a queen (with royal jelly) from the beginning.  This is why you will often read that
emergency queens are not desirable.  The bees want a queen as soon as they can get one so they will often use
larvae that are older than the ideal.  

It is still possible with several queen cells to have a colony throw a swarm.  This danger can be greatly reduced
(eliminated in my experience) by returning a week after cutting out sealed cells and carefully removing all but a
couple of the biggest cells(and my reading suggests a rough surface is a good indicator as well) being careful not
to damage or jostle the ones you leave.  Swarming is thus eliminated.

Now the parent colony has a queen cell and considers itself queen right.  It will thus continue to gather nectar and
make honey.  Now since there are no new babies to feed, all the nectar will be used for honey production.  These
new babies not being hatched are bees that would never be old enough to serve as collectors before the flow ends.  
These are often called “welfare bees.”  In addition the elimination of what we have called “welfare bees” the younger
workers will graduate to the field at an earlier age thereby increasing the collection of nectar and pollen.  This all
adds up to a larger honey crop than would have been gathered otherwise.  Maximized honey crop is thus obtained.

Now over a period of three weeks all the brood will have hatched and the combs will be ready to hold honey.  Since
it will take about a month for a newly hatched queen to begin laying there will be no brood to worry about in your
honey harvest.  If you wait to harvest in hopes of getting a little more honey you may well have a little brood
appearing.  It should all be in the bottom box so there is still a minimal impact of brood in the hive.

We have discussed elimination of swarming, maximizing the honey crop, and the elimination of brood in the honey
frames.

There is now a nuc to be considered.  This small colony will build up as you feed it – and since it has a very small
foraging population you should be feeding it from the beginning.  I use inverted quart jars, or nut jars, with a number
of small holes in the lid inverted over the brood nest.  A pollen supplement patty might be in order as well.  Since I
am normally trying to stimulate brood I use a 1:1 sugar syrup – or slightly stronger (I don't actually measure).  By the
end of August, or shortly thereafter you will have a new full sized colony.  You have doubled your stock, but that is
only useful if you can winter your colonies successfully.  

I have normally used my nucs for introducing new queens.  A nuc will much more readily accept a queen than a full
sized colony.  I purchase queens which I hope will produce good wintering stock.   Before the start of the
introduction the laying queen must be removed.  There must be no queen and no queen cells.  No colony will accept
a queen unless it considers itself queenless.   Once the new colony has begun to build up and the honey crop has
been gathered, I will combine the two colonies.  For me this is the beginning of August.  Before combining the new
queen the original colony has raised will have to be removed. So there we have two possible uses for the new nuc
as promised.

One question arises about the location of the new nucs.  I routinely place my nucs beside the parent colony..  Won't
the workers all return to their original home?  Not in my experience.  Remember the two frames we used to form the
nucs were brood frames.  The workers (nurse bees) have never been out of the hive and so do not know the way
home.  They will stay with the queen unless there is something else going on besides what we have discussed.

One last thing accomplished by this maneuver is varroa control.  It seems that when there is no brood in the old
colony the varroa decline since they can not reproduce.  The nuc is building up rapidly and is able to keep ahead of
the mites.  When I first began using this system varroa control never even entered my mind.  I was simply arranging
to requeen my colonies with winter hardy queens.  But, since using it I have had colonies survive multiple years with
no varroa problems.  One colony survived through seven winters and never showed any varroa symptoms.  I never
saw more than two mites with a 48 hour natural drop over a sticky board.  Was I onto something here?  I read an
article by Mel Disselkoen in the July, 2010 issue of “Bee Culture” which suggested that I might be.  [I can send you a
PDF copy of the article if you are interested  (contact beeman@gci.net).   According to the author “These colonies
survived because the mites were reduced to a minimum by the pause in brood rearing in the same way that
Africanized bees survive the mite and increase via frequent swarming.”  I don't know if this is the real explanation
but resulting resistance to varroa appears to be real.  It has long been known that a break in brood rearing gives
some protection against bee diseases, so this may be part of the same protection.

Recap

Beginning with a strong colony beginning the nectar flow two brood frames with the original queen will be moved to
a nucleus box (nuc) next to the original hive.  (you can actually put your nuc anywhere you like.)  Ideally your nuc
equipment would consist of all drawn comb, but some foundation will be acceptable as the new colony grows.   
Since your new colony will be quite weak a greatly reduced entrance should be used.  What ever you use for a hive
stand, as well as all your equipment should be set up before you begin.

Set your nuc box, I use a standard deep box, on your stand next to the parent colony.  

Remove several frames from the center of the box to leave room for your new nuc colony.

Begin with what  amounts to a hive check.  When you locate the queen place her along with 2 or 3 frames of brood
into the space provided in the center of your nuc.  Add any extra frames removed to the outside of the brood nest in
the nuc box.

Remember that is is extremely important that there be eggs left behind in the parent colony.  Only if the parent
colony is queen right will they continue to forage and prepare your harvest and for winter if you are wintering.

Place these two or three frames of brood along with the queen in the empty space and carefully move the
surrounding frames into place.  Add the frames you removed to begin with on the outside of the new brood nest.  Be
sure that there were eggs left in the parent hive for the production of a new queen.  I keep repeating that as it is
essential.   Now close up the nuc having put your sugar syrup feeder on.   I have never bothered but a pollen
supplement patty would not be out of place now.  Reduce the entrance to the nuc to the smallest opening on your
reducer, around an inch.

Now replace the frames you removed from the parent colony with drawn combs or foundation and close up the
parent hive.  There will be a bit of extra activity around the parent hive for the first day.  Very quickly the colony will
begin raising their new queen and normal activities will resume.  Keep an eye on the syrup level on the nuc.
Click link to view or print  pdf
Copyright © SABA 2007 - All rights reserved
Southcentral Alaska Beekeepers Association
Home   |   Site Map   |   SABA Officers   |   Meetings   |   Membership