Our “Newbee Questions, Expert Answers” series, takes the questions of a curious, fascinated, worried, perplexed and sometimes downright confused “newbee” and provides expert responses.

In this edition…

We have our package of bees installed. Nerves are a-jingling - so what happens over the next week?

Mark: I have installed my package bees and I'm excited. What type of feeder should I use?

Ron: There are many types of feeders and each one has its good points and its flaws.  Boardman feeders fit on the outside of the hive and can cause robbing.  They may not be the best approach for a new package of bees. In-hive feeders are a good way feed and avoid robbing.  They hold more than a standard Boardman feeder and there is little chance of robbing.

Three main types of feeders allow individuals to choose what fits them best.

  • The hive top feeder is nice because you don't have to open up the hive.  Just remove the telescoping cover and you can check the level or add feed and, like everything in beekeeping, there are a number of versions of hive top feeders.
  • Another type of feeder is the frame feeder.  It fits in the hive in place of a frame and holds about a gallon of feed.  You will need to open up the hive to add more feed.
  • Both of the above mentioned feeders are for Langstroth hives.  Versions of the Boardman feeder have been adapted for use inside the hive and can also be used in a Top Bar hive.

Keep in mind the jars used in a Boardman style feeders and some In-Hive feeders work on the basis of a vacuum.  Be sure to invert the jar outside the hive where it will leak a bit until the vacuum takes over, then in stall in the hive.  These feeders can be quite useful but they are prone to some level of leakage as barometric pressure and temperatures fluctuate.

Mark: How do I make the sugar syrup?

Ron: Measure equal parts of sugar and water by volume.  A quart jar for example would be filled with 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water.  Use hot tap water to mix.  Do not using boiling water as it can cause the sugar to caramelize and this causes the formation of hydroxymethylfurfural which is toxic to bees and will result in a high level of mortality.

I might also add that you should NOT use organic sugar when feeding bees (or raw or brown sugar).  The interest in "natural" beekeeping, a subject we will have to talk about someday in detail, has some folks using organic sugar to feed their bees.  While it would seem to make sense, organic sugar is not refined the same as granulated white sugar and contains molasses.  Molasses can cause dysentery and make your bees sick.

White, granulated cane sugar is the way to go.  (Beat sugar often comes from GMO sugar beats.)

Mark: How quickly will they consume the sugar syrup?

Ron:  Package bees come with no food stores and will rely on the sugar syrup you provide until they can find a local source of nectar.  Consequently they can drain a quart jar of feed in just a few hours.  Once a nectar source is located they will usually quit taking the sugar water.  A quick check of your local vegetation will tell you if they have a food source available to them or not.

Mark: Do I need to use an entrance reducer?

Ron:  Definitely.  Ten thousand or so bees may seem like a lot, but its not enough to protect the hive if the entrance is wide open.  Give them the smallest opening to defend while they ramp up numbers, which is going to take some time.

Comb needs to be built before the queen has a place to lay eggs and the first new workers wont hatch for another 20 days or so.  Add in the days it takes for the queen to be released from her cage and you begin to approach a month before new bees begin appearing in the hive.

Mark: How long should I wait before looking inside the hive?

Ron: Like many things in beekeeping, throw this question out to a crowd and you will get a multitude of answers, in this case, anywhere from 1 to 10 days.  So lets think about this a bit.

Sometimes disturbances can be associated with the new queen and the bees will kill her.  So its really a question of how much you are willing to risk.  If you lose the queen you are going to head down a very long road just to get the hive back to where you started when you installed the package.  If you lose the queen you must order a new one, wait for her arrival and once again install her in the queen cage, wait for her release and hope she is accepted.  In the mean time the bees that came with the package are dying.

Bees only live five to six weeks during the summer season and the bees that produce wax for comb are usually the young bees in the range of 12 to 15 days old.  By the time you get a new queen installed, accepted and new bees raised from her eggs, the bees that came with the package are going to be dwindling rapidly.  If you live in a mild climate with a long season this might not be a big deal.  If you live where the season is short it can make the difference between having enough stores for winter or not.

Therefore I tend to play it on the safe side and usually don't check to see if the queen has been released for 4 to 5 days.

Mark: How close does a water source need to be and how much should I leave?

Ron: Its nice to have it just outside the area occupied by your hives, say 25 to 50 feet away.  The further away the harder they will have to work to get what they need, plus, if your in town you want them staying on your property and not visiting the neighbors kiddy pool. So locating the source of water nearby can be important.

This year I started a new apiary on some friends property and set up a 30 gallon tank that slowly drips onto a slanted wooden board.  The bees love it and I drew them there to quickly find it by placing a partial frame of honey from one of my hives right next to the water source.  They quickly found the honey and the water as well.


