The following tips and pictures are from Scientific Beekeeping website.
How do you install a nucleus colony (“nuc”)?
Install the nuc in the center of a brood box with additional frames to fill the box. Keep the frames of the nuc in their original order. Be very careful not to crush the queen.
When should you feed a new colony or nuc?
Immediately, and consistently start feeding sugar syrup to the new colony until all the frames in the lower box are fully drawn. Feeding sugar syrup to the small colony frees the bees from the need to forage for nectar, and they can use their efforts instead to collect pollen, rear brood, produce beeswax, and draw out comb.
When should a new colony be inspected?
For best queen survival, you should not disturb the new colony for a few days (other than feeding). Inspect the colony after a week. Use little smoke and minimal disturbance. If all’s well, the bees should have started drawing out fresh comb, there should be brood of all ages, including white larvae and eggs. Note that eggs are very difficult for the beginner to see, especially against new comb. The presence of any eggs, or young larvae in royal jelly, means that you have a queen, and all’s well—you need not actually see the queen!
How often should I inspect my colony?
There are no “shoulds” in beekeeping. You are learning about beekeeping. You can learn some things from books, but there is nothing like the hands-on experience that you get from closely observing what is going on inside the box. So open your hive as often as you can (every other day is OK) so long as you use only enough smoke to keep the bees from looking at you, and handle the frames carefully and gently. Sure, such frequent opening is disruptive to the bees and may result in some degree of queen losses, but it is the only way you will ever become a good beekeeper. It is far easier to observe the growth of a small nucleus colony than it is to tear into a hive when it is huge. So get in there and watch your colony grow! Learn to recognize the ages of the brood, fresh eggs, the expansion of the broodnest, pollen stores, comb building, etc. It is not necessary to ever actually see the queen, so long as you see eggs or young brood.
Initial Varroa Management
If the nuc has not been treated, give it a treatment prior to Day 8 after installation (at which time varroa can begin to “hide” in the sealed brood): the application of either a Hopguard II strip (considered an “organic” treatment, but less effective), or an Apivar strip (synthetic, but highly effective).
How can I determine colony condition?
There is little need to ask others for advice–if you learn to read the bees and the combs, the colony will tell you its exact condition, and whatever it needs. See the labelled components below.
To determine colony condition, work your way to a center brood comb, and pay most attention to the interface between the honey at the top and the brood below.
In this dynamic interface, you will be able to tell whether the colony is hungry or storing honey, and how good their protein reserves are.
You always want to see a nice band of beebread around the brood. Should this band disappear, suspect that the colony is suffering from nutritional stress (more later). There does not seem to be any benefit to feeding pollen sub patties to colonies if they are already gathering plenty of natural pollen (in the Foothills, from Feb-end of June).
How to behave when working with bees
Move smoothly–like you’re doing Tai Chi. Bees only sting when they feel that you are threatening their hive. So don’t do anything threatening! Fast or jerky movements appear threatening. Always use smoke, but use it sparingly. The only bees that will sting are the guard bees on the periphery of the cluster–especially at the entrance and at the top bars. Bees that are not looking at you aren’t interested in you. If you see bees looking at you, give them a little puff of smoke and wait until they turn away from you. It is only safe to pick up a frame if there are no bees looking at you.
Bees will often fly at your hands or face and give “warning bumps” prior to actual stinging. Pay attention to what they are telling you–BACK OFF! They either don’t want to be disturbed at that moment, or you have not used enough smoke, or you’ve been too rough.
If there are bees looking at you, warning bumps, stinging, or the smell of alarm pheromone, STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING! Do not keep going, or things will quickly get worse–you don’t want to go there! Give the bees a chance to calm down, and for alarm pheromone to dissipate. Give the top bars a light puff or two of smoke until there are no bees facing you. If you can’t get them to calm down, then just close the hive up for the day.
The best way to learn how to work gently with bees is to carefully watch an experienced beekeeper who doesn’t usually wear gloves (or veil). Such a beekeeper has learned how to work bees with care and respect. Those who always wear gloves and full gear often have very bad habits. I strongly suggest that you learn to work bees barehanded in good weather–thin latex or nitrile gloves are a good way to eliminate most stings, but still get a “feel” for the bees.
