A Beginners Guide to Essential BeeKeeping Equipment

This post has been previously published on Cookevillebeekeepers.com but contains seasonally relevant information.

Honey bees are cavity nesters, and they will make their home inside of all kinds of things – hollow trees, walls, empty oil drums, water meter boxes – almost any enclosed space that they can get into.  And through history (and even today) people have used all kinds of bee hives.

However, in TN – and most other states – beekeepers are required to use hives that allow full inspections of the colony. “All hive equipment should be of the modern Langstroth type with hanging, movable frames…”  However, Mike Studer the TN state Apiarist says “Top bar hives are legal in Tennessee as long as you can remove the frames to inspect for pests and diseases. Actually, Honey bees can be kept in any type of structure or configuration as long as the frames can be removed for inspection…”

But, this article is only about Langstroth style equipment – the recommended type for new beekeepers.

A typical Langstroth hive

A typical Langstroth hive – note that the top super shows a special comb honey “Ross Round” frame – which is not all that typical.

Langstroth type hives – named for L.L. Langstroth the American clergyman who invented the design – are the box shaped hives that we are all familiar with.  The basic principal behind the design is that bees will fill up large spaces with comb, and small spaces with propolis, but will mostly not fill spaces that are just large enough for them to crawl through – between 1/4 and 3/8 of an inch.  So to prevent the bees from gluing everything together into a solid mass of wax and propolis the Langstroth hive is designed to maintain that “bee space” between all of the parts.  Some “burr comb” will still be deposited in places, and they will use propolis to glue everything together somewhat, but in general none of that will be too much of a problem in a properly designed hive that doesn’t violate bee space.

Hive Bodies and Supers

The standard Langstroth hive body will hold 10 frames of comb.  Some bee keepers are using 8 frame equipment because it is 20 percent lighter than equivalent 10 frame equipment, but most professional beekeepers use 10 frame equipment.  An extremely small number of beekeepers use hives that hold more than 10 frames.  Whatever you do it is highly recommended that you plan to stick with one configuration for the foreseeable future so that your equipment will be interchangeable as your apiary develops.

There are basically 3 standard depths for hive bodies – deep, medium and shallow.  In the past most beekeepers used “deeps” to contain the brood nest – the area where the queen lays eggs and brood develops – usually the boxes at the bottom of the stack.  And when it came time for the bees to store honey “shallows” were used as honey “supers” – super just means that you put it on top of the hive instead of on the bottom.  Mediums – sometimes referred to as “Illinois” – when used at all could be used for either brood or honey.  Some beekeepers with really strong backs – or hired help – use deeps for everything.  But be aware that a deep hive body full of honey can weigh almost 100 pounds, and can be on top of a stack higher than your head – most hobbyists don’t want to deal with that.

The different depths have corresponding non-interchangeable frame and foundation sizes.  The frames, foundation, and hive bodies all have to match and because of minor manufacturing differences it is recommended that you get all of these from the same supplier.

Keeping it Simple – All Mediums

In recent years there has been a trend for non-commercial beekeepers to use all medium depth hive bodies – for several reasons:

  • Standardization – having one size for everything makes it much easier to grow your apiary because drawn comb can be used for any purpose that you want, and you only have the one size for spares.
  • Weight – a 10 frame medium full of honey weighs about 55 pounds whereas a deep weighs more like 95.

These reasons are so compelling that many beekeepers are actually going to the trouble and expense of converting their equipment to all mediums.

Hive Body/Super – What’s the difference?

Until recently most bee keepers used 1-2 deep boxes and frames on the bottom of the stack for brood – the queen was kept in these lower boxes with a queen excluder.  These boxes would often be called brood boxes.  Then they would used shallow boxes above the queen excluder for the bees to store honey – that way there was never any brood in the honey boxes – these boxes were called supers or honey supers.  Super actually just means on top.

Any size box that you use below a queen excluder is a brood box, any box that is above an excluder is a honey super.  But “old timers”  (no offense) often are referring specifically to deeps and shallows when they use those terms.

Any box is a hive body.

Queen Excluders

A queen excluder is a device which has holes or slots in it which are large enough for worker bees to go through, but too small for a queen to go through.  The main purpose of an excluder is to keep the queen from laying eggs in honey supers.

Worker Bees don’t seem to like to go through an excluder unless they Really have to.  As long as there is any room at all left for them to work below the excluder they probably won’t go through one – especially if there is not any drawn comb on the other side.  In other words it’s hard to get them to build comb on the other side of a queen excluder – very hard if there isn’t ANY drawn comb already above the excluder.

Some people don’t use excluders, but just about all professional bee keepers do.  If it’s your first year keeping bees you probably don’t need to use an excluder because you won’t be making a lot of honey anyway. So for your first year a queen excluder is not essential.

Bottom Boards

The hive bodies sit directly on the bottom board which acts as the entrance for the bees. In the past solid bottom boards were standard equipment, but in recent years screened bottom boards have become very popular, because they improve ventilation and they allow varroa mites to fall through to the ground instead of staying in the hive to crawl back onto your bees.   If you use a screened bottom board you should get one which can be closed if needed – most can.

You will also need an entrance reducer/mouse guard to go with your bottom board.

Hive Covers

telescoping bee hive cover

Telescoping Cover


migratory bee hive cover

There are 2 popular styles of hive covers – “migratory” and “telescoping”.  Telescoping covers extend past and down onto the hive bodies on all four sides while migratory covers only overhang the hives on the front and back and are flush on the sides.  Telescoping covers are more secure from wind and rain, but migratory covers allow hives to be stacked tight together on the sides – a big plus if you are putting them on a truck to migrate to a pollination job.   Telescoping covers should used in conjunction with an inner cover or the bees will glue it on with propolis, and because there is no access for a hive tool it will be hard to pry off.  An inner cover is not really required if you use migratory covers.

Frames and Foundation

Remember that your frames and foundation must be the same size as the hive bodies that they are to go into.  There are basically 2 types of frames – wooden frames which have separate foundation, and one piece plastic all in one frame and foundation combo.  Some people love plastic frames and some people hate them.

If you use wooden frames you have 3 main choices in foundation – plastic, wax, and foundationless:

Plastic foundation is probably the easiest for the beekeeper to work with, but the least favorite of the bees.

Advantages of Plastic Foundation

  • It is easy to install and not at all fragile.
  • It is pretty much trouble free to extract.

Disadvantages of Plastic Foundation

  • It is the most expensive of all options, and while it doesn’t seem like all that much it adds up when you are growing your apiary and perhaps need to buy hundreds of pieces at a time.
  • Bees like it the least – nonetheless a strong hive with a good flow on will draw comb on it.
  • It is difficult to remove a queen cell from plastic without damaging it.

Advantages of Wax Foundation

  • It’s economical
  • It’s more readily accepted by the bees than plastic foundation.

