Simple way to Tie in Comb

Bees are very adaptable about working around things that we do. See the queen?


A scrap of 1/2" x 1" mesh hardware cloth can be used as a very easy way to hang broken comb in frames - or as in these pictures from top bars.

If you ever do bee removals you might have to attach natural comb into a hive setup.  This is just one of many ways.  Probably one of the easier ways for top bar hives.

Don’t Forget – We will not be having a “regular” meeting for the month of May – instead  on Saturday May 5 at 2:30 in the afternoon we will be having a field day where we will actually get to work with bees.   This will happen at the TTU apiary which is located across the road (Old Gainesboro Grade / 12th street / TN state Rt 290) from the Hyder-Burks Agriculture Pavilion.

Bee suits will be optional, but Everyone Must Wear a Veil.  More information will follow – but please pass it around.

Installing Your New Bees

This has actually been mentioned before, but I know that at least one person who got bees tonight did not know…   The nucleus hives that many of you bought with our club order are made up with Deep frames – traditionally most nucs are – however many people now want to use all medium frames.  If you are using deep hive bodies then no worries, but what do you do if you have medium hives and discover that your deep nuc frames won’t fit?  All is not lost.

Start by putting one empty medium hive body on your bottom board then put enough frames of foundation in it to make up the difference between your nuc and the frame count of your equipment – in other words if you have a 4 frame nuc, and you have 10 frame medium equipment, put 6 medium frames in.  Push all of those frames to one side.  Set another medium hive body on top of that.  Now install your nucleus hive frames in the second box – they will hang down into the space you left in the bottom box.  Now reach down with your hive tool and push the medium frames over against the deep ones – you might have to space them out to match the bee space between the matching frames, but don’t leave a big space between them.  Now fill the second box with medium frames – also push them over against the deep frames.  Never leave empty spaces in your hives or the bees will build burr comb in it.

The deep frames do not go down as far as the bottom set of mediums, and the bees will build some natural comb on the bottom of them.  Don’t worry about it.  Inspecting the medium frames in the bottom box will be a bit of a pain – so as long as you see what you need to see in the second box don’t worry about them for a while.   Eventually the deep frames will be empty and you will be able to move them out – or if you get anxious about it you can move them above a queen excluder – in a few weeks any brood in them will emerge.  Once they only have honey or nectar in them you can take them out of the hive and either extract it (if it is good honey) or you can leave it out and let the bees remove it.

This is a bit less than ideal, but the bees really won’t care.

When to install your Package bees

I have done a little research on if there is a better time to hive your packages, and as JD mentioned in previous comments  late in the evening is probably best if possible, because the bees are less likely to drift or even just leave.   So, what I said at the last meeting was wrong – sorry about that.  From my notes and clips:

Installing Nucs

“… When you get the nuc home place it on top of the hive it is to go in and leave it be until the next day, making sure you have opened the entrance. Assuming the entrance has been closed. Then, sometime during the (following) day, transfer the frames from the nuc into the hive. I prefer working bees during daylight hours, not darkness.

… Folks should keep in mind that bees are quite flexible and handled properly won’t perish easily. (you) may even find it beneficial to leave the bees in the nuc box they come in for a few days or a week even, depending on the weather and whether the combs in the nuc box are completely filled out.  … in NY I wouldn’t install a nuc in a full sized box right now (April 6), unless I kept them in the same configuration as they were in the nuc box. Not until some nectar flow started. Then I would put one frame inside each of the two outside nuc frames, to be filled if comb or drawn if foundation.”

-Mark Berninghausen, Brasher Falls NY- Commercial Bee Keeper  former New York State Apiary Inspector, and frequent contributor on

Installing Package bees

There are lots of opinions (from equally authoritative sources) on the “best” way to install package bees – but people who do it a lot seem to agree that if you are installing multiple packages, doing it later in the evening can help to minimize drifting – a possible cause of problems when one hive becomes very strong and the other gets very weak.   Also, misting the bees with water or light syrup before/during the install apparently helps to prevent drift – which is new info to me, but makes sense, because it keeps them from flying while they clean off all the stickiness.   So I was incorrect to say at the recent meeting that you should install packages asap – although if you are just starting with only one package and no other hives nearby for the bees to drift to it is probably alright –  I did say that I had little experience at this.

