Fall Honey on The Way

Hive #1, our pride and joy, seems well on its way to filling a second honey super. Here’s a quiet little video recorded through a screened inner cover that shows the bees crowded on the frames in the honey super filling them up with nectar on the way to becoming honey.

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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.

Frame of honey from one of our nucs. (August 28, 2011.)

Frame of honey from one of our nucs. (August 28, 2011.)

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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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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Four Hives in a Row

We moved Hive #1 to its final location today. Here’s a photo of all our hives in a row shortly after the move.

We did a full inspection of the hive too. Most of the top box was full of honey with a few frames of brood in the middle. We pulled one frame of honey and replaced it with a frame of foundation. The bees will draw out the comb on the foundation and use it either for brood or honey, whichever they need most, I suppose. The bottom box was full of brood frames at various stages, and it’s all looking good. We pulled the last foundationless frame (with drone comb on it, of course) up into the top box so we can conveniently migrate it to the designated foundationless hive, Hive #1, as soon as we have a chance. We’ll probably extract the honey from the pulled frame, because, well, it’s likely to be the only honey we get this year, so we’re going for it, honey super be damned. I’ll post a video soon that shows exactly what’s involved in moving a hive. It’s a wacky bunch of fun. You’ll love it.

Knocking It Down to One Foundationless Hive

ADDENDUM (March 31/14): I’ve changed my tune. As much I love honey, it’s not my main reason for keeping honey bees. I like being around the bees and watching them all the time, getting my nose inside the hive whenever I can to see how they’re all getting along. And that’s a whole lot more fun with foundationless frames because you can watch the comb get bigger and bigger as the bees hang from the frames in chains and gradually build comb naturally with no help from plastic foundation. It’ll take the bees three or four times longer to build and then fill the comb, but if you’re into beekeeper to watch and learn and absorb calmness from the bees, foundationless beekeeping may be the way to go.

Foundationless beekeeping is turning out to be less successful than I’d hoped. Foundationless hives require considerably more resources to thrive than conventional hives with foundation, and those resources are not consistently available in St. John’s, Newfoundland, given our cold wet springs and short summers. I was recently informed that the foundationless hives can survive in Newfoundland, but they will likely take two years to establish themselves in our cold climate before I can harvest any honey from them. I wouldn’t have bothered with foundationless hives had I known that from the start. As much as I like the idea of going all-natural, I want some honey too.
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Foundationless Beekeeping Doesn’t Always Work

I had time to inspect our hives today for the first time in about three or four weeks. It’s the first time in June we’ve had some half decent weather on the weekend. Anyway…

There is no chance of either of our colonies swarming, or building into a honey super any time soon. Not by a long shot. I inspected our hives today and both are weak. The combination of about 40 days of drizzle and cold and thousands of drones from the foundationless frames eating up all the hives’ resources has weakened the colonies.

One hive is overloaded with drones and drone comb, a little bit of worker brood, some pollen and virtually zero honey stores.

The other hive has more worker brood and more honey, but we found several frames with waxed foundation that have barely been touched.

These bees are starving.
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It’s a Boy! (x 1,000)

Well, we inspected Hive #1 today because we were concerned about swarming. We found a few queen cells cups, but also plenty of empty cells for the queen to keep laying. I don’t think the colony is at risk of swarming. It does, however, seem to be overrun by drones. This frame containing both capped worker brood and drone brood was one of the better looking frames — because it wasn’t filled entirely with drones:

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