Preparing a nuc for winter: part 2


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Beekeeping advice, Beekeeping books, Nucs | Posted on 19-10-2010

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Bees nuc box

Five frame nuc - not a mini-nuc

It seems a few corrections are in order. For starters, what I’ve been referring to as a ‘mini-nuc’ for the last several weeks turns out to be simply a ‘nuc’. Also, Mrs S would like me to point out that that nice Mr Turnbull off the BBC wasn’t “hopeless” on Strictly Come Dancing (see ‘In the dark with Bill Turnbull’). He was actually rather good, apparently. So, sorry Bill.

This week I had a plan and I stuck to it. I was quick (see last entry), decisive… –ish, and meticulous in maintaining a written record – which is just as well, because at one point the voice recording of my inspection has me saying, “I’m removing the third frame, no, the fourth… hang on a minute, I’ve forgotten that one I took out earlier. So that’s the fifth frame… err, or is it?”

Turns out it was the fourth frame, which – packed with capped stores and brood – I transferred from the main colony to the nuc. The nuc already contained five frames so I had to take one out to accommodate it. The big question now was whether or not I should place the spare frame taken from the nuc back in the main colony, particularly as the latter was left with only seven drawn frames, plus one new frame with foundation, inserted the day before.

Damaged beehive honeycomb

Bad comb over: when it looks like this it's best to start again

To be honest, the spare looked a bit old and weather-beaten, and I wasn’t sure that there weren’t traces of mould in some of the cells (although it turned out later that what I was seeing was probably just white pollen). I remember Richard Ridler of the Essex Beekeepers Association delivering the ‘Beekeeping For Beginners’ class earlier this year, and recounting how when he and wife Jane started they almost performed their inspections with hive tool in one hand and copy of Ted Hooper’s Guide To Bees And Honey in the other. I now know exactly what he meant. Skip forward two hours and the magnificent Beekeeping Forum was able to tell me exactly what – and what not – to do, but that was after I’d sealed the hives up, having thoroughly messed both colonies around for 20 minutes.

So instead I elected to scrape away the affected cells with the ‘hook’ end of my hive tool. Fellow beekeeping novices, hear my advice: this is not a good thing to do. You will end up with a mess. See picture above left.

Other questions you may benefit from knowing the answers to are: is this beyond repair? Answer: yes, but only because the comb is past its sell-by date. What should one do with the sticky mess of uncapped stores and pollen left in the cells? Answer: throw it away and boil the frame before fitting new foundation. Is it a good idea to leave the main colony with effectively only seven frames? Answer: probably not. Now that I have however, I should keep feeding them and thank my lucky stars I’m located in the milder south of England.

I’m indebted to the members of the Beekeeping Forum for their advice.

Next week: Essex Beekeepers’ Annual Conference


Importance of beekeeping records


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Beekeeping advice, Mini nucs | Posted on 13-10-2010

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With inarguable logic this was to have been called ‘Preparing a mini nuc for winter: part 2’, except that it isn’t really part 2. It would have been part 2 if I’d followed Robert’s instructions or Ted Hooper’s instructions, or indeed my own plan, but I got side-tracked. No, that’s not it – I became entranced.

The one thing I have got going for me is that I keep records. Detailed records. Almost anally retentively so. My friend and fellow new-bee beekeeper Mark recently invited me over to see his Beehaus, and – in addition to its elegant design – I was immediately impressed by how carefully arranged the beekeeping equipment in his shed was. Everything laid out just so. But even Mark was impressed by how spectacularly over-the-top my bee colony record keeping was. Put it this way – I keep an Excel spreadsheet.

Honey bee larvae

Honey bee larvae in various stages of development (photo courtesy of Tony and

I also made a voice recording of my last inspection, although to be fair if you’ve ever struggled to take notes with your fingers stuck to each other and to the pencil, before flapping like a chicken to unglue the damn notebook from your hands, you’ll realise that using a digital voice-recorder is far from extravagant.

Why is all this significant? Well, for starters I now know from listening back to the tape that I spent 40 minutes inspecting the main colony. Forty minutes! I’ve seen experienced guys do ten beehives in that time. Also, in the course of my going backwards and forwards (trying to find the queen, inevitably) I lost track of how many frames contained brood. In the end I convinced myself that there were only two. My beautifully transcribed record however, now shows that there were four.

Part 2 of the plan was to have involved my moving a frame of brood from the main colony to mini-nuc. Instead, I ended up transferring another frame of stores. Which is fair enough, because while I was inspecting it (the mini-nuc) I was struck by how low on stores it was, despite it taking the bees two weeks to drain the contact feeder I gave them. My records now reveal that they’d actually been polishing off the nectar on the two frames Robert transferred in from the main colony.