The tried and true method of queen release in package installs is to hang the queen in her cage in the hive – and let the hive release her over time by eating through the candy plug (don’t forget to expose the candy though!) But If the package is at least 3 days old there has been ample experience among commercial bee keepers that directly releasing the queen is as effective as leaving her in the cage – if the package is newer than 3 days or of unknown age then the general consensus is that doing a candy release is safer.  The bulk of disagreement seems to come from people who have never really tried both methods.

If you are installing a package in any kind of foundationless configuration – top bar or otherwise – you must directly release the queen or the presence of the cage is almost sure to result in bad comb being built.

Making Increase

A queen cell being fed.

Making increase is how bee keepers refer to expanding their stocks.  Not so long ago all bee keepers made increase because they couldn’t just order some bees and let someone else do it for them.  Somewhere along the line things changed and something that all bee keepers used to know became a mystery – It’s really easy to make increase.


Any queenless hive that has the necessary resources to do so will try to make a queen. The required things being – very young larva, food, bees, and drones for the queen to mate with.

The reason that this is possible is that the only difference between a queen and a worker bee is the way they are fed for the first 5 days of their life.

So, splitting a hive is really as simple as it sounds.  Divide 1 hive into 2 making sure that both of them have young brood/eggs, and food.  If you do this when drones are available (BTW, there are tons of drones at the date of this post)  You have a good chance that the queenless half will successfully make a queen – and there you are, 2 hives from one.  You don’t even have to find the queen to do it.  This is called a Walk away split.

Notice that I said “a good chance?”  I would estimate that there is about a 1 in 5 chance of failure.  The main reason that a walk away split might fail is that the big, fat, brightly colored, slow flying queen gets eaten by a bird on her mating flight.  If I was a bird that’s the one I would eat.  Probably tastes like honey.

Fortunately there is a way to guarantee that the queenless hive will successfully make a new  queen.  Very simple.  First of all you have to determine which hive got the queen to begin with – Inspect after a week – one hive will have young brood/eggs and the other will have queen cells.  Needless to say the one with eggs is queenright.  So here’s the trick –  once a week give the queenless hive a frame of mixed brood.  That is – a frame that has at least a few eggs/very young brood.  If you do that, eventually the hive will make a mated queen – and you will see new brood even if you don’t see the queen.

When you are making a walk away split you are producing what is commonly called an “Emergency” Queen.  That’s because the queenless hive detected the emergency situation that it was queenless and used the available resources to make a queen.  Some people will claim that emergency queens are likely to be inferior – other equally authoritative people swear that they are not.  I can tell you for sure that it would take more of an expert than I to tell the difference. If you have never made increase before, splitting is the way to start.  And I can guarantee this – when you have a queen fail (when, not if) you will be quite glad to have an emergency queen on hand ready to use.

Stacking the Deck

Want to get more bang for your buck?

Instead of a walk away split find the queen and move her – along with the frame she is on and another frame of stores, and the clinging bees on both frames to a nucleus hive – in a new location in the same bee yard.  This Queenright hive will take off pretty quickly, and the queenless hive will have all of the original foragers and the full population – so it will be more likely to make several high quality well fed queen cells.

An excellent frame of brood with queen cells on it. If you find a frame like this the bees have already done all the work for you - just put this frame along with a frame of stores in a nuc and with a little luck in 3 weeks or so you will have a complete new hive.

5 days after making the split (any type of split) the queen cells will be capped. On about day 12 the new virgin queens will emerge.  Unfortunately  the first queen to emerge will sting all of her sisters to death before they come out.  However, most likely there will be more than one frame with queen cells.  So, on day 10 after making the split do an inspection and move each frame with a queen cell to it’s own nucleus hive  along with another frame of stores, and the clinging bees on both frames.  Then you will have a good chance of ending up with several queenright colonies.  These are called “mating nucs.”

Mating nucs

Such small hives like this won’t build up before winter –  Will they?