Watching a colony grow
As the population grows, and the colony can cover more frames, the bees will draw combs of foundation from the center out, and the queen will start laying in those combs. This is your chance to watch a colony grow! (The population of bees in a nuc will expand quickly; that of a package, not until 3 weeks after installation).
You may check the colony as often as you like, but be aware that clumsy handling by beginners often results in queen loss–so handle the combs carefully.
In general, place the combs back into the same arrangement that the bees had. Always keep brood (and frames of eggs) together, honey to the outside, and pollen at the edge of the brood nest.
In which order should combs be arranged?
Always keep brood (and frames of eggs) together, honey to the outside, and pollen at the edge of the brood nest.
Exception: It’s hard for the bees to draw out the outermost combs. Once the bees draw out the inner side of the second combs in, reverse those combs, and move them to the outside (only if they contain no eggs–see illustration).
For how long should I feed sugar syrup?
Feed the colony sugar syrup continuously, but not to the extent that the queen is unable to expand the brood nest due to excess stored syrup and nectar. If the bees store syrup in the centre of the brood area, cut back on feeding.
How do I check the queen and the brood?
Make sure you have a queen—indicated by eggs and brood of all ages. Note that it is common for beginners to inadvertently kill the queen by inexpert handling of the frames!
Check to see that the queen is laying a regular pattern of brood in concentric rings by age. If brood pattern is spotty or uneven, the queen may have a problem, or the colony may be suffering from a brood disease.
A colony with well-fed, healthy brood.
If there are multiple eggs in a cell, or you see bullet-shaped cappings in worker brood cells, you may have laying workers or a drone-laying queen. If you see a peanut-shaped brood cell on the side of a comb, the colony is in the process of replacing (superseding) a poor queen.
If the brood is “spotty,” look for signs of brood disease—chalkbrood (white & tan “mummies”), EFB (twisted white & yellow larvae–often hard to diagnose), or AFB (sunken perforated cappings, melted brown larvae that “rope”)
If there are queen cells being formed, the colony may have lost their queen (several small, scattered emergency queen cells), may be superseding the queen (one or two very large queen cells on the side of a frame; allow the process to continue), or be preparing to swarm (large queen cells often at the bottom of the frames–colony needs more room).
How do I check the colony for varroa?
Varroa is the Leading Cause of Colony Morbidity and Mortality
The leading cause of colony failure for beginners is from not managing varroa mite levels, which then allows viruses and nosema to kill the colony. If your colony was strong in summer, and then the bees suddenly disappear in fall, leaving behind plenty of honey above, and scattered sealed brood in the lower box, varroa is generally the culprit. You can diagnose by holding a brood frame horizontal with the top bar away from you. With the sun coming over your shoulder to illuminate the “ceilings” of the cells, look for the telltale white guanine deposits left by mites. If you see them, it was most likely varroa that did your colony in. Here are some photos of typical varroa deadouts:
How & when do I monitor Varroa infestation levels?
Starting in July after installing a new nuc or package, you should test it for mite level, using a sticky board or other method (I strongly recommend the “alcohol wash” or “sugar shake”). Assume that all nucs have varroa mite. You must monitor mite level, and treat if the mite level exceeds the seasonal “treatment threshold” (1 mite/100 bees prior to July 1, 2/100 July 1 through late fall). We are having great success with mite-tolerant queens, biotechnical methods, and “natural” treatments.
I recommend mite testing in early spring, before supering, again in early August, and in late September (Northern Calif).
Due to the huge variability of stickyboard counts, any single stickyboard count is nearly meaningless. However, they can be of use if done regularly.
The best test is an alcohol or detergent wash of a level half cup of bees (~320 bees), or the “sugar shake” (seehttp://scientificbeekeeping.com/sick-bees-part-11-mite-monitoring-methods/). Update: I’m currently favoring taking bee samples for the alcohol wash from outer or upper frames (rather than brood frames) in order to minimize colony disturbance and the possibility of killing the queen. Since bees from these frames carry only about 80% of the mites of bees from the broodnest, adjust the treatment thresholds accordingly (never more than 5 mites per level half cup of bees).
At less than 2 mites per 100 bees (6 in an alcohol wash of 1/2 cup of bees), virus transmission by mites is not a major issue. At 5 per 100 (15 in a wash), some viruses begin to go epidemic. At 15/100 (45 in a wash), colonies generally start to go into a death spiral.
