Q and A with a Natural Beekeeper for the New Beekeeper

I am new to beekeeping. A local bee guy set me up with bees and a queen in a Langstroth box in the beginning of May. The bees are  very active and 7 of the 10 frames are loaded with eggs and larva as well as some cells filled with what appears to be honey. Other cells  are filled with a clear liquid and still others are filled with something else, I have no idea what! I have some questions about natural beekeeping.

Sugar Water or Let Them Forage

Q) The bee guy told me to feed the hive sugar water since this is a new hive, but after reading your advice, I’m thinking I want to stop. Will that be dangerous to the new hive? I’m in Southern California and there are a lot of plants in bloom right now, but I don’t want to stress the bees. They suck down a quart of sugar water every three days!

A) Stop the sugar. The bees don’t need it and because of ph balance issues it may actually harm them. Bees need honey and pollen, not sugar water and other chemical substitutes. What you have is honey (good), pollen (good), and either sugar water (not good) or nectar that hasn’t been aged enough yet (good). Don’t sweat it, just stop the sugar now and the bees will do just fine going forward. The many frames of eggs and brood mean your bees are doing great. Make sure you give them plenty of  fresh water so that they don’t have to go hunting for that as well. A large plant saucer with small stones in it to help stop them from drowning is perfect. Place it on something low that gets it up off the ground about 15 to 20 feet in front of the hive and slightly to one side. You can even just put regular water in the feeder next time it is empty.

Frame Rotation and Adding New Boxes

Q) The frames are pretty full, only the 2 outer frames are empty, should I be moving the not full frames to the center? Should I add another box to the hive soon? If I want to continue foundationless, how would I do that? When adding supers, will the bees just naturally go up into the new box or would I need to move one or more of the frames into the empty box as encouragement? Thanks so much for your help. I’ve been learning about this on the internet and there is a lot of confusing information out there!

A) Move your outer frames to the center (with a full frame to separate) if you haven’t already.  Add another box only when the bottom box is mostly full and you need to pull out two frames to make more room. If you followed my advice and went all mediums you can just stick two frames with brood into the new box with an empty frame in between so that the bees well start working there. If you didn’t go all mediums then just get another deep and put it on as your super. Rotate out and up until the top box is full and then harvest from the outside frames on the top box. You didn’t mention if you had foundation in the bottom box. Make sure as you rotate up and out that you are replacing the chemical laden foundation with fresh empty frames with only starter strips. If you are already foundationless then great job!

Final thoughts

Just let the bees be bees and you won’t go wrong. Let the bees build their own comb in frames with just a starter strip and no foundation and you will have a strong healthy hive right from the start. I hope everything goes well for you and your new hive.

-Kevin

Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That's how we're gonna be -- cool. Critical is fine, but if you're rude, we'll delete your stuff. Please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name and do not put your website in the comment text, as both come off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch and Tim Ferris for the inspiration)
  • Opal @ I’m Celebrating Life

    I’m new to beekeeping, not new to reading about them. That’s something I’ve

    been doing for over 30 years. However reading and actually having my own

    honeybees is so different. I’ve been on the fence about sugar water. It’s

    something that I really haven’t wanted to do, but I heard it’s something that

    should be done, especially when you get late packages. I received my

    package bees at the beginning of this month, June 5. I’ve checked the hive

    and all is going well. They are making comb, queen is laying, and this

    morning I saw the nurse bees feeding the wee ones.

    I do have a question? How often should I be checking inside the hive? I

    really don’t want to be in there too much. I’d prefer to let them do their own

    thing. I have an observation window in my Warre hive and I do enjoy peeping

    in that to see how they’re doing. They’ve almost finished filling two boxes.

    The third box has already been added, so they won’t be running out of

    space.

  • Stop the sugar. If you are on the third box your bees are doing just fine. The incorrect ph of sugar water may be enabling disease vectors. Let the bees be bees!

  • Heidi Pocklington

    What are your thoughts on plastic foundation with melted cappings from my bees “painted” on?

  • Hi there Heidi and welcome. Any foundation is a bad idea. Plastic foundation is about as good an idea as the black death. Painting it with melted wax isn’t going to fool the bees. Get rid of it and let them build the real thing. Read this post http://www.backyardecosystem.com/backwards-beekeeping/so-exactly-natural-comb-anyway/ for a more complete explaination, but the basic message is that bees hate foundation, let them build natural comb.

  • TSWisla

    Hello,

    I will be purchasing my first hive and first package of bees this spring. I live in NE IL and am wondering what I should do when I first get my bees? I should not feed them at all? Just put them in the hive and let them get to work? Thank you. I love your very helpful site!

  • That is exactly what I would do. Ask local beekeepers when they get their packages and emphasis that you want to minimize supplemental feeding. They should be able to give you an approximate date. No need to tell them that you are not going to feed, it is just asking for pushback. If you want to give them a pint of sugar water to get started go for it, but as soon as they are bringing in pollen and nectar you want to remove it. Use white cane sugar. If it doesn’t say cane sugar on the package, then it is GMO beet sugar.

  • Nick

    Hello Kevin,

    I’m new to beekeeping and just received my equipment and I’m awaiting my 5 frame but from a local supplier in Northern California. I ordered 8 frame deeps as the nuc has deep frames so I assumed I had to get deeps. It’s too late with my investment to go to mediums. However, I still want to go foundationless. The boxes I ordered from Mann lake come with wooden frames with wax cell coated plastic foundation. Can I cut out the foundation and add the tongue depressor sticks to these frames? Or do I need a special wedged top or other type of frame? Do I need to glue or was in the wooden stick? If so, what type of glue or wax would I use and how would I do it?

    Also, do I need to add wires for support? If so, can you advise on the best way to add these to deep frames?

    Thanks so much! Love the blog

  • Thank you for your kind words.
    Depends on the type of frame. If you can get rid of the plastic completely then you can work with what you have. Use a small amount of softened wax or propolis as your glue. It may be easier to use two tongue depressors held together. No wires. Anything you introduce beyond the frame and the attachment point is a weakness and potential point of failure.

who we are:

Backyard Ecosystem began as an expression of my determination to make a difference in our own backyard. Literally and metaphorically making a difference at the micro level of my yard and to operate at macro level of treating the entire planet as something I am an integral part of and whose destiny is shaped everyday by what I do in my corner of the world.

Read More About Us