Disadvantages of Wax Foundation

  • It can be relatively fragile when it is cold or until it is fully drawn into comb and attached by the bees.
  • The wax it is made of may contain trace amounts of agricultural chemicals or hive medications – The wax may have been produced in another country that allows the use of chemicals that are banned in the U.S.  This may have implications for bee health, or for the use of wax foundation in the production of comb honey.
  • It may need to be wired into frames – especially deep frames – for extra strength.
  • If wires are used they may interfere with removal (for use) of queen cells.
foundationless frame of honey bee brood

A medium frame of foundationless comb – click on the image (and use ctrl +) for a much more detailed view – the lower left area is capped brood, the white cells are open brood ready to be capped – the band of cells adjoining the brood are filled with pollen, and the upper right corner contains uncapped honey and a small patch of capped honey – notice that the comb is only minimally attached to the frame along the sides and bottom.

Foundationless is a more hands on option and not at all fool proof.  It is good for comb honey but may be tricky (at best) to extract – nonetheless when Langstroth designed his hive in 1852 there was no such thing as manufactured foundation, so for about 25 years it was the only way to go even for commercial beekeepers.

Advantages of Foundationless

  • Bees will build a natural comb size and will build drone comb as they need them. BTW drone brood comb is much bigger than worker brood comb, but both can also be used to store honey.
  • Because there are no wires it is very easy to cut out queen cells or to produce cut comb honey.
  • You know exactly where your wax came from.
  • Bees will very readily build foundationless comb because it is the natural way that they build.
  • You don’t have to buy or install foundation.
  • Any style of wooden frame can be used for foundationless with the simple addition of a comb guide to the top bar – a Popsicle stick for example.

Disadvantages of Foundationless

  • Comb will often be built crooked or not even in the frames especially if there isn’t any existing comb to guide the bees.  In most cases it is quite easy for the beekeeper to straighten out anything like this, but in other cases you might have to cut out badly built comb and tie it in to your frames.  Either way the bees will quickly fix up any damage caused by straightening.   It is rare for bees to  build between frames when foundation is used.
  • Foundationless comb might be tricky or difficult to extract honey from – it can be done, but some “blown out” comb is likely to happen.  This is not a problem for comb that will be used in the brood nest.
  • Bees will build drone comb where they want instead of where you want.


So, there are a lot of options to consider but after discussing this with the other association officers we are going to recommend that if you are just starting out you seriously consider using the following:

  • 10 frame medium depth equipment – 10 frame because it is the industry standard, medium depth because of the flexibility you get from using one size frame for all purposes.  If you planning to start with package bees you will (hopefully) need 3 or 4 medium depth hive bodies full of frames and foundation for each hive for your first year.
  • Wooden frames, and pre-wired wax foundation.
  • Wooden framed Screened Bottom Board with an option to easily close it off for cold weather or mite counts.
  • Wooden Telescoping outer cover and a wooden inner cover.

In other words something like this beginner kit  except with a wooden outer cover.

honey be hive kit

These are just our suggestions – by all means feel free to exercise your own judgment and get whatever you want, but this will serve you well for your first year of beekeeping.

In addition to woodenware you will also need at least a veil, gloves, a smoker and something to use as a hive tool – I like an old slot screwdriver with a bit of a hook bent in the end.  A full bee suit would be nice but in my opinion it’s not really necessary, however it will give you more confidence.

There’s all kinds of other paraphernalia that you will probably eventually try out or at least consider – feeders, slatted racks, queen excluders,  landing board/hive stands, pollen traps, nucleus hives, beetle traps, robber screens, swarm traps, queen rearing and marking equipment, honey extraction and packaging equipment – but trust me you won’t have to have any of that during your first year.


Hive Kits from Kelley Bees in Kentucky

Hive Kits from Mann Lake – Mann lake always has free shipping for orders over $100

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Emergency Feeding – Don’t let your Bees Starve!

Mountain Camp Sugar Feeding

This article has been previously published, but contains seasonally relevant information…

dry sugar emergency feed for honey bees

To ensure your bees don’t starve over the winter you can very simply pour plain sugar onto a sheet of paper towel or newspaper  laid directly on the top bars of the hive. leave room for the bees to get around – that’s just about all there is to it. A useful addition is a piece of  half  inch mesh wire under the paper so that when you need to inspect you can easily lift the whole thing off and replace it.

If you have any suspicion whatsoever that your bees might be low on food – or even if they have food but the cluster might not be able to get to it.   You can insure that your bees don’t starve by “mountain camp” feeding.  It is very easy, doesn’t require any special equipment, and doesn’t require digging around in the hive – you can even do it when it is pretty cold.  There is no reason to let your bees starve.

If you don’t wet the sugar a bit the bees will often carry it out of the hive as if it were refuse – or when they eat through the paper it will trickle down into the hive and make a mess.  Using a spray bottle of plain water wet down the paper, add a layer of sugar about 1/2 – 1″ thick, wet it down, continue adding sugar in layers and wetting them until you have added all the sugar you want to apply.  If you are worried about adding so much moisture to the hive – don’t the sugar will quickly absorb all of it as it hardens up.  It will not hurt anything.  4-5 pounds of sugar  is not too much to use.  Be sure to leave space for the bees to go around the paper.  Add an empty super or a feed shim to make room for everything.  An empty super may seem too roomy, but it works fine – I have been doing this for 5 years now, and a medium super does the job with no problems.

this honey bee hive has eaten almost all of the mountain camp sugar.

This hive needs more sugar.

bees out of sugar

Now even a complete novice can tell that this hive will starve without immediate action. No guessing, very simple judgement, and a good excuse to go out and visit your bees on a winter day.

It will now be easy to tell just by peaking under the cover if your bees have used up the sugar yet.  If you feed like this and the cluster is at the top of the hive – which they often are by now – they Will Not Starve unless you let them.

A common spring occurrence is that colonies will have a good amount of open brood in them during a late cold snap.  The hive will cluster on the brood to keep it warm, and the bees and open brood will consume all of the food stores withing reach of the cluster.  Within just a few days of cold weather under these conditions a hive can starve to death with honey stored less than 3 inches from the cluster.  If the cluster is at the top, and you apply mt camp sugar this will not happen unless you let them run out of sugar.

An additional benefit of feeding like this is that the sugar absorbs moisture and helps to prevent condensation from dripping on the bees and freezing them.

maountain camp honey bee emergency feed with pollen sub candy.

As the bees consume the sugar feed you can replenish it with bee candy – I start feeding pollen sub candy in mid January.  As you can see in this picture the bees often hollow out the sugar from the bottom as they eat it.

As the food is used up you can either add a layer of paper on top of the old feed and just give them more granulated sugar or you can give them chunks of home made bee candy.

By the time you are ready to remove any remaining feed the sugar will be set up into a solid chunk that can easily be removed.  You can make syrup out of the scraps and nothing goes to waste.

There are two drawbacks to this system that I know of:  Sometimes during long spells of bad weather or if the bees have nosema a few of them may defecate on top of the sugar feed – they normally would not do that inside of the hive unless conditions were really bad.  This can’t be a good thing as far as hygiene goes, but I have never lost a hive due to nosema as far as I can tell despite routinely using mt camp sugar feed. On the other hand the signs of nosema are very clearly apparent when you see them on top of the white sugar, and that could give you the notice that you need to take timely action if you plan to treat for such things.