So, lessons learned this week: take less time over inspections, stick to your plan, and keep records – because being able to refer back to them can help enormously.

I guess one out of three ain’t bad. Part 2 next week.


Preparing a mini nuc for winter: part 1


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Bee feeders, Beekeeping advice, Mini nucs | Posted on 08-10-2010

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2 October 2010: She’s laying! Frames 5 and 6 of the main colony have larvae. Frame 3 is the one I introduced more than a month ago now, so these are definitely the new queen’s offspring. It’s good to be back in business. I even manage to find the queen without too much difficulty. Bless that blue marker.

The weather is still not that great and the worker bees are fairly irritable, so once I’ve established that she’s there and laying I abandon the inspection and carefully push the frames back together again. …Before prising them apart to double-check that I haven’t squashed the queen, and then edging them together again …before prising them apart. Clearly the squashing-the-queen thing hasn’t quite been expunged from my memory.

I refill the rapid feeder housed in the otherwise empty super and expel half a dozen earwigs that are attempting to take up residence. Then I move on to the mini-nuc.

queen bee on frame of comb

Not exactly a hive of activity: spot the queen bee at the 8 o'clock position

With the main colony back on track and amply catered for with stores (I didn’t harvest any of their honey in this – my first – year, and have been feeding them every week since the middle of August), I can see where my attention is going to be focused in the coming months. Robert was too much of a gentleman to spell out that this colony is on loan, but there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that I must return it to him, in good health, at the start of next year. He didn’t want it back immediately, he said. So it’s up to me to see it through the winter.

The difference between the two colonies couldn’t be more dramatic. R1, as I’ve taken to calling the main beehive in deference to Robert, has ten frames packed with pollen, stores, and now brood, plus several thousand very active bees. Lifting the lid on the mini-nuc, by comparison, is like entering an old library; it’s very quiet and everyone’s hovering around the (b)reading area (sic). There are only four frames.

At first glance most of the cells appear empty, although a second glance reveals that the worker bees have begun squirreling away syrup from the feeder. The feeder itself remains half full. The queen is again easy to spot, despite having less blue marker on her than I remember. Perhaps the workers really do lick it off. Most of what little activity there is, is centered around the middle two frames. Next week I’ll start adding frames of brood from the main colony.

Before replacing the lid I carefully push the frames back together again. …Before prising them apart to double-check that I haven’t squashed the queen, and then edging them together again …before prising them apart…


Creating a new colony with an unmated queen, introducing a mated queen to an established colony, and I get a second colony


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Apiguard Thymol, Bee feeders, Beekeeping advice, Requeening re-queening | Posted on 05-10-2010

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18 September, 10am: Robert calls, out of the blue, asking for directions. He’s coming over. It’ll be the first time he’s seen the place. “Can’t you just tell me what to do over the phone?” I squeak. “I don’t want to put you to any trouble.” I can’t very well add, “…And I don’t want you standing over me while I balls things up” so stifle the urge.

He says it’s too complicated. It will take less time to actually do it. He hangs up. I bark at Mrs S and the kids. “Robert’s coming!” I feel like adding, “Get up, paint the house, vacuum the carpets, mow the lawn, start baking,” and only barely stifle the urge. Mrs S gives me an understanding look. The kids ignore me.

He arrives shortly after midday and steps out of the car with a lit smoker, which is a pretty neat trick. With saturation coverage on TV of Pope Benedict’s visit to the UK it’s hard not to draw a parallel.

Pointing to where the hive is I help him carry his tools and a mini-nuc to an area just around the corner from it. Then we lift the lid off the super and discard the second Apiguard tray which has been in there for two weeks. The tray’s nearly empty. The rapid feeder I placed alongside it is also empty so I run inside and ask Mrs S to fill it.

We set about finding the queen. Thankfully it doesn’t take long. The last thing I did before closing the hive was mark her with a blue dot. I’m still taken by how small and dark she is.

Robert scoops her up and puts her into a traveling cage. Then he brings the mini-nuc round and sets it down beside the hive. He opens it to reveal that it contains only frames – no bees. Taking a couple of frames from my hive he swaps them with two from the mini-nuc. They’re covered in bees. He then picks up another frame from my hive and shakes more bees from it into the mini-nuc. The more quick-witted among them immediately high-tail back home next door, but enough stay to provide the basis for a new colony. I still have a few drones, so we carefully pick out five or six and drop them in. Finally, he picks up the traveling cage with my unmated queen and carefully places her onto the side of a frame before quickly sealing the box.

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