9 thoughts on “The First Few Days of a Hive”

  1. I am a first time beekeeper. I have two nucs and transferred to my two hives which are on cinder blocks. Ants are my problem, large and small ones feeding off the sugar water on the top feeder. I have been brushing on a cinnamon powder vegetable oil mixture which helps for a while but need to keep at it. From what I have researched it would be better to put the hives on legs. But what about cinnamon oil not powder? Would the oil harm the bees at all? What if it got in the feeder by ants as some vegetable oil did? How much should I dilute it and how to apply it? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    1. Lois, Though I have not used it and cannot speak from experience, I would be hesitant about using the cinnamon oil. Seems as if it would have the ability to burn, but that’s just my gut reaction. I’m sure you have seen examples of colonies set on hive stands with legs with the legs setting in cans of oil. It seems to work quite well. Another thing you may wish to try is diatomaceous earth. Its a natural powder that you would encircle the hive with. Put it on the ground around the hive heavily so the ants must crawl over it. I have used it with very good success and since the bees aren’t crawling around on the ground they don’t come in contact with it.

      And for next season, put the diatomaceous earth out first before feeding. Ants are more difficult to stop once they have found the food source.

      I hope this helps Lois.

  2. When installing a Nuc how long before the bees will start leaving the box? Most are just feeding from a feeder.

    1. Each nuc is different but you should see them getting outside of the hive within a day. If not, its possible the nuc is not very old, which means there are not many bees in the colony that are of age to become foragers. That’s possible but not likely, but then again it depends on how the nuc was put together. So long as you have a laying queen (eggs) larva and some capped brood you should be fine even if the colony is a little light on foragers.

  3. I had a colony last year that seemed to do well, until I had a wax moth infestation in the early fall. I pulled out several frames of mostly honey to freeze them to kill the moth larvae, but I think this upset the colony and they swarmed. The hive bodies and frames I have are mostly built out & there’s honey in several frames.

    I’m getting a box of bees soon. I planned on putting one (or two?) frames filled with honey in the bottom body (in positions 1 and 10) with combed frames filling 2-9 spots. When should I add the second hive body? Immediately, or after I check on the queen at 4 or 5 days? Or when the colony is producing young bees at 3 weeks?

    1. To Busykeeper, I like your plan. The honey stores in frames 1 and 10 will be a good resource for the new bees if they should need it and the frames with drawn comb will give the bees a quick start since they wont have to use as much of their resources building comb.
      With regards to adding a hive box, you will want to consider adding it when the bees are using about 70 percent of the frames/comb. Be sure to count the two frames of honey you have added as being in use. Therefore, when the bees are making use of another 5 frames, be it for stores and/or brood, that would be the time to add the next hive box. If a strong nectar flow is underway don’t be afraid to add the next box on the early side of 70 percent.
      And one more thought. Sometimes the bees are reluctant to move up into the new box you have added. If temperatures are warm and not freezing at night, you may want to consider “priming” the new box with a frame of brood. Nurse bees will not leave brood and pulling up a frame of brood from the edge of the broodnest into the new box is a sure way to bring the bees up into the space you have added.

      Good luck with your bees this summer.

  4. Some interesting thoughts to consider Rich. Thanks for posting. For what they’re worth, my thoughts are below.

    First off I want to be clear I am not aware of Stevia being used in any study of its affects on bees and mites. That said, lets consider why we feed bees sugar syrup. The majority of the time it is fed to help newly established colonies build new comb. The sugar provides the carbohydrates the bees need to build comb. Secondly we feed to prevent starvation.

    So before we could draw any conclusions we would need to know how the chemical make up of stevia compares to white sugar. I do not know how similar or different the two compounds might be so the only comment I could make at this time is if you are interested you may want to try feeding stevia to one of your own colonies to see how well it works.

    With regards to dusting for mites, my guess is that it would probably work. Keep in mind that the reason the dusting helps control mites is due to the bees cleaning the powder from themselves after they have been dusted. Its the cleaning action of the bees that drops the mites and has nothing to do with the compound that is applied.

    Again, just as with feeding stevia to the bees I cannot comment about dusting because I have no experience with it. Remember, even powdered sugar dusting is questioned by some because it contains corn starch and it is argued that corn starch is not good for the bees. I do not know how stevia might impact the health of the honeybee.

    To summarize, I have never come across stevia research and how using it in either of these applications may or may not benefit bees. Sorry to not be of much help. If you do find research regarding this I would encourage you to post it here.
    Thank you for your comments Rich.

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