The other drawback to feeding like this is that you can’t add supers until you remove the feed – you can actually, but it won’t do much good if the weather turns cold and there is a box of empty comb between the emergency feed and the cluster of bees.  Of course you don’t need to add supers until there is nectar coming in anyway, but I thought I should mention that it can cause a conflict in certain weather/hive conditions.

I always feed like this in the winter, because I think that the benefits outweigh any downsides that there may be, however this does not mean that you can or should rob excessive honey, or fail to feed syrup in the fall if they need it.  But if your hives are light this will save your bacon.

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Beekeeping Phenology – Important blooms in mid TN

When you begin keeping bees you start to notice flowers like never before.  Certain blooms are especially significant…

  1. Maple – Rapid increase in brood production – Begins in Feb/early March and lasts several weeks as different varieties bloom at slightly different times.  Weather is often fair enough for inspections during the maple bloom, and hive conditions may indicate that it is time to reverse brood chambers.  Maple can produce plentiful pollen and nectar, but weather usually limits the bees ability to take full advantage of it.
  2. Dandelion – time to begin adding supers, reversing brood boxes, and other swarming counter-measures – late March/Early April.  Swarm issue begins about 3 weeks later.
  3. Apple – Start of swarms issuing – Early/Mid April
  4. Poplar, Black Locust – Main nectar flows in mid TN – May – these produce most of our local honey.
  5. Fireworks – Time to harvest honey – July
  6. Goldenrod – Begin getting colonies ready for winter – September

Dates are approximate and weather dependant – and of course bees don’t read calendars.

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Feeding Pollen Substitute in Winter

Broadly speaking Honey Bees need 2 major nutrients – carbs  in the form of sugars (nectar, honey) and protein – which they normally get from pollen.  Adult bees mostly need carbs for their own energy needs while protein is mostly used for producing brood and growing younger bees to maturity.  Pollen  is not fed directly to brood – it is first processed into beebread, then eaten by nurse bees.  The nurse bees bodies process the pollen/protein and secrete high protein “jelly”  from their hypopharyngeal glands – this secretion is then fed to larva, queens, drones and young worker bees.

In a nutshell – honey bee colonies need protein to produce brood and grow.

Many beekeepers never feed supplemental protein (pollen substitute) especially non migratory beekeepers who only produce honey.  In many areas naturally occurring pollen is usually sufficient for those activities – our area of middle TN has plenty of pollen.

However migratory beekeepers who need big strong colonies to take to California for almond pollination in February, and commercial bee producers who need to sell bulk bees in late March to demanding customers (and others) have learned that feeding pollen sub can greatly improve their productivity and profitability – by stimulating lots of early brood production.

How does that apply to the hobby beekeeper in middle TN?

If you are trying to make increase then coming out of winter with large hive populations is exactly what you want – and the same goes for anyone who would like to produce nucs for sale.  If you don’t plan to do something productive with all those bees then feeding pollen sub in winter may just make it harder to prevent swarming in the spring.

Personally I do feed pollen sub – because I would rather have the problem of  too many bees than too few when spring rolls around.  Also I have started producing a few spring nucs for sale.  And honestly it gives me a reason to get outside and do a bit of beekeeping during the winter.

In the past I have usually made hard candy with pollen sub – which is convenient to feed, but a good bit of work to make.  This year I have been trying a much easier recipe that you might be interested in…

No cook Pollen Patty – 40 pounds


Mix the dry ingredients, then mix in the water – I make this in a shallow plastic storage bin and mix it with a short handled garden hoe.  It is not too much work to mix by hand and since there is no cooking involved you can take your time.  You can use it immediately, but it will smooth out if you cover it and let it sit over night.  The result will be a thick paste which you can spoon right onto the top bars of the hive…

Home made pollen “patty”

You can also make patties between waxed paper sheets similar to what you can buy from the bee suppliers.

I transfered it into a bucket to make it easier to go from hive to hive.

This hive has eaten more than half of the Mt Camp Sugar that I applied a few weeks ago.  Notice the 1/2″ wire mesh – that helps to prevent feed from falling through the hive, and makes it much easier to remove and replace the feed at inspection time.

I placed the pollen sub into the spots where sugar is used up – after smoking the bees down a bit.

In a day or two you can see that they are all over the pollen sub.  Clearly they like it. Looking pretty good for mid January.

Mixing your own pollen patty like this costs about 50 cents per pound while the same store bought product cost upwards of $2.00 per pound – depending on the size of the package.

BTW – It is much cheaper for me to buy a 50 pound bag of sub and make this myself than to buy pre-mixed pollen patty, but I always end up with more dry pollen sub than I need.  So I have several (approx) 5 pound bags of fresh Mann Lake ultra bee that I would be happy to sell for $10 each.  Just right for mixing one batch like this – or several smaller batches. Sold out!

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Syrup Delivery: an overview of honey bee feeders

So let’s say that you’re now convinced that you do need to feed your honey bees.  You go buy some sugar, mix it with some water, and you want to feed it to your bees.  But how do you get it to them?  That’s actually a slightly more complex question than you might think.  Let’s take a look at some of your options (listed in no particular order) for delivering liquid syrup to your bees along with the pros and cons of each.  NOTE: The more stars given in a category, the better that feeder is in that category.

Summary Chart:

FeederEase of useRobbingDrowningInspectionsCapacityCost
Bag Feeder4stars5stars5stars1stars3stars3stars
Hive-top Mason Jars3stars5stars5stars4stars3stars3stars
Boardman Entrance Feeder3stars1stars5stars5stars1stars3stars
Division-board Feeder3stars5stars2stars3stars4stars3stars
Hive-top Feeder3stars5stars3stars1stars5stars1stars
Bucket Feeder5stars5stars5stars3stars5stars4stars
Open Feeding5stars1stars2stars5stars5stars4stars

1) Bag Feeder

baggie_feeder  baggie_feeder2

Method:  Take a gallon ziploc bag, fill it with sugar and water (at ratios to make your desired consistency of syrup), zip closed, shake to mix.  Place the bag of syrup on top of the top-bars of the top box on your hive, use a needle to make holes or a razor blade to make 1-2 inch slits on the top of the bag.  The syrup will stay in the bag, but is accessible for the bees to drink from.  Put a 2 or 3 inch spacer on top of the hive to make room for the bag.

Ease of use: beebeebeebee Bag feeders are very light-weight and easy to setup and use… if you’re feeding lots of hives, mix syrup on-site w/ a hose if possible to save on lugging full bags around.  Cleanup is fairly easy too… just throw it away when you’re done.  Not that great if you have much concern for the environment though.

Robbing: beebeebeebeebee Robbing is pretty much a non-issue with bag feeders.  They’re internal to the hive and generally do not cause or initiate robbing.

Drowning: beebeebeebeebee It’s fairly rare for bees to drown from a bag feeder simply because there are no open pools of syrup for them to drown in.

