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.

Screened & Solid Bottom Boards

I added a home made screened bottom board (SBB) to the hive on the left today. The hive on the right has a normal solid bottom board. I took the photo around 8:00pm (about five minutes ago) after a hot day.

Screened bottom board hive on the left. Regular bottom board on the right. (August 20th, 2011.)

It could be a coincidence, but if I were to judge only from the photo, I’d say the bees on the right live a hot and humid hive and the bees on the left are chillin’. I wish I had the materials to build a SBB for the hive on the right.

See the Hive Humidity post for more info on all this ventilation business. I’ve seen in the past week how vital ventilation is to a healthy hive. I wish I’d hopped on that train from day one.

Earwigs in the Hive

Just for the record, August in earwig month in Newfoundland. More and more of them are showing up under the top covers of my hives.

February 2019 Postscript: Earwigs are creepy and gross and I flick them out the hives when I see them, but they don’t hurt the bees.

Hive Humidity Video

This kind of humidity probably wouldn’t be an issue if I could find a screened bottom board or a screened inner cover somewhere. Or I suppose I could try to build one.

Imagine how difficult it is to dry honey inside such a humid hive. My ventilation rim helps, but a screened bottom board would probably help out even more.

UPDATE: The ventilation rims pull moisture from the hive by allowing an air current to flow over the inner cover hole. But as you can see in the video, humidity can still build up inside the hive underneath the inner cover. So here’s a little something I do with my hives when I know we’re in for some sunny days:

Popsicle stick ventilation aid. (August 17, 2011.)

I pry up the inner covers just a bit and slide Popsicle sticks through the corners of the hive. This allows more hot air and humidity trapped under the inner cover to escape, yet the crack is small enough to prevent predatory insects like wasps from getting in. Another simple, cheap and effective beekeeping tip brought to by the good folks at Mud Songs.

August 20th, 2011: I put my hand in front of the entrances of all the hives today, no entrance reducers on the hives, and I could feel the humidity pumping out of every one of them. I’m convinced now that all my Langstroth hives in St. John’s, Newfoundland, maybe even my nucs, would benefit from as much ventilation as possible at least during the month of August. That means: 1) Screened bottom board, 2) Ventilated inner cover, 3) Ventilation rim. Those three together would be dynamite. Add to it a slatted rack and follower boards (aka dummy boards) and the hives will be boiling over with healthy bees and tons of honey. That’s my best guess, anyway.

February 2019 Postscript: I don’t use slatted racks because I don’t have the carpentry skills to make them and I can’t affordably buy them from any commercial supplier. I’d use one if I had one, but I’ve gone almost nine years without using slatted racks and I’m doing alright, so…?

I don’t use screened inner covers, though I sometimes add empty moisture quilts to my hives during extreme heat spells.

I’ve used commercially manufactured screened bottom boards and my own homemade junky looking screened bottom boards. Honestly, the ones I made from scrap wood worked just as well, if not better. The bees don’t care. I only have two or three of them banging around, so most of my hives do fine without them. But they help keep the hives dry, even in the winter, though I don’t have enough experience to have the most informed opinion about that.

(Note: Screened bottom boards in Newfoundland aren’t used for mite counts because the island of Newfoundland doesn’t have Varroa mites. We’ll have them someday because the measures in place to prevent them from getting on the island are not adequate, especially considering that honey bees in Newfoundland have never had Varroa and all the diseases that come with it and are probably the healthiest honey bees on planet Earth. But as of February 25th, 2019, Varroa hasn’t yet made its way to Newfoundland. When it does, that’s the day I quit.)

I pretty much just use ventilation rims and moisture quilts for ventilation, a nearly identical configuration to the D.E. Hive, and that seems to work well for me most of the time.

I just remembered that I also stick hive tools and one-dollar coins underneath my inner covers just like I do with Popsicle sticks to provide a little extra ventilation from time to time.

Beekeeping for Honey, or Beekeeping for Bees?

It’s February 2019 as I revisit this post from 2011 — and I’ve deleted the whole thing except for two photos. The original title of this post was, “Still No Honey.”

This was my second summer of beekeeping and I wanted some payback for all the work I’d put into keeping my bees alive. I wanted some honey. I was midway through August and still saw no signs of my bees making honey. I always tell people that honey isn’t the reason I keep bees. It isn’t. But… if I wasn’t able to get a taste of honey at all, ever, I wouldn’t put nearly as much work into beekeeping as I do.

Let’s pause this thought for a minute and talk about keeping bees just for the sake of keeping bees. If that’s all I wanted to do, I’d do everything I normally do to build a colony up from a nuc so that it would survive its first winter. If the colony was weak, I’d give it sugar and pollen patties in late winter, early spring, to give it a boost, etc. — all the standard stuff most first year beekeepers have to do on the island of Newfoundland.

Fresh comb in Hive #1’s honey super. (August 12, 2011.)

