Frequently Asked Questions

Contents

Queens

Should I remove any queen cells in a colony before introducing a new queen in a cage?

Yes, you should remove the queen cells. Look very carefully to make sure you don’t miss one. Shake the bees off each frame to make sure you can see the entire frame. Accepted queens are sometimes killed by virgins that later emerge from queen cells.

How old is a queen when you replace her?

We re-queen if a queen isn’t doing well or when she is in her third year.

Are your queens for sale?

We sell a limited number of queens but do not ship outside of Canada. More information on our queens can be found here.

There are two other Buckfast breeders in Ontario:
Munro Honey http://www.munrohoney.com/
and Ferguson Apiaries http://fergusonapiaries.on.ca/

What do you use as candy for the queen cages?

You can make the candy using honey and icing sugar but, the candy you see in the tubes in our videos are purchased with the cages from Mann Lake beekeeping supplies and their Canadian distributors. In Ontario, it’s not legal to use honey in queen candy if you are distributing queens. Honey can contain American Foulbrood spores. A specialized, non-drying, sugar syrup (Nulomoline invert sugar) can be used instead of honey. In any case the candy must be made dry enough that it’s crumbly.

How can you tell if a colony has a virgin queen?

Virgins are smaller and have a ‘brand new’ look. They also run around more and are harder to find. What may be easier to find are queen cells that virgins have emerged from – a telltale sign that something is up. Look closely for these cells. Often beekeepers think that they don’t have a queen because there are no eggs, but either a virgin is on the way or she hasn’t yet started to lay.

If a queen does not mate, how long until she starts laying unfertilized eggs?

Virgins only lay unfertilized (or male) eggs if they can’t mate. Reasons for this may be she has a damaged wing, it is too late in the year for drones, or a long stretch of bad weather. Queens are able to mate between 5 and 10 days after emerging from their cell. After that, if they haven’t mated they will start to lay unfertilized eggs.

When to buy vs when to raise your own queens?

There are no hard and fast rules here. We suggest that Raising queens and breeding queens should be viewed as two separate operations. Get good at raising them first and then think about breeding. If you have less than 10 colonies, consider purchasing your queens from a local supplier. If you are raising queens, you will need to select a breeder queen. If you have less than 50 hives consider purchasing breeder queens from someone in your area to raise queens from.

How long should you leave a colony queenless before requeening?

We have our best success with requeening when the colony is queenless for 24 hours before introducing a new queen.

Why should I look for the queen when I work in my hives?

You do not need to find the queen every time if you are only doing general hive inspections. However, you should find the queen if you are doing the following:

  • If you are going to requeen the hive
  • If you are going to split the hive
  • To see if the queen has been superseded
  • For transferring bees and brood from one hive to another
  • When monitoring for varroa mites using an alcohol wash
  • To mark and clip the queen

Breeding and Genetics

What breed of honeybee do you use?

We work with Buckfast bees. Check out our website if you would like to learn more about them:  https://honeybee.uoguelph.ca/buckfast-breading/

How do you maintain genetic diversity/prevent inbreeding when breeding queens?

One way is buying new queens to increase the diversity of your stock.

How does creating a gentle hive affect their ability to defend the colony from invaders such as Varroa mites or robber bees? How does it affect honey productivity?

There is no evidence that aggression is linked to production. One dynamic that confuses this is that if the stock is somewhat aggressive a stronger colony will show more aggression than a weaker colony with the same genetics. The stronger colony may also be more likely to produce more honey and overwinter.

After replacing an aggressive queen, won’t her male offspring be left to mate with a virgin and pass down the aggressive genes again? What is the solution?

Unless you want to try to kill all the existing drones from the bad queen, you’re pretty much limited to just changing the queen out with a mated one so that all subsequent drones she produces are of her superior genetics. Drones are relatively short lived so the inferior drones from the bad queen should have a pretty minimal impact as long as the issue is caught and corrected ASAP.

Double Nucleus Colonies

How do you overwinter double nucleus colonies?

At the University of Guelph, we winter our double nucleus colonies indoors. You can also winter them outdoors by wrapping two double nucs together with insulation on the sides and top.

Are double nucleus colonies prone to swarming?

With a young queen in the nucs and honey supers above we don’t have any problem with these nucs swarming in the first year. We do have to transfer them into a full size box early enough the following spring to prevent swarming.