Hive Inspections:bee You pretty much can’t do inspections while you’re feeding with a bag feeder.  You have to wait until the bag is empty (or mostly empty), then take if off to do your inspection.

Capacity: beebeebee If you put much more than 3 qts. of liquid syrup into a bag feeder, you’ll start having leakage problems.

Cost: beebeebee Gallon ziploc bags are cheap, but not permenant… so you’re always buying more as you go through them.  Using them also requires you to have a spacer or an empty super on top of the hive.

NOTE: In early spring, bag feeders require the bees to “break cluster” in order to climb up on top of the bag to get syrup.

2) Hive-top Mason Jars

Close up of Inverted Canning Jars used to feed bees syrup over winter in Backyard Beekeeping   mason_jar_feeder_hivetop02

Method:  Fill a mason jar (any size you want) with sugar & water and mix to create syrup.  Use a hammer & a small nail to poke aprox 10-15 holes in the top of the lid.  Invert the jar over the hive so that the bees can access the holes in the lid.  Cover with an empty super so that robbers cannot access and so that the sun does not shine directly on the jars.  Syrup is “licked” out by the bees over time… it does not continually drip out of the holes because of a vacuum is created above the syrup in the inverted jar.

Ease of use: beebeebee Mason jars can be a bit awkward & clunky to tote around… I’d recommend carrying them in a 5 gallon bucket if you’re going to be moving more than 2 or 3 at a time.  But they are easy enough to setup and use once on-site.  Be sure you hide them from direct sunlight or they’ll get hot and squirt syrup out.

Robbing: beebeebeebeebee Robbing is pretty much a non-issue with inverted mason jars.  They’re internal to the hive and generally do not cause or initiate robbing.

Drowning: beebeebeebeebee It’s pretty much impossible for bees to drown from an inverted mason jar feeder simply because there are no open pools of syrup for them to drown in.

Hive Inspections:beebeebeebee In order to do inspections you must remove the mason jars from the top of the hive.  This is a fairly small inconvenience but still of note.

Capacity: beebeebee Quart jars are the most common size jar for feeding.  For small amounts of feed this is perfect (i.e. when feeding nucs), but when you’re wanting to deliver several gallons of syrup in a short amount of time, quart mason jars just a little more trouble than they’re worth.

Cost: beebeebee Mason jars aren’t terribly expensive, and you can frequently find used jars for sale on craigslist… but they’re still a notable up-front cost.  Using them also generally requires you to have an empty super on top of the hive.

NOTE: Mason jars can be set directly on top of the top-bars of the frames… therefore the syrup can be in direct contact with the cluster.  In early spring this can be a huge advantage.

3) Boardman Entrance Feeder

boardman_feeder  boardman_feeder2

Method:  Fill a mason jar (any size you want) with sugar & water and mix to create syrup.  Use a hammer & a small nail to poke aprox 10-15 holes in the top of the lid.  Place the filled jar into the boardman entrance feeder, and slide the feeder into the entrance of the hive.  This also works on the inversion-vacuum principle and does not allow syrup to continually drip out.

Ease of use: beebeebee Again, mason jars can be a bit awkward & clunky to tote around… I’d recommend carrying them in a 5 gallon bucket if you’re going to be moving more than 2 or 3 at a time.  But they are easy enough to setup and use once on-site.

Robbing: bee Robbing is one of the worst problems with boardman entrance feeders because they’re located right at the entrance of the hive – a place robbers already frequent.  Boardman entrance feeders can initiate larger-scale robbing, not only of the hive you’re trying to feed but of other hives in your apiary (once bees get going, it can be hard to get them to stop).

Drowning: beebeebeebeebee It’s pretty much impossible for bees to drown from a boardman entrance feeder simply because there are no open pools of syrup for them to drown in.

Hive Inspections:beebeebeebeebee Boardman entrance feeders are a non-issue when it comes to inspections because they’re all the way on the bottom.  However, if you’re going to be taking the bottom box off you’ll need to make sure to take the feeder off first… or it will likely fall.

Capacity: bee You’re very limited in terms of capacity with a boardman entrance feeder.  You’re pretty much stuck with quart jars or smaller… one at a time unless you buy multiple boardman attachments so you can feed multiple jars simultaneously.

Cost: beebeebee Mason jars aren’t terribly expensive, and you can frequently find used jars for sale on craigslist… but they’re still a notable up-front cost.  Also, you’re going to have to purchase the boardman feeder attachment for every jar you want to feed, but they’re not too expensive either.

NOTE: Boardman entrance feeders are not useful for early spring feeding as bees have to break cluster to run down to the entrance to get syrup.

4) Division-board Feeder

division_board_feeder       division_board_feeder2

Method:  Division-board feeders take the place of frames inside your hive.  Take 1 or 2 frames (depending on the width of your feeder) out of your hive and set to the side.  Place the feeder in the hive in the empty space.  Mix up syrup in another container (make sure it has a spout or something to pour with) and pour into the division-board feeder.  Close up the hive and do something with the extra frames.

Ease of use: beebeebee Division-board feeders aren’t terrible to get setup initially or maintain.  They do take up frame space, and this must be considered when calculating the size of the hive.  Cleanup and movement of the feeder between hives is quite disruptive to the colony since it always involves removing or adding frames to a colony.  Refilling also requires opening up the hive.

Robbing: beebeebeebeebee Robbing is a virtual non-issue with division-board feeders as they are internal to the hive and no syrup is ever required to leave the front door.

Drowning: beebee Drowning has historically been a problem with division board feeders because of the open pools of syrup they hold.  Many designs now employ ladders or floats to help with this, but drowning can still occur.

Hive Inspections:beebeebee Division-board feeders are not in the way too much when you’re doing inspections, but because most are made of plastic you do have to be careful not to damage them while prying propolized frames and feeders apart or moving boxes around.

Capacity: beebeebeebee Most division-board feeders hold between 1 and 2.5 gallons.  They can give some fairly decent capacity if you need to deliver a lot of syrup in a short period of time.

Cost: beebeebee Division-board feeders are mid-range in terms of cost (usually between $8-$15 plus tax & shipping), but when you consider capacity they do end up being cheaper than some other options.


5) Hive-top Feeder

hive_top_feeder01 hive_top_feeder02 hive_top_feeder03


Method:  There are lots of different styles of hive-top feeders, but they all have in common that they hold a reservoir of syrup that rests on top of the top box, and they cover the entire top of the hive.  You set the feeder on top of the hive, pour syrup into the reservoir, and the bees come up via some apparatus to drink it.

Ease of use: beebeebee Hive-top feeders aren’t terrible to get setup initially or maintain.  Refilling is not disruptive to the bees at all, and can be done without opening up the hive.  The feeder will get propolized down to the hive, so be prepared to do some prying to get it off.

Robbing: beebeebeebeebee Robbing is a virtual non-issue with hive-top feeders as they are internal to the hive and no syrup is ever required to leave the front door.

Drowning: beebeebee Because most all hive-top feeders are designed differently drowning rates can vary greatly.  Some hive top feeders have eliminated almost all drowning issues whereas others still have problems.

