This blog explains how I keep bees. It works for me, it might not work for you. Use my methods at your own risk. Always wear protective clothing and use a smoker when working bees.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Package Bees or Nucs


A nuc in May
3 lb package bees in April

It is getting close to the time to ordering bees for the upcoming bee season. The question I get asked frequently is which is better, package bees or nucs?

 Nucs or nucleus hive usually comes in five frames with brood and bees. Normally nucs arrive in early May. Most nucs that come to Minnesota and Wisconsin come from Texas, Mississippi or Georgia. During the month of February, in Texas, a beekeeper will divide a colony and take one frame of brood and bees and put it in a five frame nuc box with four used frames, or a side by side four frame nuc box that was made out of a deep brood box. A sealed queen cell is added at this time. The queen will hatch and go out and get mated in the next 10 - 14 days or so. As time goes on , the queen starts laying and the population will slowly start to increase. In a perfect world, if the weather is favorable (warm), the nuc will grow to approximately 3 - 4 frames of brood by May 1st. If the weather is not favorable (cold) the population will suffer and the nuc will have less brood and bees. So someone who has purchased a nuc in January for example, will get the nuc that is coming, if has been a cool spring in Texas the nuc will not be as populated with brood and bees as if it is a warm spring. So the beekeeper in MN or WI doesn't know what they will be getting. Also, if the nucs arrive late, a beekeeper should expect a better population and more brood in the colony. Nucs that arrive in late May with only two and a partial frame of brood, will not develop in time of the nectar flow and may not even put up enough honey for their winter stores. So getting delivery dates and asking how many frames of bees and brood you can expect, is good to document. Bees coming out of the southern USA will come with hive beetle. If it is a warm spring the hive beetle levels will be higher than in cool spring. Beetles that arrive with your nucs can fly. The beetles can move into other equipment that you are not presently using and start rearing larvae, especially on unoccupied brood frames.

Package bees, usually come from California and Georgia. The package bees from Georgia will have hive beetle in the package. The package bees from California will have very little, if any, hive beetle. So know your bee supplier, I have always preferred the California bees. In my opinion, I feel the California queen producers are some of the best queen breeders in the industry. To have a good hive you need a good queen. With package bees a beekeeper always knows what they are getting. Three lbs of bees and a queen. The number never changes and the outcome is usually predictable. When the bees are trucked here non stop, the bees usually arrive in great shape. Resist the temptation to have bees shipped to you via a shipping service. When bees are shipped using a shipping service, the bees can arrive with many, sometimes over an inch deep of dead bees on the bottom of the cage. When they are trucked in on a bee truck, the numbers of dead bees is very low.  

So on a head to head comparison. A package of bees installed on drawn comb around April 10th, will have about 3 to 4 frames of brood and bees in the hive on May 7th. If it has been a cold spring this may be slightly less, a warm spring slightly more. Package bees in late May should have 7 frames of bees and brood. 

 A nuc arriving from Texas on May 7th may have 3 - 4 frames of brood and bees. If it has been cool, this may be slightly less, a warm spring, slightly more. A nuc arriving in late May should have about 4 - 5 frames of brood and bees. If the numbers are less than this, the nuc will be a liability and will cost the beekeeper money to feed the bees for winter. The nucs arrive with used frames. Nuc producers usually outfit their nucs with frames culled out of their hives. In most case the beekeepers receiving the used frames, need to discard the frames as soon as possible. Old, black used frames can have high levels of pesticides and nosema spores. The frames sometimes can look pretty tough. Package bees go in on your own frames. 

In my opinion there is not a huge advantage to nucs. Sometimes nucs look great, nice and strong, other times nucs look weak. When you get a weak nuc you just plopped down $175 on, you received a hive that may never give you honey and may turn out to be a liability. If you have to feed the nuc just to get the bees to winter, the nuc really cost you over $200.

Package bees are always the same, the bees usually come in on time. In over thirty years of keeping bees, there were three times that the package bees came in late. Every time it was weather related, and most bee suppliers were having the same issues.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Doldrums of January

 In the hive not much has changed. The bees are on the frames of honey eating their food source to produce energy to produce heat for the cluster.  The bees in the cluster move around quite a bit. Bees on the outside of the cluster will change places with the inner cluster bees. The bees share the work on keeping the cluster warm. 

The bees are not keeping the inside of the hive warm. This is what many beekeepers think, that the bees are heating the inside of the hive. But if we measured the temperature about 9 - 10 inches away from the cluster, the temperature will likely be very close to the outside temperature. 

The cluster will get looser or tighter depending on the outside temperature. When we experience temperatures in the 20's, the bees can easily move around near the cluster. When it gets below zero, the bees hunker down in a tight cluster. The problem beekeepers can run into is, if it gets frigid, the cluster has a harder time to move to a new frame of honey. The bees can starve even though honey is a frame away. This is the gamble beekeepers take every winter. With a little luck, the bees are on a ample frame of honey and can weather the cold spell. 

 Right now, I wouldn't expect the bees have consumed a huge amount of honey, being the winter has been pretty tame so far. Rumor of some very cold weather moving in a week sometime late next week. Not sure if it will happen, but that is the winter we face in the upper Midwest. It is mid January as I write this, we can feed syrup in about 6 weeks, package bees will be coming in about 10 - 12 weeks.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Happy New Year - What is happening in the hive in January and Ordering Bees

      Need Bees: Here is a link to Nature's Nectar Bee Order Form

Dead bees in front of the hive is normal.

 Right now the bees are just hanging out eating honey in the hive. The cluster of bees are enveloping a frame or two of honey. The bees are consuming the honey for nourishment and to produce heat for their cluster.

The winter so far has been very good for the bees. No extreme weather. no below zero winter blast with bone chilling windchill. The bees should be in the box below the top box right now. Bees consume about 9 - 12 lbs of honey a month this time of year. That is about a frame to a frame and a half of honey. So since the first of November, the bees have consumed about 2 - 3 frames of honey. The month of January is the transition month. Usually sometime in late January, the bees will start a slow transition into the top box. If you fed your bees properly, there is at least 8 frames of honey in the top box. By the time the bees get into the top box, there will be about 4 - 6 weeks of cold winter left before beekeepers can feed syrup. 

 This week the temperatures will be in the 30's and sunny. I expect to see bees going out on cleansing flights. Many bees will not make it back to the hive and the ground surrounding the hive will become littered with the corpses of dead bees. This is normal behavior. Many bees that are dying, are bees that are on the end of their normal life span. Bees would rather die outside and away from the hive when possible. The warm weather also aides the cluster to be able to slightly reorient to maybe another frame of honey. So if a big cold blast comes, the bees would be on ample food stores to survive the short term below zero spell.

 The days are starting to get longer, the sun intensity will get stronger, making the bees an easier time keeping the hive warm during sunny days. If we can stay away from any extended below zero weather, we may have some very good overwintering reports come February.

Need Bees: Here is a link to Nature's Nectar Bee Order Form