Nucs: How We Raised ‘Em Well

PREFACE – SEPTEMBER 21, 2015: I originally wrote this post after only a year of beekeeping with less than four hives. That’s not much experience. If I rewrote this post today, it would go something like this: To build up a honey bee colony in Newfoundland from 4-frame nuc in July, I usually feed it sugar syrup and don’t stop feeding it until the end of October when it’s too cold for the bees to take down any more syrup. Even then it’s unlikely that all the frames will be fully drawn out. I don’t think it makes any difference how the sugar syrup is mixed. I always use thick syrup, but many people use a thin syrup early in the year and a thicker syrup near the fall. I use frame feeders, but as long as insert feeders aren’t used, most feeders will do the trick. I insert an empty frame between frames of brood every 8 or 10 days to help expand the brood nest. I add a second deep box once the bees have filled 7 or 8 frames (it takes about 4 weeks). I move a frame or two of brood from the middle of the brood nest to the top box at the same time (some call this pyramiding). A single-deep colony doesn’t need much ventilation except for an upper entrance. Too much ventilation while the brood nest is small can chill the brood. I’ll put a ventilation rim over the inner cover after the second deep is added, but I don’t think it’s a huge concern unless I see excessive fanning. Ventilation is more crucial in the winter and with fully established colonies packed with bees. I continue to feed and insert empty frames until the end of October (usually). If the bees fill all the frames in the top box with honey / syrup, I’ll pull a capped frame and insert an empty frame into the middle. Capped frames of honey / syrup can be added back to the hive later. Some people don’t feed a nuc pollen patties. Some people do. I feed pollen patties for the first couple weeks when the small colony doesn’t have many foragers, and whenever the bees are hive-bound because of bad weather. I keep the bottom entrance reduced to a couple of inches until I see the bees crowding the entrance, usually sometime in August. I’ll reduce the entrance again if I see too many wasps or robbing bees trying to get in. That’s about it. I’ll write a more details post sometime in the future. Now onto my original post…

I mentioned in a previous post that this year’s nucs are way ahead of the nucs we had last year. (I call them nucs even though they’re living in full sized hives. They’re young colonies that aren’t yet strong enough to make it through the winter. Until they get over that hump, for me, they’re still nucs.) Each of them had a frame feeder installed in the top box until a few days ago. We had to remove the feeders because there is so much honey in the top boxes of each hive that we’re concerned the queens could become honey bound. We even had to remove a frame of honey from one of them.

We filled in the remaining space with a couple of empty frames with plastic foundation. Hive #4 now has a full 20 frames. Hive #3 has 18 frames — nine frames along with two dummy boards in each box. Hopefully the empty frames we added will provide the queens with more laying room once the bees have drawn comb on them. We’re still giving the hives pollen patties, but we may not need to feed them syrup again while the weather is still warm. At the rate they’re expanding, we might even be able to add honey supers to them. Last year’s nucs didn’t even have all their frames drawn out by October, and if we hadn’t fed them candy cakes over the winter, they would have died from starvation. Why are this year’s nucs doing so well?
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Science Fiction Honey Comb

I scraped off a large amount of burr comb full of honey from one of our nucs during a hive inspection recently. I left it on top of the inner cover afterwards so the bees could eat up the honey. This is what the burr comb looked like a couple days later.

The bees took all the honey from the comb and then began working on the comb, sealing it to the wood and creating a set for a yet-to-be-produced science fiction film.

See more photos in the Science Fiction Honey Comb photo album.

High Humidity and Bearding

Yesterday was the hottest and most humid day of the summer, and the bees were feeling it big time.

That’s the bees in Hive #1 bearding outside the hive. (The Star Trek symbol is used as a distinctive homing marker for the bees. It probably doesn’t make any difference to them, but too bad. Here’s the same photo minus the Star Trek symbol.) The photo was taken around 7:30am this morning. They were bearding twice as much last night. It was about 30°C (86°F) when I went to bed around 10:30pm.
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Nucs Bursting at The Seams

We started up two hives from nucs around July 10th, and they’re doing so well, I’m concerned the queens may become honey bound. Here’s a frame from one of the nucs we inspected yesterday:

Most of the top box had frames just like this, 90% honey with a small patch of brood in the middle. Both of the young hives are filling their top boxes fast. Neither of the hives we started from nucs last year did this well. So what did we do differently this year?

I don’t have time to get into it now, so I’ll tell you about it in a future post. To be continued… in Nucs: How We Raised ‘Em Well.

Follower Board Mistake

We made a mistake with the follower boards we installed in one of our nucs a few weeks ago. The follower boards (a.k.a. dummy boards) were installed on the bottom box. Then we expanded the hive and added a second box. But the second box didn’t have follower boards. Follower boards shift the alignment of the frames so that they’re half a frame off the normal alignment. That means the frames in the second box were misaligned with the frames in the bottom box — which means there was an empty space above every top bar in the bottom box. The bees didn’t just build burr comb in that space. They built comb three or four inches high. It was a mess.

It doesn’t show up well in the photograph, but that burr comb is about four inches high. We cleaned it up and it wasn’t a disaster. And now we know: If you’re going to use follower boards, use them in both boxes right from the start.

Other than that, we haven’t had any problems with the follower boards. Both boxes in the hive have follower boards now, and the hive is booming.

Adding a Second Honey Super


Well, it looks like we’re going to get some honey this year after all, at least from one of our hives. I was led to believe that foundationless hives in the cold wet climate of St. John’s, Newfoundland — with its short, sometimes non-existent summers — wouldn’t produce extra honey for humans during the first year because much of the bees’ resources are funnelled into raising drones and then back-filling the drone comb before they have a chance to make extra honey in a honey super. So far that’s turned out to be true. We migrated all the foundationless frames into a single hive, Hive #2, and that hive hasn’t done much with its honey super. However, Hive #1, the hive that we transferred all the conventional frames in to, has filled its first honey super. Check out the video and I’ll tell you more about it later:

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How to Move a Hive


What follows is one way to move a Langstroth honey bee hive a short distance. Okay then… Here’s a rough map of our backyard:

The numbered squares represent hives. We moved Hive #1 to location 1a, gave the bees time to adjust to the new spot, then moved the hive to 1b, waited a few days again and then moved the hive to its final location at 1c. Each move was approximately 1 metre or 3 feet and we waited at least three days between moves. Essentially, that’s all you need to know for moving a hive a short distance. (There’s also a video at the bottom of this post.)
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