Hive Inspections:bee Hive-top feeders are about the worst in this category simply because they’re right on top of the hive, which is exactly where you need to get to in order to do your inspections.  Some hive-top feeders can be quite difficult to work with when they’re still holding syrup and they’re propolized to the top-bars.

Capacity: beebeebeebeebee Most hive-top feeders hold between 2 and 5 gallons and usually provide easy simultaneous access for a large number of bees.  They almost always give very decent capacity if you need to deliver a lot of syrup in a short period of time.

Cost: bee Hive-top feeders are pretty costly compared to most feeders (anywhere from $15-$30 plus tax & shipping)… you’re really paying for capacity + speed of feeding.

NOTE: Please note also that hive-top feeders tend to squish a variable number of bees when you’re doing inspections and replacing the feeder (some feeders are worse than others).  Also, they’re not a good early-spring feeding option as bees will have to break cluster to crawl up and get the syrup.

6) Bucket Feeder

bucket_feeder01  bucket_feeder02

Method:  Fill an empty bucket with sugar and water to make syrup.  Use the smallest drill bit you can find to drill 20-30 small holes in the lid of the bucket near the center.  Put the lid on the bucket and invert it over the top of the hive – directly on the frame top bars or over the top of the inner cover (both work just fine).  Cover with an extra super or hive body.  The syrup does not leak out because of the same vacuum principle that is employed with the inverted mason jar feeders.

Ease of use: beebeebeebeebee Bucket feeders are about as easy as it comes.  Simple to work with, carry / transport, fill, and clean.  They do require an extra super or two to cover them up though.

Robbing: beebeebeebeebee Robbing is a virtual non-issue with bucket feeders as they are internal to the hive and no syrup is ever required to leave the front door.

Drowning: beebeebeebeebee Because there are no open pools of syrup, drowning is a non-issue with bucket feeders.

Hive Inspections:beebeebee Bucket feeders are a small inconvenience when doing inspections as they must be removed from on-top of the hive, but this is almost always a very minor task.

Capacity: beebeebeebeebee Bucket feeders can hold 2-5 gallons depending on how big of a bucket you decide to employ.  They provide easy simultaneous access for a medium number of bees.  They are one of the go-to feeders if you need to feed a lot of syrup in a short period of time.

Cost: beebeebeebee There are commercial 1, 2, and 3 gallon bucket feeders available that usually run around $5-$7, but my walmart sells used 2 and 3 gallon icing buckets at the bakery counter for $1 so I always go that route.

NOTE: Because bucket feeders can be set directly on the frame top bars, it can put syrup in direct contact with the cluster in early spring for stimulative feeding.

7) Open Feeding

open_feeder  open_feeder02

Method:  Fill one or more very large containers (5 gallon buckets, a feed trough, livestock watering tub, a children’s swimming pool, a large hole in the ground lined with a tarp) with syrup, then ensure that drowning will not be a problem.  With large pools this is typically done with a layer of straw, hay, or styrofoam peanuts on top of the syrup.

Ease of use: beebeebeebeebee One of the huge advantages to open feeding is that it’s really easy.  You’re not messing with each hive individually… you can feed everyone at once.

Robbing: bee Open feeding both initiates and perpetuates robbing behavior in bees.  This is a huge draw-back to open feeding.

Drowning: beebee This varies based on what method of open feeding you’re employing, but in-general anything with an open pool of syrup is going to cause a good bit of drowning no matter how well you cover it.

Hive Inspections:beebeebeebeebee There is nothing at all to remove or replace for an inspection when using open feeding.  The structure of the hive’s woodenware is completely unaffected.

Capacity: beebeebeebeebee How big of a container do you want to use?  You’ll likely be limited by the amount of syrup you want to make / buy before you run out of capacity.

Cost: beebeebeebee Per hive, you usually can’t beat open feeding.  A $15 kid’s swimming pool is a cheap way to feed 100 hives.

NOTE: Most hobby or small-scale commercial beekeepers simply don’t run the numbers of hives that would demand open feeding.  Also… note that you end up feeding more than just your bees with open feeding – wasps, yellow-jackets, bumble bees, and all kinds of other insects love to eat your syrup too.

Posted in Bee Keeping Equipment, Honey Bee How to, Learn about Bee Keeping | Leave a comment

Time to feed!

This has been a pretty good year in my bee yard as far as nectar flows go, but when I started inspecting a few days ago to decide which hives need feeding I was surprised that there is less honey in my hives than I thought there would be.  You might also find that you need to feed some of your hives to prepare for winter now that our nectar flows are pretty much all over for the year.

Experienced beekeepers can get a fair idea of which hives need feeding by picking up on the back of the hive to see if it is “light” or not – but if you do not yet have this skill the best thing to do is to inspect.  How much honey you want to find is going to depend on the size of the hive configuration and the population, but a strong single box colony of any size from nuc on up to 10 frame deep needs to have about 2/3 of the comb filled with stores – BTW in our climate colonies as small as 5 frame mediums can overwinter just fine if they are in good shape.  More honey stores certainly won’t hurt anything, but when cold weather rolls around your bees actually need some empty comb in the center to cluster on – so don’t feed to the point of all available space being filled.

You will want to be feeding heavy syrup at this time of year – it will be less work for you and your bees to get it in the hives and cured before the weather turns cold.  So 2-1 or perhaps 5-3 sugar syrup.  Those numbers refer to weight of sugar/water so…

  • 2-1 syrup = 2 pounds of sugar per each pound of water.
  • Conveniently a pint of water weighs about a pound.
  • You will usually need to use hot water to mix heavy syrup.
  • It takes about 3 pounds of sugar mixed into syrup to fill one medium frame with cured winter feed.

This is not the time to feed a little at a time – put as much of the required feed on your hives at one time – and keep it on – as is practical so that they can go ahead and get it in the hives and configured how they want pretty quickly.  You might want to give them a little bit of top ventilation to facilitate curing the feed and to prevent excessive hive moisture – but don’t accidentally create an unguarded top entrance which might aggravate robbing.

Robbing is very possible and even likely at this time – populations are large, and forage is quickly disappearing from the environment so…

Don’t spill syrup

  • Reduce hive entrances.
  • Don’t expose the interiors of hives any more than you have to.
  • Don’t leave burr comb, frames or any other sources of honey exposed in the apiary to be robbed out.
  • Consider installing robber screens – here is a simple how to build robber screens resource.


Posted in Evergreen, Honey Bee How to, Seasonal | Leave a comment

Varroa Mite Management Options for Honey Bees


Life Cycle of Varroa Mites – Thanks to Tony Linka for permission to use this excellent illustration.

This article was originally published in November 2013, but contains seasonally relevant information.  In other words – It is time to treat your bees for varroa mites.

“You need to be doing something proactive to deal with mites whether you treat or not.”  (paraphrased) Kaymon Reynolds – treatment free beekeeper for 10 years.

