Easy Nuc

A nucleus hive like this is a valuable piece of bee keeping equipment.

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

If you have bees you need a nucleus hive, but we’ve already talked about that.  This is about how you can build a nucleus hive easily and economically – for about $15.   This is a 5 frame medium nuc, which I made from one 10′ 1×10 plank – bought at Lowe’s for about $12.50 – and which you can build with only a circular saw, hammer, nails, glue, tape measure, square, screw driver, and a pencil.  BTW, you can hurt your self with any of those tools – even a pencil can put an eye out, so follow all safety rules. Especially wear safety glasses when using a Skil saw.

Thou Shalt Not hold me or Cookeville Bee Keepers responsible for death, dismemberment, mayhem, boo-boos, loss of property, life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness which might result from your attempt to do anything – contained on this web site or not. Agreed?  If so we may proceed, otherwise turn back now – don’t even peek at the pictures.

The main criteria for this nuc is that it can be easily built with nothing more advanced than a Skil saw, so if you are a woodworker you will no doubt spot things that you would do different, and I agree.  But, despite being simple to build this is a solid design.

Step 1

Cut a 56″ piece from your  10’x1x10 and then rip the 56″ piece down to 8″ wide – you don’t actually have to mark out everything before you start.   Save the long scrap – you’re going to use it too.

This nuc has about  1 1/4″ of space under the frames – which is kind of a lot, but I have found that extra space under there is not much of a problem, while too little is.  Also that is enough room for you to emergency feed in the winter by simply pouring some sugar in there – it also allows plenty of room in the winter for dead bees that sometimes build up during long spells of bad weather.  If you want less bottom space then simply adjust this dimension.  You can go as small as 1/4″.

If you want to build a nuc for deep frames you will have to use a 1×12 instead of a 1×10, and you will need to leave the 56″ piece the full width of the 1 x 12.  You will still be able to make your deep nuc from one 10′ plank because The small pieces (handles and whatnot) that are made from the rip can be made from the end scrap instead.  The top and bottom will still be the same dimensions though.

Step 2

Caption

Next – from the half that you previously ripped down to 8″ cut off a piece about 15 1/4″ long which will end up making both ends – but don’t cut them apart yet!

Step 3

Cutting the frame rest is the only part of this project that is even remotely difficult.

This is the trickiest part of the entire project – and it isn’t really very tricky.  Cut the frame rest by setting your saw to cut only 3/8″ deep and make a cut at 7/8″ down from the top – this is a little bit deeper than standard frame rests, but it allows you to use a CD jewel case as a Small Hive Beetle trap on the top bars of the nuc.  After you very carefully make the first 3/8″ deep cut at 7/8″ down make several more cuts close together above the first one, and then break out the waste wood with a screwdriver, chisel or strong knife.  It’s easier to do than it is to describe.

Step 4

The entrance can be a simple notch like this, or you can drill a hole if you prefer.   I like to drill a hole in both ends and then cover one of them with screen.  Tip – 1 1/8″ hole is the same size as a bottled water or twist off metal cap – in case you want to cork up the hole. 

Cut a notch in one end to be the entrance using the same technique that you used to cut the frame rest.  You really need to clamp the piece in a vise or something to safely make those cuts.  You can see in the picture that I haven’t broken out all of the waste yet.

An easier way would be to just cut off one of the corners, which would work just fine, but would look a little different.

I made the entrance 3/4″ x 3/4″ because I think that small hives do better with small entrances – especially during robbing season.  If you want a larger entrance then go for it.  If you have a drill you can also drill a hole anywhere that you want it – but if it is close to the bottom they will have an easier time removing dead bees and trash from the hive.  However if it is up just a little bit from the bottom you can actually feed in the spring by squirting syrup in through the entrance.   I never have, but I know that it is done.

Now you can cut the two ends to length.

Step 5

Cut all of the other pieces to length:

  • Sides – 2 each – 8″ x 19 7/8″
  • Ends – 2 each – 8″ x 7 1/2″
  • Bottom – 1 each – 9 1/4″ (full width of 1×10 lumber) by 19 7/8″
  • Top – 1 each – 9 1/4″ (full width of 1×10 lumber) by 23 1/4″
  • Top Stiffeners – 4 each – 9 1/4″ by about 1 1/4″ – or however wide your long scrap is.
  • Handles – 2 each 9″ by about 1 1/4″ – or however wide your long scrap is.

Step 6

The top is especially vulnerable to weather damage – so either cover it with something (aluminum trim metal is especially nice)  or give it a good coat of exterior paint.

Assemble everything using plenty of water proof glue – I like TiteBond 3 and nails or screws.  Do the best job you can fastening the stiffeners to the lid because lids have a strong tendency to warp.  Use a wet paper towel to wipe off excess glue as you go. If you use screws you will get much better results if you pre-drill the holes first to prevent splitting your wood.  Other wise small gauge nails work just fine.  As a matter of fact the holes around screw heads are quite prone to rot if they aren’t caulked and painted – so plain old nails may be just as good.

The turn bolt closure over the entrance is optional, but it sure is handy if you ever use your nuc to catch a swarm, or want to move it while full of bees.

With a good coat of exterior grade paint this nucleus hive  will last for years.

Disclaimer – the main reason that I built this nuc out of a pine 1 x 10 plank is that this material has more appeal to some people – but I build lots of equipment like this out of construction scraps – plywood and Advantech (a great, durable material for all kinds of equipment in my opinion)  and the bees don’t mind at all. I have some that are in their 4th year that are still solid as when new.    If you can get scraps for cheap or free then I say use them – it will save you money, and it’s recycling.  If you actually bought a sheet of 3/4 advantech it would cost you about $22 – $25 and would make 4 of these little hives – less than 1/2 price – and would be less likely to warp.  But it wouldn’t be as pretty.

Here is another easy nuc designed to be really economical – the pictures tell the whole story.  This is for a deep nuc.

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.

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:

[ultimatetables 1 /]

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.

NOTE:

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.

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:

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.