It depends.  As previously mentioned some won’t even make a laying queen, but of the ones that do often even mediocre queens lay like mad at first – and you will easily see brood about a month after starting the split.  Building up depends more on the weather and available resources than anything, but if you feed you can help them a lot.  I have made splits as late as the middle of July which made it through the winter fine, and were booming in the spring.  But I recommend that you split in April – May so that they have time and weather conducive to growth.  Remember 2 things though 1) 2 queens can lay twice as many eggs as 1.  2) Hives that are judged to be too small or weak can be combined at any time.

Your splits will build up more if they are made during the earlier part of the Spring mating season.  But it’s going to be hard to make a honey crop with a hive if you do that.  If you make your split after the honey flow is over you will probably have to feed it to get it to draw comb and build up – which isn’t all that bad.  But that is also robbing season – and feeding weak hives is likely to set off robbing which is stressful to all hives involved.

Can You Split AND make a Honey Crop?

Maybe.  If you were to split the queen out of a hive about a month or so before the main flow ends (in a normal year that would be around the middle of May)  it might actually make a larger honey crop (and you wouldn’t have to worry about it swarming after that) because any eggs that she lays after that point wouldn’t be mature until after the flow is over anyway, and in the mean time they would eat lots of food.  So a few days after removing the queen from your honey production hive it won’t have any open brood to feed and all of the bees can concentrate on bringing in and processing your honey.  And it should be able to make a high quality queen.  The catch is that it can be pretty hard to find the queen in a big strong production hive.

Increase Tips

  • Making increase is most likely to be successful during the Spring flow/Mating period.  NORMALLY from about mid March – Early June.   When you are seeing trees with flowers blooming.  Before robbing season starts.
  • Any time you are making a split or nucleus hive it will help it a lot if you give it an extra shake of nurse bees from a brood frame.
  • You do not have to move a split to a distant location, but all of the foragers will go to the original spot in the yard.  The split will start foraging in a few days, but make sure it has enough food to get by until it can fend for itself.
  • Reduce entrances on weak hives to prevent robbing.
  • Because foragers will always return to the original location – resulting in that hive being stronger after making a split – It is best if the hive with the queen in it is the one that moves to a new location.
  • The best queens are produced in strong hives with lots of well fed young nurse bees – it supposedly takes the attention of 300 nurse bees to make one good queen cell.
  • Any time you find a frame with a swarm cell make up a nuc with it for the easiest increase ever – and prevent the mother hive from swarming.  Maybe.
  • Strong hives have a high population density – weak hives do not.  When it comes to bee hives strong and weak do not equal large and small.  A small hive can be strong, and a large hive can be weak.  Strong hives are better at building good quality queen cells.
  • A new queen will start laying about 1 month after you make a split.
  • Queen cells will be capped about 5 days after making a split.
  • Developing queens are extremely fragile for 4 days after the cells are capped – don’t handle them during this period. Try to make up mating nucs on day 10 after splitting.
  • Virgin queens will emerge about 12 days after splitting, and will generally be mated by about a week later, and will start laying in about another week. About a month after you split you should be able to find brood.
  • You can tell if a hive has a queen or not by giving it a frame of open brood – if it is queenless the frame will have capped queen cells on it in 5 days.
  • Giving a hive a frame of open brood every week is the cure all for any queen related issue – eventually it will fix hives with old failing queens, drone laying queens, laying workers, and queenless hives.  Three frames over 3 weeks usually does it.
  • There used to be a prominent belief that a queenless hive would make an inferior queen because it would start with larva that were too old, but this idea has been somewhat discredited.
  • A split might not be able to make a superior queen if all of the brood is on tough old comb – but they usually can find a spot that they can work with.  If the comb is new this year then no problems.
  • Don’t worry too much about drones as long as you are only producing a few queens at a time, during the spring mating season.  Chances are that your queens will find plenty of drones.
  • Any time you are moving frames around either make sure that you aren’t accidentally moving the queen, or make sure that it doesn’t matter.
  • Newly emerged virgins are queen killers – if you put a frame with a cell on it into a queenright colony the laying queen will probably be killed.

Want to learn more about rearing queens?