Well, I sold my old house and bought a new house outside the city where my bees shouldn’t bother anyone and today I packed up my first honey bee colony —
— and brought it home. It was a tiny two-frame colony that was nearly destroyed by pygmy shrews over the winter (more about that some other time). The queen has laid some fresh brood, but she’s slow moving and it doesn’t look good. I added two frames of solid brood with nurse bees from one of my other colonies, moved the whole works into a swarm trap, sealed it with duct tape, put it on the passenger seat of my car, drove it home and set it up with some frames of honey and pollen in a sheltered area next to my house.
I’ll gradually move my other two colonies, five or six frames at a time just like I moved this small colony today. I lost five out of eight colonies to shrews. This is the first time I’ve had less than four colonies since my first year of beekeeping and they’re all in hard shape. My goal for this summer is to bring them back to life. In other words, I’m starting all over again, just like a first-year beekeeper. Here we go…
Cutting to the chase: A frame feeder works just as well as a hive top feeder for anyone with easy access to their hives, especially with a modified frame feeder.
I created two nucs for a friend earlier this summer. He used a frame feeder to feed the bees sugar syrup all summer and now the bees in each hive have filled all the frames — minus two frames taken up by the frame feeder.
Question: How does he get the bees to work the final two frames with the frame feeder in the way? Answer: Leave the frame feeder in and just keep swapping out frames until the bees stop taking down syrup. Then remove the frame feeder and replace it with capped honey/syrup. Here’s the step-by-step answer:
• Keep the feeder where it is and let the bees go to work on the empty frame.
• When the new frame is full, pull another frame of syrup/honey and repeat the process until the bees stop taking down syrup.
• Make sure the feeder never goes empty.
If he’s lucky, he’ll have three or four extra frames of capped syrup/honey put aside at the end of it all.
• Remove the frame feeder and replace it with two frames of syrup/honey. Done.
Keep any extra frames of syrup-honey for emergency or spring feeding.
The fine print: Place empty frames between fully drawn frames. Shift frames around to make this happen if necessary. Pull two frames at a time if the bees are working fast and furious. You might as well insulate and wrap your hives for winter after this, because other than adding a mouse-proofing mesh, what else is there to do? Cancel that. You might want to add dry sugar before winter kicks in.
If you don’t own or don’t want to bother with a hive top feeder, you could feed your bees like this in the fall to top them up before the winter. You’d start by removing two frames of honey to make room for the frame feeder. Then you’d have to put them back once the bees were done taking down syrup. I haven’t tried it, but yeah… that could work.
Frame feeders aren’t practical for people with a large number of hives because they may need to be refilled more than once a week at the height of summer. But they’re perfect for new beekeepers because it gives them an excuse to look inside the hives and see what’s going on without disturbing the bees too much.
P.S.: The above method of topping up a hive or building up a nuc with a frame feeder may seem obvious. But the obvious is easily overlooked. How often have you heard a beekeeper say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” (I wrote this post because I didn’t think of it until someone suggested it to me.)
One of our honey bee colonies swarmed into a tree last week. We caught it and put it in a new hive with a small frame feeder and three frames of empty drawn comb so the queen could start laying right away. We checked on it yesterday and here’s a video that shows what we found (it’s doing well):
It’s not the greatest video, but it shows how things are working out for us since we moved the hives from our backyard to a place in the country. I won’t say exactly where we moved the hives, but anyone familiar with farms around St. John’s probably won’t have a hard time guessing correctly.
A couple notes about the video: 1) I got lazy with making my improvised ventilated inner covers. I came up with an equally effective but much easier to make version of the same thing at the 3:19 mark in the video. We haven’t tested it much yet, but I’ll write up a more detailed post for it later if it works. 2) The hived swarm probably doesn’t need two deeps just yet (and probably doesn’t need the extra ventilation), but swarms are known for building up fast. We gave them the extra hive box in case we can’t make it out next week. We’ll keep feeding the hive now just like we would with a nuc.
Continued on with Queen in a Hived Swarm.
Another book I read while stricken with the flu is Increase Essentials by Lawrence John Connor, a short and easy read that’s probably the definitive book on nucs — it’s comprehensive. It’s mainly about increasing hives by creating splits and nucleus colonies from established hives. Beginner beekeepers or backyard beekeepers who are happy with two or three hives don’t need to concern themselves with it. Laidback beekeepers who want to create nucs for themselves but don’t feel the need to earn a PhD while they’re at it can simply read Why every beekeeper should have a nuc at Honey Bee Suite. I didn’t read every single word of the book (I did some skimming), because I don’t need to know everything it covers just yet. But I do plan to expand our four hives to eight this summer, and continually expand every summer after that as I secure more land for our hives. That means I eventually need to learn the basics of creating nucs and rearing mated queens for the nucs. I’ll take on queen rearing next year. This year I’ll start with making my own nucs.
Most of the following notes (and there aren’t too many) address swarming and queen mating issues. To delve into the main details of the book would take too long. Suffice it to say there is a huge amount of information in this small book, and it all seems sound. I know I will constantly reference Increase Essentials when I decide to create mating nucs and expand our hives further next year.
Read on . . . »
We have four Langstroth hives in our backyard. Each hive consists of two deep supers (or boxes). Our plan is to expand up to a maximum of eight hives this year by splitting the hives we already have. We’re hoping the population of all four hives will explode to fill three deeps per hive by sometime in June, and if that happens, I think we might be able to reach our goal of eight hives and still get a half decent honey harvest from at least two of the hives. We’d be happy with that.
It should go without saying that our plan is likely to have little resemblance to what actually happens. The bees will not always do what we want them to do, and we’ll just have to deal with it. But beyond the basic notion of expanding up to eight hives, we’re not planning to do anything too complicated because things will get complicated enough on their own.
Read on . . . »
Here’s a short uneventful video I took of the hives today where I mistakenly refer to Hive #2 as Hive #1. (I need to paint numbers on the damn things.)
And now here’s a quick review of the 4 hives in our backyard as they stand today:
Read on . . . »
THE FOLLOWING HAS BEEN UPDATED SINCE ORIGINALLY POSTED.
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?
Read on . . . »
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.
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.