The Offical First Day of Beekeeping Season

With beautiful spring weather all weekend it was time on Saturday to move around some beehives. Among the incredible luck we had this winter was this hive not toppling over in some of the heavy storms that came and went. You can't quite tell in this photo just how hard the hive is listing to starboard. So I prepared the site with my favorite way to situate a hive - on cinder blocks set with a level and buried even with the ground. I also set them to face perfectly southward.







Next I set out the base. It has 2x4 legs attached to a Betterbee hive stand, all cedar. It stands 18" off the ground to keep it out of the reach of the many skunks that torment our neighborhood. Atop the stand is a screened bottom board. This is essential for ventilation and helps with controlling varroa mites.


Next up is a slatted bottom board. It gives the bees an enclosed place to cluster in the heat of summer and is purported to reduce their instinct to swarm. For reasons that are not clear to me it is also said to help with winter survival. All I know is we've made it though four winters with this setup and haven't lost a colony. I'm going to stick with what's working.




We set a hive body on the stand and took out one side of the nuc to begin the new hive on Willow Street. It had a decent supply of honey left.



We saw the queen. Can you see her? She's marked in blue (though the mark has rubbed off a bit.) I was hoping to see more brood but it's still early and Russian bees are known to start their spring buildup slowly. We'll keep an eye on it and we'll be feeding them syrup while they build out the comb. That should get the brood rearing running along.


I added a frame of pollen we had saved in the freezer last summer and three new frames that were wired up for the hive to build foundationless comb. (The nuc had built beautiful comb in this manner all last summer.)

For now the hive has a shallow shim on top where we will put ziplock snack bags full of sugar syrup so the hive can build wax well. And I polished up the copper top and put on a coat of paste wax.


This is our new window hive so the kids, and the rest of us, can take a peek in at the bees from time to time without opening up the top and disturbing the nest.

Then Paul and I moved the main hive over to the newly leveled, south facing platform.

Then we moved the other four frame colony into the briefcase nuc so we could take it over to Paul's garden.

We found Paul's queen. If you can't see her in this photo you should not consider beekeeping.






The nuc box had a good number of bees still inside, so we tipped it against the new hive. Within an hour or so they had all crawled up and gone inside their new home.

Then it was over to Paul's to repopulate the hive that died out in January. Paul uses all medium depth hiveboxes but the nuc is on deep frames. So the bottom box is an empty shallow box to accommodate the extra depth. The four frame nuc goes in the center and the two frames on either side had honey and pollen on them.





Paul dumped in the straggler bees. His side of the nuc was thriving so I got a few of the stragglers left behind in the old nuc box. It's likely a lot of the field bees will return to the original site as well. But this colony will do just fine since it's surrounded by beautiful honey.

On top of the new colony went two full mediums of honey and Paul's freshly polished copper top. The bees had another beautiful day for flying on Sunday and now it looks like we're in for a few days of warm and wet weather. Paul's bees have honey galore and my own new hive will get sugar syrup so they can work on building the nest even if it's too rainy to fly.



About inthebeeloudglade

An unlikely beekeeper who runs The Honey Exchange, a hive and honey store in Portland, Maine.
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8 Responses to The Offical First Day of Beekeeping Season

  1. Pingback: Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it « In the Bee-Loud Glade

  2. Tal says:

    Could I ask you a few questions?

    I’m a first-year beekeeper-to-be (or is it “to bee”?), I saw your setup, and here’s what comes to mind:
    – I like the way you added legs to the hivestand (or is it a hivestand you built from scratch with the legs?). Given how heavy the hive can be, did you encounter any strength issues (e.g. the legs bending outwards)? Any insights as to putting together my own stand?

    – Did you encounter ant issues, as there it doesn’t seem you can add anti-ant water or oil containers?

    – I see you are using the slotted board. From what I read – and I have nothing else to go by, as I lack any type of experience – it was suggested these are only needed if you are not using a screened bottom board. I’d love to hear your opinion. Also, are you closing the bottom board (with a sticky board) during the winter months, or are you leaving the screen open?

    – An unrelated question – I saw there are some insulated outer covers available online, supposedly reducing heat loss and condensation during the winter. Did you use those, and whether or not you did, any opinion?