The most important time to sample is between August 15 and the onset of winter.
Which treatments are available against Varroa?
Treatments for varroa control
Suggestion #1: Be proactive rather than reactive! It is far easier to keep the varroa level down from the start, than to later attempt to bring it down once the mites have overrun the colony.
We have very good success with Apiguard gel (thymol) or MAQS (formic acid). I also recommend a 3.5% oxalic acid dribble (applied accurately) before Christmas (Northern Calif). I’ve detailed your seasonal choices for mite treatments below.
All miticides are poisons, but some are safer than others to both the bees and to humans. The “natural” treatments are all part of our normal diet, and most are naturally found in the hive at low concentrations. I do not hesitate to use them, since the benefit of controlling varroa far outweighs any health concerns to the bees or their keeper. That said, the natural treatments are all stressful to the colony, so application instructions must be carefully followed. Proactive treatment allows you to use lower (and less stressful) doses.
Thymol: Natural and safe (25 g of Apiguard gel contains the same amount of thymol as does 1 lb of fresh thyme herb). Thymol is the only consistently effective essential oil (actually a crystal at room temperature) found to date. I suggest wearing disposable gloves (to remind you not to rub your eyes) . We’ve used Apiguard successfully from 55°F to 95°F, applying 25 g (in a lump, not spread out) on an index card laid across the center of the top bars between the brood chambers (application without the card can result in excessive colony disturbance) http://scientificbeekeeping.com/the-learning-curve-part-3-the-natural-miticides/. We adjust the dose according to cluster size and temperature—the proper dose will cause the removal of a handful of pupae onto the bottom board by the next morning (the colony will remove them from the hive soon afterward). I do not recommend applying under the lid, especially in hot weather. Repeat in a week to 10 days if mite count is not reduced adequately. Do not apply if honey supers are on.
Formic acid: Natural and pretty safe, depending upon how you handle it (definitely wear nitrile gloves; the respirator is generally unnecessary). The three main advantages of formic are that it effectively kills mites, is already a natural component of honey, and that it leaves zero residues in the hive. The problem is that the liquid form is somewhat dangerous to handle, and getting an appropriate release of vapors is tricky. The product Mite Away Quick Strips (MAQS) is the most user friendlyhttp://scientificbeekeeping.com/an-early-summer-test-of-mite-away-quick-strips/,http://scientificbeekeeping.com/miticides-2011/. Works best in doubles without supers. A single-strip treatment gives decent mite “knock back.” A half strip works for singles with at least 5 frames of bees. Applied in doubles at full dose (two strips) in summer, we lose about 1 queen out of 25. Mite kill may not be consistent, so check back.
Oxalic dribble: Natural and safe (the amount used is equivalent to that in a 3½-oz serving of spinach). This product is available at any hardware store as Wood Bleach. Follow the mixing directions at http://scientificbeekeeping.com/oxalic-acid-treatment-table/ exactly, as there is only a small margin of safety to the bees. The oxalic syrup is very safe to handle, but care should be taken not to splash it into your eyes. The treatment is by far most effective if the colony is broodless. Best use is for a single application in November, or earlier if the colony has shut down broodrearing. You can also apply in summer—3 applications, a week apart. Excellent for “cleaning up” nucs in the spring http://scientificbeekeeping.com/simple-early-treatment-of-nucs-against-varroa/.
Amitraz: Commercial U.S. beekeepers have used the agricultural product Taktic, generally mixed with oil or shortening, for a number of years with consistent success (although this practice is illegal). Apivar strips are an improvement, being legal, as well as delivering a reduced and safer dose over 42 days, resulting in high efficacy of kill, and fewer residues in the hive. The strips, however, do not cause a quick kill, so may be most effective in either spring (applied at least 42 days before the honey flow), or in fall if mite levels are not too high, and there is enough time before cold weather sets in. I gave Apivar only three stars since it does leave a residue, which recent studies suggest may affect sperm viability in the queen and have other sublethal effects on the bees, as well as the EPA’s legitimate concerns about its safety to humans. There is also evidence that some mite populations have developed resistance to the active ingredient.