Equipment and Materials

Why do we use single brood chambers?

Our preference is to keep hives in single brood chambers. We use queen excluders above the brood chamber and then add honey supers. We produce more honey managing our hives in singles vs doubles and we find the hive management much easier. It’s become quite common in Ontario, especially over the last twenty years.

Why do you use canvas for the hive inner cover?

We use canvas inner covers for a few reasons. They make it easy to take a quick peek in the hive, and are cheap and easy to make. They are light, the lids sit down well, there is less excess wax on the frame top bars, and we rarely need to scrape the inner cover. We use 18 oz (#8) canvas – otherwise known as cotton duck.

It is available in the USA online here, in Canada at here, or in Hamilton Ontario here.

Bees chew through thin canvas so a heavier weight is better. We flip it over periodically when new so the bees thoroughly coat it with propolis. An alternative is a feedbag folded in half.

Where to purchase some of the products that we use:

Coveralls:
We really like Dickies 100% cotton coveralls. http://www.dickies.com/coveralls-overalls/deluxe-cotton-coverall/48700.html?dwvar_48700_color=GY#start=3. We use velcro to straps at the wrist and usually tuck pants into our socks.

Plastic Queen Cages:
Mann Lake (USA) and their Canadian distributors sell these. They are made by the French company Nicot. https://www.mannlakeltd.com/hair-roller-cages. I use a wooden plug on the bottom and screw it in place with a #4 screw after pre-drilling.

Queen Grafting Microscope:
view website here

Mini/mating nucleus boxes:
Mann Lake (USA) and their Canadian distributors sell these. They are originally from Europe but are widely available. https://www.mannlakeltd.com/shop-all-categories/hive-colony-maintenance/queen-rearing/nuc-boxes

Queen Pheromone:
The pheromone strips were developed in Canada. They are called Tempqueen and are made by Intko Supply Ltd. Suite 604, 3345 Kingsway VANCOUVER, BC, V5R 0A7 Canada (604) 356-7393. pheromonesupply@gmail.com. Mann Lake in the US and several Canadian bee supply companies carry them.

85% Acetic Acid:
We have purchased 85% acetic acid from Anchem Sales, 120 Stronach Cres, London ON Phone 519-451-1614.

Bee belt and bulk bee box:
Our apiary manager Paul Kelly manufactures the Bee Belts and bulk bee box. If you are interested in more information, please email him at: pgkelly48@gmail.com.

How do you make pollen patties?

The patty is made from pollen we collect using pollen traps. We mix the pollen pellets with sugar syrup to a dough-like consistency, form the patties between layers of wax paper and then keep them frozen until needed. They will keep for several months in the freezer.

How do you make your grafting bars?

We cut the wood pieces and attach them to the graft bar with liquid beeswax. We then attach the cups with liquid wax. In both cases the liquid wax is applied with a large syringe. In the past, we made the wax cups but now buy them from https://www.kelleybees.com/.

Do you have building plans for the flatbed wheelbarrow?

Photographs showing construction details can be found here: https://honeybee.uoguelph.ca/resources-for-beekeepers/wheelbarrow-project/

Do you have building plans for the stools you use in the videos?

Plans can be found here: https://honeybee.uoguelph.ca/resources-for-beekeepers/hive-stool/

Do you have building plans for hive top feeders? What is the best way to set them up with straw for feeding?

Plans can be found here: https://honeybee.uoguelph.ca/resources-for-beekeepers/hive-top-feeder/. We fill the feeders up to the top with straw, but don’t pack the straw down. Then syrup can be added, with a little drip down into the hive to attract bees into the feeder.

4-way Mating Nucleus Colonies

Where do you get your 4-way mating nucleus boxes?

Lewis and Sons Enterprises: http://www.lewisandsons.ca/

Do you feed 4-way nucleus colonies?

So far, we have only fed the nucs with hive top feeders at the beginning set up stage as described. We don’t have specific feeders made up for the 4 way nucs. We’ve removed full honey frames and added foundation frames where necessary. It may be different in your conditions, but we do our mating during the main honey flow in these units.

Splits

Can you make a split without adding a mated queen/can a split raise their own queen?

