Package Bees or Nucleus Hive?

a package of bees

a package of bees

This article was previously published in January 2011, but contains seasonally relevant information.

If you are new to beekeeping and have yet to get bees you are probably wondering whether you should get a package of bees or a nucleus hive (nuc) to start with – what is the difference?

A nucleus hive is a complete hive with, comb,  eggs, open brood, capped brood, newly emerged nurse bees, foraging field bees, and a mature queen who is already busy laying eggs.

A “package” contains 2-3 pounds of field bees (shaken from a lot of different production hives) and a very young queen in her own cage, which has probably laid only a few hundred eggs – enough to prove that she can.  No comb,  eggs, brood, none of that. Oh yeah, a package contains a can of syrup to keep the bees fed for a few days.  A package is very like an artificial swarm.

Cost – nucs are about twice as expensive as a package.

Queens – When you get a nuc it comes with a queen which is already a part of the hive, and is already laying eggs.  With a package you have to “install” the queen and there is always a chance that she won’t be accepted by the hive.

Comb – a nuc comes with about 5 frames of drawn comb where a package has none to start with – unless you have some to give it.  This means that a package has no where to put stores, and the queen has no where to lay.  However a package will usually draw a few frames of comb very quickly because they’ve been confined and drinking syrup.

Build up – A nuc is a complete hive and should start building population as soon as you get it.  A package has no brood yet, and the population will actually decline for about 4-6 weeks until the first eggs that are laid emerge as adults.  So a nuc has about that much of a head start on the season when compared to a package.

Honey production – If you have drawn comb to work with and get your bees early enough either a nuc or package has potential to build up and perhaps produce a honey crop.  If you don’t have comb – and as a beginner you probably don’t – then probably neither one (IMO) is going to produce excess honey in the first year – at least not in our area.  With luck either one should be able to do so in its second year.

Either a nuc or package should build up enough during it’s first year to a sufficient size to over winter and get a good start next year.  You might even be able to split during your first season and successfully go into your first winter with twice as many hives – I did.

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Beekeeping tasks this month – January

winter-bees

It’s January – the middle of the winter, is there anything I should be doing as a beekeeper this month?

The following list was published by Dr. John A. Skinner (Professor & Apiculture Specialist @ UT) in the Beekeeping in Tennessee publication from UT (PB 1745), and is available at the following URL: https://utextension.tennessee.edu/publications/documents/PB1745.pdf

Seasonal Management: January

• Clean, paint and repair equipment.

• Check the apiary for wind and animal damage.

• On a warm, sunny day, check the honey stores and feed, with a candy board, any colonies that have less than 15 pounds (six frames of capped honey in a shallow super or two to three frames in a deep super). Note, this is an emergency feeding to prevent starvation and not recommended for colonies with adequate stores. Do not disturb the cluster of bees. The hive can be lifted from the rear to estimate stores. On a warm, sunny day, the top can be removed to see the adult cluster size.

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Honey Bee Nucleus Colonies – Big Solutions in Small Packages

Thanksgiving weekend many of the big beekeeping suppliers will be running the best sales of the entire year – don’t wait most of them are ONLY for Thanksgiving weekend.

While you are compiling your shopping list consider ordering some nucleus hive wooden ware – if you wait until you need it next spring it is likely that another year will pass by without making any increase. So Don’t wait!

If you need convincing or the whys and hows of making nucleus hives here is an excellent publication from Oregon State University on Honey Bee Nucleus Colonies. Just keep in mind that it is written for Oregon beekeepers, but it looks to me like you can just do everything about a month earlier than the Oregon dates and you will be about right.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Why honey may be the best expression of local flavor you can find, anywhere

Submitted by Ed McSweeny,

Why honey may be the best expression of local flavor you can find, anywhere…

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When Good Bees go Bad

This article was originally posted in June 2011, but contains seasonally relevant information.

Whenever there isn’t a good flow on (like now and throughout the rest of the summer) strong honey bee hives will often rob weak hives – if it gets bad enough they will completely decimate the hive that is being robbed.

This is the best video that I could find that actually showed robbing going on. Notice 2 things 1) The robber bees are climbing up the hive to get some extra elevation before they take off – this is typical in a robbing frenzy. 2) Groups of bees wrestling on the landing board, and falling off the front in clumps – those distinguish a robbing frenzy from orientation or swarming.

To Prevent Robbing:

  • Don’t let it get started! Much easier to prevent than to correct.
  • Don’t spill syrup or nectar.
  • Don’t drop burr comb and leave it laying.
  • Don’t use entrance feeders.
  • If you feed one hive, feed them all.  A big strong hive that is hungry is highly motivated to rob – and they don’t want to break into next winters stored honey if they don’t have to.
  • Feed late in the evening – an amount small enough to be gone by morning.
  • Restrict all entrances to very small – if there is a traffic jam at the strong hive the robber bees can’t get in to unload and make another run.  If the entrance to the weak hive is small it can be effectively defended be just a few bees.  Think of one Marine blocking a doorway compared to trying to block a whole street.  Very large natural bee hives often go in and out through very small openings.
  • When you need to open hives do what you need to do and close it back up as quickly as possible.
  • Very important – make sure there is only one entrance – including that little hole in the front of the inner cover – block that off.  A hive that is being robbed has a very hard time defending the back door.
  • Don’t open feed close to your hives!  Some people have had success shutting down a robbing frenzy by open feeding 100 yards or so away – thus drawing the robbers off to easier pickings.