    • The term we use is Newbee.
      The stand pictured is a standard hive stand with landing board to which I’ve attached 16″ legs cut from cedar 2×4. (We sell them ready made at the Honey Exchange.) They are lap-jointed, glued with Titebond III glue and screwed with exterior wood screws. It’s sturdy like crazy.
      I haven’t had any issues with ants. I’ve seen recommendations to stand the legs in cans or pans filled with vegetable oil, but the ants in Maine don’t seem to be that persistent. I recommend syrup feeders only above the inner cover – it’s less attractive to all pests in that position.
      I use the slatted bottom above a screened bottom – it gives the colony a sense of space (to delay the swarm urge) and somewhere to go on hot days besides the front of the hive. It also helps with overwintering, so I leave it on all the time. I also leave the screened bottom open all year long except when I want to take a quick check for mites in the summer and locate the cluster during the winter.
      Regarding insulated covers: Check out the blog entry on winter preparations and you can see the homasote covers I use and sell. They don’t provide heat insulation and I haven’t found any heat insulation to be necessary to get hives through the winter. It is essential to have something on top of the hive to absorb moisture. Bees generate a lot of water vapor in winter that doesn’t ventilate out like it does during the activity of summer. If that vapor condenses on the cold outer cover it will drip back on the brood nest. Keeping the hive dry and well ventilated in winter helps reduce mold and fungal diseases.

      Good luck with the hive!

      • Tal says:

        Thank you again, that’s very helpful!

        I will probably try attaching legs to my hivestand as well (sorry, going to Maine for that is a bit out of the way…), I guess I’ll start without ant protection and add it later if I need to (Mass ants might not be that persistent either, well, ME used to be part of MA, so maybe we share the same wussie ants). There are some recommendations to let the hive lean forward, did you make the front legs slightly shorter than the back ones? I am wondering whether that recommendation makes any sense when using a screened bottom board.

        As to top covers – the claim they make where they sell them is that it keeps the warmth in, and that the water that condensates does so on the colder “walls” of the body rather than the warmer (insulated) “ceiling”, thus it bypasses the brood and goes around, rather than drip on top of the cluster. At present time I can offer no educated opinion, so I’m on the fence. Still wondering which top cover to buy… A “regular” one, Better Bee’s “BeeMax” style one, or that self-styled insulated cover. Decisions, decisions.

        Thanks again,


      • I’ve been very pleased with the quality of products I’ve purchased in the past from Betterbee, but I don’t use any plastic in the apiary. Aside from my personal decision to participate as little as possible in the economics of the petrochemical industry, I like to remind people that any beekeeper’s worst case scenario is a hive that contracts American Foulbrood. Here in Maine we’re required by state law to burn any infected hive. Burning plastic is bad, period.
        Unless you’re keeping bees in northern Alberta you shouldn’t stress too much about hive insulation. Bees have been surviving in our climate for thousands of years without plastic insulation. An overwintering hive is not trying to heat its entire cavity like you and I do in our homes. They generate heat in the middle of their cluster to warm the queen and brood. My advice to everyone is: as long as your hive has packed the top with honey, don’t stress too much about winter. Bees work it out.

      • Tal says:

        As I already purchased my hive stands before posting this, I contacted “The Honey Exchange” asking about buying the legs only. Two days later I received eight legs (for two hives).
        I am very happy with the quality – thanks! I installed them on the hive stand (wood screws + exterior wood glue), primed + painted the whole thing (bottom side of the legs included), put them on stone garden tiles from Home Depot (leveled them with slight tilt forward, waited a few days before putting the bees in and re-leveled).

        The girls arrived a week ago (2x 3 lbs of bees + Carniolan queens), I can’t comment on behalf of the bees, but I love the setup. Thank you for the advice and the dependable business. I should drop by for a visit next time I’m in Portland.


  3. Dale says:

    How did Paul later adjust for the deep frames? Were they later removed or left in for the duration?

    • We slowly migrated the deeps out from Paul’s hive. The bees built a fair amount of drone comb on the medium frames and he cut that out as it was capped – an excellent drone and mite management system – and we moved the deeps from the broodnest center out to the sides until they weren’t used for brood. Then we replaced them with medium frames, pulled out the bottom shallow, and used the resources in the deep frames to build next year’s nucs.

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