Dead Bees and High & Low Clusters

More dead bees are showing up on the bottom of the foundationless hive, enough to nearly clog the entire bottom entrance. (I first noticed the dead bees on December 22nd.) Most of the them appear to be drones.

Are drones fed like the queen, or can they access and eat honey on their own? I don’t remember. If they rely on the workers to be fed, then my guess is they’re deliberately being starved out of the hive. I’m surprised so many are still around.

I’ve also noticed that the bees in the foundationless hive are clustering heavily in the bottom box. This is what the edge of the cluster looked like a few days ago during the Dry Sugar Feeding (I fed them even though I don’t think they’re running low on honey):

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Nucs: How We Raised ‘Em Well


Before I say anything, here’s a 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.

In the video, I use plastic foundation with a hole drilled in the middle so that the bees can move between frames in the winter without having to break cluster. This was an experiment for me at the time — and it works. The bees build comb on the foundation like they normally would and fill in most of the hole while they’re at it. But they leave enough room to walk through the hole (“enough room” is often referred to as “bee space”). Drilling holes in the middle of all my foundation is one extra chore I need to do now, but it’s worth it if helps my bees get through the winter.

To build up a honey bee colony in Newfoundland from 4-frame nuc in July, I usually 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. Even then it’s unlikely that all the frames will be fully drawn out.

I’m not sure if it makes any difference how the sugar syrup is mixed. I’ve 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 seem to 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.

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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Discovering a Leaky Winter Hive

December 2018 Introduction: I’d like to delete this post or at least rewrite it and simplify it, but I’m leaving it alone because the comments are informative. Many of the comments during the first few years of this blog are informative. Things slowed down considerably after I was forced to move my hives because of unpleasant neighbours, but before that I was getting about 3,000 readers a day and discussions through comments were pretty consistent.

A leaky hive isn’t a huge concern. Most of what I thought of as leaks was probably condensation building up inside the hive because I had everything sealed with duct tape. It’s not a huge problem to find a few cracks between the inner cover and the top deep. The cracks at the top of the hive provide a little extra ventilation.

Today I don’t bother with insulated inner covers. I add a rim over the top deep to make room for sugar bricks and I put a piece of hard insulation over the inner cover. If I find moisture inside the hives, I create some extra ventilation by adding moisture quilts or some sort of ventilation box on top.

This post was written during my first winter when I thought pollen feeding was necessary, but it isn’t necessary. Pollen can help boost up a weak colony, but I’m not sure a healthy colony needs pollen early in the winter, keeping in mind that pollen stimulates the queen the lay more, which means more bees that need more sugar and honey, which means once I start feeding pollen, I have to be ready to keep feeding sugar and then sugar syrup so all the newly emerging bees don’t starve. And that’s all fine for saving a weak colony, but healthy colonies that are artificially stimulated to expand through pollen feeding can expand so rapidly that swarming can occur as early as May (which I have experienced). Which is fine if I’m ready to deal with swarms or create splits before the over-populated colonies swarm. But I have to monitor those colonies closely and make sure the queen doesn’t run out of room to lay. I also need equipment standing by so I can create those splits quickly or catch a swarm if necessary. When the bees shift into swarming-mode, they don’t mess around. It becomes their #1 priority. They act fast. Anyway, here’s the original post from 2011:

It went up to 2°C today and a few bees were flying around, so I quickly opened each hive and gave them what I have decided is absolutely their last feeding for the winter. I got it all on video but was by myself and didn’t have time to take any careful photos. All I got was this — Hive #1 after adding another candy cake and another pound of pollen patties:

Hive #1 after adding final pollen patty (March 29, 2011).

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My First Time Adding Pollen Patties

It’s December 2018 as I revisit this post from 2011. I’ve deleted the entire post except for the original video and a few photos. Here’s the video and then I’ll tell you what happened.

That is an excellent video, by the way. It’s an accurate record of what a starving colony tends to look like with all the bees clustering over the top bars. Anyhow…
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