Hopguard: this recent addition to the arsenal is completely natural, not surprisingly tasting like bitter, concentrated hopshttp://scientificbeekeeping.com/miticides-2011/. You’ll want to handle it with disposable gloves due to its messiness. Its utility and effectiveness are similar to oxalic acid, but it is more costly. The new Hopguard II strips are effective in nucs, packages, or broodless colonies; just be sure not to directly hit the queen with the strip when you insert them.
Fluvalinate and Coumaphos: These first-generation synthetic miticides (along with the off-label use of agricultural products containing the active ingredients) quickly bred for resistant mites, and contaminated the entire U.S. beeswax supply. I cannot recommend their use.
When should I add another brood chamber?
Once the bees have drawn out all the combs in the first brood box, you can add the second brood box (you may wish to add a drone frame for mite trapping). Keep feeding the colony until all the combs are drawn out. At this point, the brood chamber is complete (assuming a double deep brood chamber), and you should discontinue feeding.
A healthy colony will often create drone comb between the two brood chambers in spring. Always check such exposed brood immediately for the presence of varroa, as it is a decent indicator of brewing problems.
When should I add more Honey Supers?
Once the colony has filled two brood chambers (this may not occur in your first year), you can then add a queen excluder (I highly recommend) and honey supers.
If the colony fails to move up onto foundation in an added box:
Lack of honeyflow or syrup feeding. Bees will not draw foundation unless they are “whitening wax” due to intense feeding or an intense nectar flow.
Don’t bother adding foundation unless you see white wax. But always add more combs if you do!
How do I encourage bees to draw foundation placed above a queen excluder?
Bees do not like to draw foundation placed above an excluder (not a problem if you are adding drawn comb, which you will unfortunately not have available your first season).
To encourage bees to work through the excluder, I suggest “reversing” the brood chambers if there is a band of honey across the top of the upper combs. This maneuver will place brood directly below the excluder, which encourages the bees to work upward.
How do I prepare the colony for the winter?
Your colony will generally reach its maximum size around July 1, and get somewhat smaller during the late summer and fall. Colonies winter best (in the foothills) in two deep brood chambers or equivalent, with a total weight (mainly due to honey) of about 130 lbs (you need at least two fingers to tip the hive). If the hive is not heavy by the end of September, feed heavy sugar syrup until it is.
If your apiary is located in a dry area of the foothills, there may not be enough pollen to sustain late summer broodrearing–colonies in these areas greatly benefit from late summer feeding with pollen supplement. Any of the top-tier pollen supplements work–if you don’t see pollen beebread in an arc above the brood, the colony is likely hurting for protein. We typically feed each colony several pounds of pollen supplement during August through October. This may not be necessary if you live in town or in an irrigated area.
Winter prep consists of having the hives off the ground and in a well-drained sunny location. It helps to reduce the entrance. A well-prepared colony (well fed, and low mite level) should need no care during the winter, and will begin to rebuild its population in January. An insulated cover (such as with 1″ of Styrofoam) will help the colony.
How do I know the protein status of a colony?
The best indicator of protein status is how much jelly the nurse bees are feeding to the young larvae. Larvae fed generously with jelly are called “wet.”
When a colony suffers from protein deficiency, the nurses will cut back on the amount of jelly that they feed to larvae. See the photo below for “dry” brood.
Queen making & swarming
Queen making & swarming (from: British Beekeepers Association)
1. Bees construct up to 20 wax queen cells, which are acorn like and point downwards.
2. The queen lays fertilised eggs in each queen cell.
3. The young (nurse) bees feed the young queen larvae with a rich creamy food called Royal Jelly, and extend the cell downwards until it is about 25mm in length.
4. Nine days after laying, the first queen cell is sealed with a layer of wax capping.
5. This is the time for a large swarm (called a prime swarm) of bees leaves the hive led by the older bees. The old queen has been starved of food to make her lighter and able to fly. The older bees can jole the old queen to join the swarm.
6. Eight days later first virgin queen leaves her cell. Two things can now occur, either the first virgin queen leads a smaller swarm from the hive (called a cast) or she locates the other queen cells and kills her sisters by stinging through the wax wall of their cells.
7. About one week later the young queen takes her first flight to orientate her to her new surroundings.
8. The queen will shortly take several mating flights in which she will mate with up to 20 male bees called drones.
9. Three days later the mated queen will begin to lay fertilised eggs.
10. This queen will stay with the colony until at least the following year when she too may lead a prime swarm.