This post is intended to present the available options for varroa mite management in as factual and unvarnished form as is possible – and is not intended as an endorsement of any particular technique.   This information is only intended to inform.  Any apparent bias or spin is unintentional – but probably inevitable what with me being human and all.  I highly recommend that you educate yourself on whatever path you choose to take – and don’t be too quick to completely believe anything you hear from any one source.

  • Varroa infestation is a major factor in many hive failures.
  • Hives which seem to have failed from queenlessness, wax moths, hive beetles, robbing, absconding, or even starvation may actually have mites as a root cause of their eventual demise.
  • Beekeepers often do not detect mites or spot symptoms of Parasitic Mite Syndrome until it is extremely advanced.
  • Varroa mites vector viral diseases while also sapping the strength of the parasitized individual bees – resulting in “sick hives” which fail to thrive and often eventually collapse.  Collapsing hives are usually robbed out which can spread both mites and associated diseases to the robbing colonies.
  • Queens are not immune to these viral diseases – non-lethal viral infections of queens can be a cause of poor brood production and supercedure – either of which may result in colony failure.
  • Ignoring the varroa mite problem and failing to manage it in some way will almost always result in catastrophic colony loss.
  • Treatment Free beekeeping and just hoping for the best while doing nothing are NOT the same things.

Queens are not immune to varroa infestation and the diseases that mites carry.

Timing of Treatments

  • If you are going to treat for varroa mites timing is important.
  • You should not treat when honey supers are on hives – April-July.  Some treatments are actually approved for use when supers are on, but in order to preserve the public faith in our product it is important that bee keepers avoid the very appearance of evil.  Don’t treat or feed your hives when honey supers are on.
  • It is important that mite populations be low before and during the fall brood build up – September – Mid November.  Without management this is when mite levels usually peak.
  • Hives which have large mite loads going into winter are likely to fail before spring.
  • TN State Apiary experts recommend a late winter / early spring treatment – Late Feb – Early March.
  • It is often recommended by treatment manufacturers that only strong hives be treated (some treatments can be stressful) so it is important to treat before hive health is in decline.
  • Hives are generally broodless during Late November – Early December.  Treating during this period will be maximally effective.
  • If you wait until symptoms of varroa infestation become apparent colony health will already be compromised.
  • Effective treatments which are properly applied during the correct times and conditions will greatly improve colony survival and performance.  Improperly applied treatments performed at the wrong time on weakened colonies may be worse than doing nothing.
  • In summary the key times to treat are: July/August before the fall brood build up starts.  November/December during the broodless period before winter.  February/March before the honey season starts.

Is your skin crawling yet?

The Hard/Soft chemical fallacy

  • People often refer to synthetic miteacides as “Hard” chemicals and naturally occurring ones as “Soft.”  In some ways this characterization is the opposite of the truth.
  • During the treatment period synthetic treatments are often less likely to cause bee mortality or queen loss. Care must be taken with some so called “Soft” treatments to prevent killing bees or causing hives to abscond. Some of the “Soft” treatments are extremely temperature dependant – too cool and it doesn’t work, too warm and it kills bees.
  • The effective synthetics are able to kill a high percentage of mites in the hive because they are time released or remain effective long enough to kill mites which are inside of capped brood at the initial treatment time.  Naturally occurring treatments do not all have this advantage – some require repeated applications at specific time periods to be effective.
  • Any treatment is most effective if used when hives are broodless.
  • Synthetics may leave long lasting / permanent residues in the hive – especially in wax.  These residues seem to cause fertility problems for both queens and drones, and detractors speculate that they may be factors in long term hive health problems.  ** Naturally occurring miteacides such as formic acid or thymol do not leave long lasting residues in hives – but if not carefully applied they can kill bees during treatment.
  • Mites have developed a resistance to some synthetics which has made them ineffective in most cases – Apistan for example – but because they have fallen out of favor and are used much less frequently now, there are some reports that low and behold they sometimes work well for occasional use.  They are however still implicated in health compromising long lasting hive residues.

Rotate Treatments

No matter which treatments you decide to use to prevent mites from developing resistance  it is probably best if you don’t get in the habit of always using the same one all the time.

 EPA regulated Synthetic mite treatments 

  • Apivar/amitraz – currently reported to be extremely effective.  One application of 2 strips required. About $6.00 per treatment. No evidence of resistance after more than 15 years – no application temp recommended (that I know of)  Apivar Instructions and Info
  • Apistan/fluvalinate – Mites have developed a resistance to this treatment in many areas – but it may be effective for limited use because it has widely fallen out of favor.
  • Checkmite/coumaphos – Mites have developed a resistance to this treatment in many areas – but it may be effective for limited use because it has widely fallen out of favor.
  • Randy Oliver on Synthetic Treatments

EPA regulated naturally occurring mite treatments

  • Miteaway Quick Strips / formic acid ***– can kill mites inside of capped brood as well as phoretic mites – Only 1 treatment required.  Requires careful application with attention to temp and hive strength to avoid bee and brood mortality – can result in queen loss if miss used. Daytime Temp of 50 – 90 F specified on day of treatment, but bee/brood mortality increases with temp. $4.70 per treatment. Miteaway Instructions
  • Apilife Var / Thymol and other EO – Very safe time release delivery.  Requires 3 treatments to be effective if brood is present – Use when average daytime temps are between 59 and 69 F.  About $3.65 per treatment. Apilife Instructions
  • Apiguard / thymol ***– Safe, low bee or brood mortality – but does cause bearding and interruption of brood rearing for a few days.  Requires 2 applications at warm to high temperatures – 60 /100° F.  Requires a spacer – About $3.60 per treatment. Apiguard Instructions
  • Hop Guard – Not approved in TN.

 Treatments which are effectively not regulated by the EPA but which are known to be work

  • Powdered Sugar Dusting – 30 / 50% effective only on phoretic mites, can cause death of open brood by simply gumming it up. Scientific Beekeeping
  • Essential Oils – EO of Thyme and  EO of Spearmint are known to be effective as miteacides – appropriate dosages and methods of application have been widely experimented with by beekeepers but are difficult to specify. Several commercial products such as Honey-bee-healthy and Mann Lake Pro Health contain these ingredients, but because of EPA guidelines can not be labeled or specifically recommended for varroa management.  ******Drenching with Honey-bee-healthy as per label directions is probably the varroa treatment method that the researchers would like to recommend if they could.
  • ****** Oxalic Acid – Oxalic acid is a naturally occurring organic acid which quickly breaks down and leaves no residue in hives. Even though it is EPA registered OA is effectively unregulated in the United States, but it is a widely used government approved mite treatment in the rest of the world.  OA is safe, effective, cheap and not temperature dependant.  OA causes little if any bee / brood mortality. OA does not kill mites inside of capped brood, so it is most effective when used on broodless hives.  Since OA is widely used abroad dosages and application methods are well established.  3-4 Pennies per treatment.

