Building Up a Honey Bee Colony From a Nuc (in Newfoundland)

The following was completely rewritten in March 2019.

To build up a honey bee colony in Newfoundland from 4-frame nuc in July (nucleus hives usually become available around mid-July), I feed it sugar syrup and I don’t stop feeding it until the end of October when it’s too cold for the bees to take down any more syrup. I just keep feeding sugar syrup until the bees fill all the frames of the first deep. Then I add a second deep and continue to feed until they’ve filled all the frames of the second deep. It’s unlikely that all the frames will be fully drawn out even at the end of October. But the key is to feed them sugar syrup and never let the feeders run dry. That’s basically it.

Here’s video I made in 2016 that shows exactly what a typical nuc from Newfoundland looks like and how I install a nuc into a standard deep.


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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.

High Humidity and Bearding

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

Bees bearding after a hot humid night. (August 30, 2011.)

That’s the bees in one of my hives 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.) 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.

From what Rusty Burlew tells me, bearding is a behaviour that’s triggered by excessive heat or humidity, which is made worse by over-crowding and a lack of ventilation inside the hive. The bees leave the hive because it’s cooler outside. You can read more about bearding at Honey Bee Suite.

The hive already has a screened inner cover and a ventilation rim to help with ventilation, but it looks like it could use a screened bottom board too. I’m building one today and hope to have it installed soon. My foundationless hive has a screened bottom board and it looked like this at the same time Hive #1 was bearding this morning.

Bees with a screened bottom board not bearding so much after a hot humid night. (August 30, 2011.)

March 2019 Postscript: For the casual joe just poking around the internet for neat looking beekeeping photos, the ones in this post might not seem like much, but as a guy who’s been experimenting with beehives for almost ten years now, I’m intrigued by my early-beekeeping powers of observation, especially when they uncover things like this. I haven’t messed around with screened bottom boards for two or three years now. My homemade ones were left outside one winter and rotted into mush and I haven’t used them since. But now I’m wondering if I should try them again. The photos in this post and others I’ve uploaded show a significant difference between hives that have screened bottom boards and ones that don’t. I’m thinking I might get a small mirror that I can place in front of a bottom hive entrance and if the mirror fogs up, then it might be a sign that the hive could use a screened bottom board, or least some extra ventilation of some sort. Interesting.

Nucs Bursting at The Seams

I 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 I 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 I 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

I made a mistake with the follower boards I installed in one of my nucs a few weeks ago. The follower boards (a.k.a. dummy boards) were installed on the bottom box. Then I 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. I cleaned it up and it wasn’t a disaster. And now I know: If I’m going to use follower boards, I need to use them in both boxes right from the start.

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

Refilling a Frame Feeder

March 2019 Introduction: This simple modification for a frame feeder is a stroke of genius. (Yes, I’m patting myself on the back for this one.) I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes standard with frame feeders some day because it works so well at preventing bee deaths and it’s easier than pouring syrup down a bee ladder that’s packed with bees.

I had to refill a frame feeder in one of my young 2-deep hives today and decided on the spot to record a demonstration video that could have been titled How To Refill a Frame Feeder, but isn’t. Here are some pics and then a video at the end. Here I am pouring in the syrup:


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Adding a Second Honey Super

Well, it looks like I’m going to get some honey this year after all, at least from one of my 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. I 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 I 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

March 2019 Introduction: I would much rather delete this post because I really go off on giving advice like I know what I’m talking about when I just didn’t have the experience to back it up. However, I’ll keep the post up as a record of the kind of over-thinking my brain was into after a year of beekeeping. I could rewrite the whole post, but I already did that in a previous post, Inspecting and Moving a Hive. That one is probably more informative than anything I could have written in 2011.

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

The numbered squares represent hives. I 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 I waited at least three days between moves.
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Screened Inner Covers = Good View of The Hive

I’m in love with all the ventilation aids I’ve added to my hives lately. Judging only from preliminary observations, I’d say the screened bottom board is #1 on my Gotta Have ‘Em list. The ventilation rim ain’t too shabby either. But the one I love the most, purely for the This Is So Cool factor, is the screened inner cover. It provides a handy view of the hive that doesn’t require tearing the hive apart or wearing any protective clothing. Check it out:

The view of Hive #1 through the screened inner cover. (August 21, 2011.)

This is just a prototype. Screen with a wider mesh might be more ideal, but still… I’ve watched the bees quickly fill this honey super since I added the screened inner cover not too long ago, and it’s great to be able to just pull the top off the hive and look down through the screen and observe what’s going on without disturbing the bees. This is exactly the kind of thing many first time beekeepers would love, because you know they’re looking for any excuse to poke around inside the hive to see what’s happening. And it’s good for the bees, so why not?

I don’t see harm in any of these ventilation aids for my hives in St. John’s, Newfoundland, at least during the peak of summer. I’m not sure I’ll stick with them over the winter months, though.

February 2019 Postscript: I don’t use screened inner covers anymore, but I do remove the regular inner covers from my hives sometimes when it’s really hot, placing an empty moisture quilt on top, which is basically the same thing. Full-on ventilation with a view of the bees through the screen. I don’t do that when it’s cold at night, though.