A split can raise their own queen (if they have eggs), but it is better to purchase a mated queen or queen cell from a local bee breeder. Queens raised by a split are reared under the worst possible conditions, are physiologically inferior, and you aren’t taking the opportunity to improve your hive genetics. For a number of reasons, colonies get more aggressive if splits raise their own queens. We always use queen cells that we have reared from breeder colonies so we can maintain and improve our genetics. Cells found in hives can be poorly reared if conditions aren’t good or if you use swarm cells you, are unintentionally breeding for swarming behaviour.

Do you add a frame of pollen or honey into a new split?

Ideally you add both pollen and honey to a new split. Of the two, honey is the most important.

Bee Stings

How often should you be stung to lessen the chances of developing anaphylactic reactions?

Please speak with an allergist if you have any concerns regarding bee sting reactions. You don’t need that many stings to build immunity and reduce your chance of developing an allergy. However, reactions can be very different from one individual to the next. For about three years after starting beekeeping you swell more in the spring when the bee season starts. After that, most people don’t swell up much at all. Some beekeepers apply stings through the winter to keep building immunity.

How do you not get stung a lot without protective clothing?

For us, it is having gentle bees, working the hive in good weather, working carefully in the hive, and proper smoke use. It’s a trade off between dressing comfortably vs getting the occasional sting

Honey Supers

Do you move full honey supers to the top of the stack so the bees can fill the lower ones?

Some beekeepers shuffle the supers around and do what’s called bottom-supering. We place supers back on in the original order and only add new supers on top (top-supering). That way it’s easier to see when the bees need more space. The bees also ripen the honey before moving up to the next box. We sometimes harvest full lower supers and put the top ones that aren’t full back on in the original order.

When taking off full honey supers for harvesting, do you need to put another super on to the hive?

In the mid-summer harvest, we do put a super under the bee escape so the colony has enough room, and can store more honey coming in. However, in the fall we are reducing the hive size down to 1 brood chamber in preparation for the winter, followed by feeding before overwintering, so we do not add an empty super in this case.

Overwintering

When should you move colonies into the overwintering room?

It is important to get them in before there is too much snow, but if the average temperature is below 5 degrees C, then that’s a good time. Note that this is specific for Southwestern Ontario.

When should you take indoor overwintered colonies outside in the spring?

Colonies can be moved out in late March or early April depending on the forecasts. I like to see an average temperature of higher than 5C before moving them out. Note that this is Southwestern Ontario specific and may differ depending on your local climate.

Do you leave screen bottom boards on in the winter?

Yes, but we have a normal bottom board under them, and we close off the back and reduce the front entrance to prevent drafts.

Hot room

How long do supers stay in the hot room before extraction?

It varies, but a minimum of 4 days in our case. Some beekeepers are able to do it in a shorter timeframe.

What temperature do you keep the hot room at?

30 degrees C.

Frame Maintenance

What should you do with fermented frames of honey?

What we’ve been doing is giving them back to bees the next summer, but only a frame or two per box. I don’t know how the bees handle it, but the problem goes away. Frames should not be left out of a hive to be robbed as to prevent the spread of disease.

How do you store empty frames and supers over the winter?

Store in a cool, dark, dry, closed storeroom. Freezing comb before storing will kill existing wax moth.

How do you clean frames with dead bees inside them?

We let the next colony the frame is placed in clean out those bees. We don’t put more than a couple frames like that in a colony at once though.

General/Other

Do we ever add brood frames to the cell builder colonies to keep their populations high?

We do add other frames of sealed brood and sometimes we shake in more young bees from brood frames to boost the hives. About once every three weeks we’ll boost the hives in one way or another.

How do you level hive stands?

We level the hive stands periodically with pressure treated wood shims. If the hives are already on the stands, we use a hardwood pry bar and a brick fulcrum to lift each end for shimming…

How often do we check for swarm cells?

We check for queen cells only in colonies that are stronger based on our ratings as described in our Swarm Control video. We only do this at the time of year bees are prone to swarming (ie just before the main summer nectar flow). In some colonies, we check twice, a week apart, if we have the time and we’ve found cells in them previously. We stop looking once the nectar flow gets going and the time for swarm preparation has passed.

What temperature should you use for settling honey?

28 to 30 degrees C.

Does acetic acid work on American Foulbrood spores?

No. Acetic acid will only kill nosema spores.

How do you prevent robbing between colonies within a yard?

Installing an entrance reducer when robbing starts (usually in late fall).

Is it alright to us single brood chambers for 8 frame boxes?

We know people who have success managing their colonies this way, but we have no experience with this personally.