 Treatment free

  • “Treatment Free” bee keeping is an often misunderstood and controversial subject on the Internet.
  • Treatment free beekeeping apparently IS possible. More beekeepers report successfully practicing treatment free beekeeping every year.
  • Essential oils, and powdered sugar dusting are mite treatments – if you use these then you are not treatment free.
  • The essence of the treatment free philosophy is to not treat, let the hives which can’t hack it die, and then make increase from the remaining “Survivor” bees – the so called Bond method.   In practice it is much harder than it sounds, and many beginners who take this overly simplistic approach fail utterly and lose interest in beekeeping.
  • Successful treatment free beekeeping requires bees which have the ability to survive to begin with.  There is apparently no reliable source of such bees.  You can get bees which are more resistant than others (****USDA VSH or Minnesota Hygenic queens for example) but based upon my personal experience it is quite difficult to just buy “Survivor” bees.
  • However  BeeWeaver Apiaries in Texas have been producing treatment free queens, bees and honey  for more than 10 years now.  There are mixed reports from consumers – including some reports of aggressive bees – but that is typical for any queen producer, and apparently BeeWeaver will replace aggressive queens.   So, while this is not an endorsement they might be worth checking out if you are interested in going treatment free.
  • Making increase is probably an absolutely essential part of treatment free beekeeping.
  • If you want to try treatment free you should probably prepare for high colony losses – 50% or more in some cases.  Hopefully less, but don’t fail to plan.
  • You can probably not reasonably expect to be successful with very few colonies – larger numbers give more fault tolerance and a better gene pool.
  • Treatment free does not mean doing nothing – if anything treatment free beekeepers need to be more competent and diligent beekeepers to meet the challenges.
  • There does not seem to be a very large number of treatment free beekeepers who are able to report success beyond being able to keep their bees alive from year to year.   This  statement is not based on any kind of scientific data collection, but rather from an informal Q+A thread on beesource forum.
  • It is possible (and likely in my opinion) that some locations may not be conducive to treatment free beekeeping. Or at least that some areas may be much better than others.
  • Randy Oliver on varroa resistant bees.


* Outlaw Treatments – The use of any EPA regulated insecticide in a manner or form other than that which is approved “and specified on label” by the EPA is a violation of federal law.  For example in the past commercial apiaries have been (heavily) fined for using paper towels soaked with  Mavrik (fluvalinate which is labeled for use  as an outdoor pesticide) as a mite treatment.  Even though fluvalinate is EPA approved for apiary use in the much more expensive form of Apistan (no longer effective on Varroa mites BTW) the off label apiary use of the same chemical when packaged as Mavrik is a violation.  Non-regulated substances such as essential oils, powdered sugar, and ******oxalic acid either fall through one loophole or another or exist in something of a gray area depending on how you describe their use.

** The makers of Apivar (amitraz) claim that their product “Leaves no significant residues in hive honey or wax.”  And that mites are showing no signs of resistance after 15 years of field use. The source should be taken into account when considering these claims.

*** When stinky treatments like formic acid or thymol are applied the bees will start fanning to ventilate the hive.  Weak hives may not have enough bees to do the job and may abscond or suffer losses.  Generally these treatments are not recommended for weak hives.

**** VSH, and other breeds with hygienic behavior are not the elusive “Survivor Bees” that you might hear being mentioned – Because these traits are quickly watered down in open mating environments.  The true “survivor bees” apparently breed true enough for the trait to accumulate in the local gene pool to a useful degree during open mating.  Nonetheless VSH is a good place to start until you can acquire some of the magic bees.

***** Other Key Management Practices for keeping Hives Healthy

  • Healthy hives are more resistant to mites and disease and more resilient when they are effected, so strive to maintain good practices.
  • Do your inspections – until you have a good bit of experience the only way to tell what your hives need is to inspect at least every 2 weeks during the season.  If you can not make time for this during your first few years you might want to reconsider your choice of hobbies.
  • Prevent Queenlessness – this is probably the number one cause of hive loss. If you don’t inspect at least every 2 weeks you often won’t have time to correct queenlessness before it is too late.
  • Don’t let your bees go hungry – bees which are suffering from malnutrition will never be healthy.  Any time that hives do not contain Plenty of both capped honey and open nectar they should be fed.  Ideally hives would never run short of natural food, but we do not live in an ideal region for that – most years here in mid TN bees need to be fed.
  • Prevent robbing – Robbing cause’s malnutrition, stress, and queenlessness. I highly recommend the use of robber screens.
  • Extra colonies – One hive is absolutely not sustainable – two is marginal – four or five (including nucs) is probably the minimal number of hives for a reasonably sustainable apiary.  Besides, nucleus colonies are a lot more fun than big honkin’ honey hives – everyone should keep a few nucs.
  • Having extra colonies will allow you to be more objective when deciding between cutting your losses and trying to save a failing hive.
  • Split and make increase every spring – Combine in the fall – It will make you a better beekeeper and will give you the resources that you need to recover from setbacks, and to improve your stocks.
  • Always keep some empty extra equipment on hand – assembled and ready to use – nucs, frames with foundation, supers, robber screens etc.
  • Be Prepared – procure supplies such as feed, medication, equipment before you need it.
  • Integrated Pest Management  – IPM is more or less the use of cultural practices to manage pests and minimize the use of treatments.  Key to varroa IPM is measuring mite loads on a regular and timely basis so that you know when something needs to be done instead of simply treating prophylactically on a seasonal basis.  Randy Oliver on IPM

****** Oxalic acid along with some essential oils exist in something of a limbo regarding EPA enforcement – they may be (and probably are) technically not legal to use,  but for some reason the EPA does not seem to be interested in enforcing a broad moratorium on them.  Possibly because they have bigger fish to fry, or maybe because they are taking the completely reasonable position of looking the other way for now when it comes to safe, effective treatments that don’t seem to hurt the environment, users,  or consumers.  Perhaps they have an internal  interpretation of the rules which allow their use in some cases.  Maybe they just haven’t noticed yet.  But I’m no expert so Caveat Emptor.

*******Honey-Bee-Healthy  Drench: one cup, 8 ozs (237 ml) of 1:1 Sugar Syrup with 4 tsp of HBH/qt (20 ml/l), applied 3 times, 7 days apart. We fed  bees at the same time with 10 ml of HBH per liter of 1:1 sucrose syrup.

Oxalic Acid Nutritional Supplement for Immune Support of Honey Bee Colonies

Oxalic Acid Vaporizer




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Summer Beekeeping in TN

Honey harvest time is upon us – your beekeeping hobby could produce enough honey to not only be self supporting, but also make a profit. But it is a year-round task to keep your bees healthy and productive.

The fun is (mostly) over and the Hard work begins – Summer separates the beekeepers from the wannabeekeepers,  It’s hot, and many recreational options are much more appealing than putting on a bee suit, but what you do (or don’t do) over the next 3 months will mostly determine if you are still a beekeeper next spring.

If your hives  have honey that you plan to harvest then you need to do so ASAP so that you can proceed with other summertime beekeeping tasks – especially mite treatments.

Your bees almost certainly have some mites, but if you have brood that looks like this:

Then you almost certainly have a high mite load which requires immediate action if you want to save your hives.

