Don’t Add a Second Box Too Soon – May 2019

In spring many beekeepers acquire a 3lb package of spring honey bees with a newly mated young queen. The zealous beekeeper is anxious to see growth, BUT please consider a few thoughts before the “let’s do this” hurts your colony.

On the 5th of April 2019, we brought packages back to Utah from the OHB honey day in Northern California. These packages were turned over to beekeepers on Sunday the 6th and hived that day and up to a few days later. Understanding bee growth and their biological clock is vital this time of year.

Once the bees are put into the hive and the newly adopted queen accepted, it still can take a couple of days for the queen to lay. So, let us start our numbers on April 10th for easy figures. A queen can lay up to 1500 eggs a day. A standard deep frame holds 3500 cells. With this tidbit, it would take 2-3 days for her to lay one standard deep Langstroth frame. If it is a mini frame, there are 1500 cells, so it takes about a day to lay one frame. A deep box then has up to 35,000 cells. If the queen was to lay 1500 eggs a day it would take her about 23 days to do so. In a medium mini framed box, there are 30 frames with 1500 cells, that takes then 30 days to fill.

Understand that in some cases the bees are having to draw out the frames as well. This delays the ability of the queen to lay in a cell that has not been made yet, nor are there bees to care for the new tender life.

Now for a challenge, after 2-3 weeks it may look like the colony is growing but not a single egg has matured yet into a young bee. If another box is placed on top the hive or under the hive, the bees will do one of two things, 1) leave it alone, or 2) their population will thin and disperse into the new space leaving the clustering bees that were caring for young to prepare this new space or clean it up.

A bee lives 4-6 weeks, and some of the bees in the package were older bees to begin with. A natural progression in the bee’s life will claim the lives of some bees prior to the first “emergence” of new young bees. So the colony will actually shrink. Adding another box too soon is a really difficult thing for this new colony.

Now consider, if a cool (snow or rain) spell comes along after you added the box and inadvertently thinned the bees, now there is a risk of the cluster not covering all the young brood and if they get chilled you lose young to death by chilling. It will look like Foulbrood, but it is simply the larvae are dying. Had the hive stayed the way it was, more bees would have emerged!

When to add the new box? Let the bees care for and let the first cycle complete, which is 21 days plus a few. The second “emergence” will happen after the second 21-day cycle. Also, know that the queen does not lay the eggs all at once so there is a slow progression of new bees appearing daily. This does not happen all at once.

We would only consider blindly adding a second box during the emergence of the 2nd cycle.

Consider if the bees are having to naturally forage, it may take a bit to bring in resources to grow. Pollen, converted to bee bread, generates “royal jelly” which feeds the young and the queen. If it is in limited supply, you can buy and add this to your newly hived package. Consider the weather, it can be cool so the bees are equally slow or lethargic to grow too. If the bees are having to build all new wax, this takes time compared to frames being all formed and ready. Fresh nectar helps bees produce wax (or in spring 2 parts water to 1 part sugar supplemented with nutrients). Rain and snow can slow your colony as does mistakes by the new beekeeper – all may inhibit this colony from growing.

The takeaway here is don’t add a second box too soon after hiving your package. May 1st young will begin emerging from cells in our example noted above but many older bees have now gone to the Sweet Hive in the Sky.

Question asked: Is this the same for a Nuc? No. A nuc comes with, or should come with, eggs, uncapped open brood, and capped brood, and a mated laying queen. Capped brood is going to emerge within 8-10 days. The queen will refill the cells and then more space is needed. The nuc should be put into a hive with space to grow as they are ready. A nuc compared to a package, the nuc is considerably further ahead (about a month). There are risks with a nuc as it is considered a second-year colony and mites will be a threat early.

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Eco Bee Box Canada produces modern pine and cedar beekeeping beehive equipment in both Canada (CA) and United States (US). This signature equipment is made with patented hardware for our unique box designs. This attractive hardware prevents box breakdown and assists the beekeeper. Our modern hives include: the Mini Urban Beehive (MUB); Langstroth Horizontal Hive (SANC); Comb Box Hive (COMB); Observation Hive (LUM); Vintage Hive (VINT); and others. 

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