 

There will be some robbing.  It’s just what they do.  When it gets out of hand you won’t have to ask anyone if it is robbing or not – it looks violent, and chaotic.  If that happens  what has worked for me  is to suit up and thoroughly smoke  all hives that might be involved – both the criminals and the victims, and completely block up the entrances until about one half hour before dark – don’t suffocate them though. Then apply corrective actions.

Robber screens are my #1 way of preventing robbing – and I have many little bitty weak hives right next to big strong hives.

I would like to encourage anyone with tips, insights, or nasty remarks to leave a comment.

Posted in Honey Bee How to, Learn about Bee Keeping, Seasonal | 1 Comment

Time to treat for Varroa Mites

After you have harvested honey or determined that you will not be harvesting honey – it is now time (July) to treat your bees for Varroa mites.  If you have not yet obtained your treatments you need to order them right away.

For what it is worth I personally plan to use Apiguard at this time of year – because it is hot, and Apivar works better in hot weather while some other treatments become harmful at high temps.  But any of these will work if used correctly.

One word of caution – Stinky treatments like Apiguard, and Mite-away-quick-strips produce smelly fumes.  Hives need proper amounts of ventilation and must have a strong enough population to fan and ventilate the hives.  Not enough ventilation or not enough bees to fan can result in absconding (apiguard) or queen death (Miteaway) – an interuption in brood production or some brood death is not unusual or cause for alarm.

The main thing is to do something – don’t let confusion or inability to choose keep you from acting.  If you want to go the simplest/easiest route then Apivar – synthetic amatraz – is definitely the silver bullet at this time.  If you want to use naturally occuring treatments then any of the others.

Treatment free – failing to make a choice and then not applying any treatments is not the same as treatment free beekeeping.  Being a treatment free beekeeper requires proactive action, and if anything more knowledge than treating.  If you don’t know what I am referring to then you probably need to treat.

If you don’t do anything about mites there is an excellent chance that your bees will be dead by next spring.  Mites spread viruses – viruses make your hives sick – sick bees can’t feed and care for offspring in good numbers – compromised fall buildup results in weak hives with  health issues because of malnutrition and disease – weakened hives are more subject to robbing which weakens them even more while spreading mites to other hives – normal winter/late spring stress is too much for weakened hives – dead colonies are incorrectly  blamed on winter weather.

There is a fairly extensive article on all of the options for varroa mite treatments available at this link – but at this time (mid summer) the mainstream options for mite treatment are limited to…

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 / add HopGuard® II to hives at the rate of 2 insert strips per 10 frames.  Strips should be hung between frames. HopGuard® II is most effective when used during the pre-pollination period (before sealed brood), mid-summer, and at the onset of winter brood development. HopGuard® II may be applied up to 3 times per year,

 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

Please read and educate yourself to make a choice.

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Queenless!!

Queenlessness is probably the main cause of hive death during the beekeeping season – but it doesn’t have to be.  A hive can lose its  queen for several reasons – swarming, supersedure, beekeeper error,  etc.  Any time a new queen flies out to mate there is a significant chance that she won’t make it back.

When a strong hive becomes queenless for any reason you have about 4-5 weeks to take action to save the hive, but the sooner you do something the better it will be.  This is one reason that we do inspections.

What to do when you are queenless.

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Package Bee demographics

As you are probably aware one of the disadvantages of a package (or swarm) of honey bees as compared to a nuc is that while a nuc should be growing in population from the very first day, a package actually loses population until eggs laid after it is installed begin to emerge.   Here is an estimate of how the population of a package falls and rises after installation day…

  • Day one – package installed in hive.
  • Day 23 or 24 shows lowest bee population.
  • Day 30 shows return to package initial population.
    Growth continues.
  • Day 40 shows twice initial package population.
  • Day 42 marks the point when all bees in hive are truly your bees.
  • Day 50 shows three times initial bee population.
  • Day 59 marks beginning of population stabilization as deaths offset births.

So, as you can see a package takes about a month before its population grows past the initial size – while a nuc grows from day one.

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Counting Mites

“If you can’t measure it, You can’t manage it…”  Varroa mites are  the scourge of honey bees and beekeepers – success is unlikely without some strategy to manage them.  Unfortunately many beekeepers – especially new ones – come under the impression that they will somehow get a pass or that their bees don’t have mites.

Since they are almost never seen during inspections mites are out of sight and out of mind until a colony mysteriously dies at which point the mishap is often blamed on weather, wax moths or Small Hive Beetles when the truth is often (usually even) that mites brought disease into the colony weeks or months before it died.

If you don’t measure mite loads, you can’t know when you need to take action, or if your treatments were effective.  “I treated and my bees died anyway…”  Did you treat before the hive was so infested that it was too late?  Did your treatment work?  If you don’t do mite counts you simply can not answer these questions.  You are only guessing.

And another video showing and alcohol wash…

The following video shows a brood frame with symptoms of Parasitic Mite Syndrome caused by a severe infestation of Varroa…

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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.

Recommendations

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.

Resources

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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