If your proactive plan to manage varroa mites includes mite treatments – which I reccomend – then you need to plan now to complete those treatments no later than August 15 so that you can have relatively healthy bees to execute the fall build up which starts around the first of September.

There are several Varroa Mite Management Options which you should read about at that link, but if you want to skip all that I reccomend Apiguard for summer treatments.  Apiguard requires multiple treatments which span 4-6 weeks – which is why you need to act soon.  You will need to use a spacer to make room for apiguard treatments between the boxes as per the instructions – the spacer could be just 4 strips of thin wood or plywood laid around the perimeter between the boxes or it could be one of these shims from Mann lake.  Or if you have woodworking tools you can make a shim – I use 1 1/2″ shims that I also use as feeder shims for winter feeding of sugar and pollen sub candy.   Just so you know – Your bees will probably build some burr comb in the space created by the shim – which you will have to scrape off when the treatments are over.

Whenever beekeepers says “honey supers” what they are usually talking about are supers from which you plan to harvest honey during the current season.   If you don’t plan to harvest honey this year then you don’t have to worry about it with apiguard, if you were planning to harvest honey this year you should do so before applying your mite treatments.  If you ever do need to remove supers which contain stores for any period longer than overnight the only way to store them safely is in a freezer – otherwise they are almost certain to become infested with hive beetle larva.

If your hives are not well established yet you may need to continue feeding through summer and fall – you can only tell for sure by doing your inspections.  If you have more than one hive in the same area you will probably need to take action to prevent robbing – robber screens work better than anything else which I have tried.

Do your inspections – keep them queenright, and feed any hives that do not contain at least 15 pounds of stores consisting of significant amounts of BOTH open nectar and capped honey, plan NOW to treat for mites  –  If you only do those things your bees a much more likely to survive and thrive.

Remember that there will not be a regular Meeting in July, but don’t slack off on your beekeeping.  Summer beekeeping may not be all that fun, but it will make a huge difference in the long run.



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Plastic Foundation – Love it, or hate it?

I’m not at all iffy about my preference for plastic foundation, and here is one very big reason why:

A used plastic frame

The old comb has simply been scraped off of this used plastic frame – nothing else was done to it.

This frame wasn’t washed or waxed – no sugar water, honey-bee-healthy or anything else was applied.

Once you scrape off any old comb all you have to do is put such a frame back into a reasonably strong hive, which needs more comb, while a decent flow is on, and 2-3 weeks later:

New comb built on a used plastic frame.

Used Plastic frame after 2 1/2 weeks in a strong hive, which needs comb, during a good flow.

Pretty much like new.  The picture at the top of the page is the same frame at the end of May – full of honey which is just beginning to be capped.

Notice that while the frame in the picture is solid plastic I actually do not prefer solid plastic FRAMES – for various reasons.   My personal preference is for plastic foundation in wooden frames.  I have given all of the main options – foundationless frames, wax foundation, plastic foundation, plastic frames, even frameless top bars – pretty fair trials in my apiary as you can see from the motley variety in the picture.  I don’t throw things away just because I decide I prefer something else.  It all works if you give it a chance.

Notice the qualifiers:

  • reasonably strong hive
  • which needs more comb
  • while a decent flow is on – feeding is a poor substitute at best.

You must have all 3 conditions to get plastic foundation efficiently drawn into comb – if even one is missing results will be slow and disappointing – and if you try to push it they may build wacky “snakey” comb which is at right angles to the frames.  Under less than ideal conditions you are probably more likely to get comb drawn on wax foundation or on foundationless frames – however in less than ideal conditions the bees sometimes just EAT wax foundation instead of drawing comb on it.

In case you are wondering our main spring flows are almost over by now – Early June.  Late April – early June is the usual time to get comb built in our area.


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What to do when you are Queenless

This article was originally published in May 2013, but this issue comes up like clockwork every year…

You think your hive is queenless – you can’t spot the queen, and you don’t see any eggs.  What now?

First, don’t panic.  Next, if at all possible give the hive a frame of young open brood or eggs from another hive – aren’t you glad you have more than one?  If the hive really is queenless, then it will start queen cells on the frame of brood right away, and they will be easy for even a novice to spot within 3 days.

If they don’t try to start queen cells on a fresh frame of brood during Spring through Fall then they already have a queen.   If they do already have a queen they WILL NOT accept a new queen – no matter how much you pay for it.

Just about the only ways to be sure that a hive is really and truly queenless is to do the frame-of-brood thing or to actually remove the queen yourself.  Looking for the queen doesn’t do it – even an experienced queen spotter can fail when it really matters.

Also, giving an actually queenless hive a frame of open brood will help to prevent it from developing a laying worker – I think I already said that, but still…

Any hive will benefit from a donated frame of brood.

The reason that you might think that a hive is queenless when it really isn’t is that while a queenless hive will pretty much always try to make a new queen it takes about 24 days more or less for that new queen to develop, get mated, and start laying eggs.  For many people – myself and my 50 yr old eyes included – it will be another week before there is brood which is easy to spot.  So almost a month between becoming queenless and easily spotting brood.  During that time all of the eggs that the previous queen laid will emerge leaving the hive completely broodless after 24 days – all of the worker brood emerges in 21 days leaving only capped Drone brood.  This can make you think that you have a laying worker or drone laying queen.

Whenever in doubt – give any possibly queenless hive a frame of open brood.

Timeline of Queenlessness

No brood of any kind, population weak, laying workers, SHB, robbers, or wax worms taking over – queenless too long to save in my opinion. Shake it out – it’s a lost cause.

No brood of any kind but population strong– hive has been queenless for over three weeks – at least 24 days. If the population is still strong and you can see where they have cleaned out comb for a queen to lay eggs in there is probably a queen that either hasn’t started laying yet, or has laid eggs that you are not spotting. Giving it a frame of brood is good luck anyway.

Capped Drone brood only – hive has been queenless for just about 3 weeks.

Lots of capped worker brood, but no open brood at all – queenless for about 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 weeks.

Open larva but no eggs or young brood – Queenless 6-8 days. You should find capped queen cells in a hive like this.

If I Made a hive queenless then I usually try to leave it alone for about 3-4 weeks if I can remember exactly when I did it. I need to keep better records I know. If I find one that looks like it has been queenless for only a couple of weeks or less I look for cells and then leave it alone for a couple of weeks. I always give a hive which has been queenless for over 3 weeks (little if any worker brood)  a frame of young brood from another hive to see if it builds new cells or so as to confirm if it is still queenless – and to ward off laying worker.

Remember – it takes a hive about 12 days to raise a queen, but it takes that queen another week to harden up and get mated, and then another week to start laying.  Then it might be another week before you can spot any brood.  About a whole month from start to finish to produce an easy to find laying queen.

But it only takes a few minutes to give a hive a frame of brood – and avoid disaster.

And by the way – you will not hurt the donating hive by stealing one frame of brood from it – even if you do it every week for a while.  If it bothers you then plan to pay it back once you get the other hive queenright and healthy again.

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