But instead of concerning myself with harvesting honey, I’d add a third deep in the late spring and simply manage the hive as a 3-deep hive. An established healthy honey bee colony living in a 3-deep hive should be able to make enough honey for itself so that it doesn’t need syrup or sugar feeding to get through the winter. The space of 3 deeps should provide enough room for it to build up in the spring without much risk of swarming. Ideally, it would be a self-sustaining and self-regulating honey bee colony, producing enough honey to survive the winter on its own and having enough space to expand in the spring with little risk of swarming.

And by ideally I mean it’ll never work out that way. It would still require some heavy lifting by an attentive beekeeper to keep the bees alive from time to time. For instance, emergency feeding when necessary; splitting the hive or adding deeps if the population gets out of control. But overall, I imagine it would be easier to manage than a regular 2-deep Langstroth hive that’s being pushed to make as much honey as possible.

But back to wanting a honey harvest when the bees don’t want to make honey. It can’t be forced. Or it can be, but is that a good idea? In my experience, bees working off foundationless frames take longer to fill up a medium honey super. That makes sense. Even if the honey super frames are full of foundation, it might still take a while for the bees to build comb and then make surplus honey. The best situation is usually when the honey super already has drawn comb in it. The bees clean up the comb and then get to work making honey in no time. The smell of the empty comb stimulates them and signals to them that they have space upstairs to store some honey.

But even then, they still won’t do anything in the honey super until they’re ready. Like all of Mother Nature’s wonderful creations, honey bees have evolved to be extremely efficient. The bees won’t expand unless they have to. If they already have plenty of room to store honey, they’ll just stay where they are. But once the population expands and there’s not enough room for all the bees and not enough honey for them, then (generally speaking) they’ll move upstairs and go to work on the honey supers.

Most of my attempts at pushing the bees to make surplus honey when they weren’t ready for it didn’t turn out so well. Reducing the whole hive to a single deep, for instance, and giving them only honey supers up top can work. But it usually requires feeding the bees buckets of syrup afterwards so they have enough stores to survive the winter. So essentially I take all their honey and replace it with expensive sugar syrup that isn’t nearly as good for them. Commercial beekeepers do that all the time because otherwise they go broke, but as a backyard beekeeper, I just don’t feel the need to push my beekeeping to that level.

When I want my bees to make surplus honey, I add a honey super. Then I wait.

To answer the question, do I keep bees for the bees or for the honey? A bit of both, really.

Homemade Bottom Board

I made this bottom board from scrap wood I found in my shed today:

Bottom boards made from scrap lumber. I’m so proud of myself. (August 12, 2011.)

I cut the thick plywood 16.5 inches wide (about 42cm) and 2 feet long (70cm). The brace wood, if you want to call it that, was the same dimensions as a super, 20 inches by about 15 inches, something like that. The hive entrance (once a hive is placed on top) is about 1 and a quarter inches high, which is fine. It’s not pretty but the bees don’t care about pretty. I think it’ll work. I’ll post a photo of it in a day or two when I put a hive on top of it. I should have been making these all along. It’s way cheaper than ordering them from a supplier and having them shipped here. If you had to pay for the raw material, though, I’m guessing it would be less than $5.

February 9th, 2013: This bottom board has worked out fine. It’s ugly and half rotted now, but the bees don’t seem to care. Today I would use thick plywood instead of chipboard, and I’d paint it, but there’s nothing wrong with getting by with one made from cheap scrap wood.

January 20th, 2015: Don’t lay this flat-bottom bottom board on a pallet or any kind of flat surface (like a pallet), if that makes sense. The wood can easily become moist, and you don’t want moisture in the hive. You want the hive off the ground, but preferably with something that makes minimal contact with the bottom board. And by “you,” I mean me.

Improving Ventilation in a Langstroth Hive with the Patented World-Famous Mud Songs Ventilation Rim™

I’ve since converted all of my fabulously patented ventilation rims into moisture quilts. See the updates at the end for more details. And of course I’m joking about the trademark… and the patent. A fun update: It’s 2021 and I’m still using the same rim, the act one shown in this post, though I don’t use moisture quilts as much as I used to.

I made some improvements to the design of my ventilation rim (also known as a ventilation eke; also known as a vent box; also known as a whole bunch of other things because beekeepers are the worst for settling on a single name for one thing). It’s still cheap and easy to make and should do a fine job at improving the ventilation of any Langstroth-type hive. First, I cut four pieces of wood for the front, back and sides of the rim. Here’s a shot of the side pieces:

Side pieces for the ventilation rim.


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HAL-9000 Bee Yard

Here’s the HAL-9000 view of my “bee yard” (a.k.a. my “backyard”).

My two latest nucs are on the far right. It’s a tight squeeze.

UPDATE: See the comments (from Rusty Burlew of HoneyBeeSuite.com) for information on how ventilation rims work.

February 2019: Here’s another view that shows how crowded my neighbourhood was and how small my backyard was when I first started beekeeping:

This was close to downtown St. John’s, just up the hill from St. Clare’s Hospital for those who know the area.