There are many ways to start a Mini Urban Beehive (MUB). An MUB can be one or more mini boxes. The boxes are ¼ the standard Langstroth box size. Each box holds 5 to 6 mini frames that are the size of an open hand. These frames have a groove for inserting a natural wax starter strip. Plastic foundation is not recommended for these frames.
What is a Mini Hive Useful For?
Reproducing stock we know and like with traits we are familiar with is an essential part of beekeeping. Every beekeeper should have a queen savings account where they can go for a queen or queen cell or young larva at a moment’s notice. At times a queen may be black-balled by a colony. Rarely is a queen cell destroyed, and can be a great way to re-queen a colony.
Queens can be stored in an MUB in areas that have Africanized Honey Bees until they are needed. In an MUB they can lay eggs and do not feel the effects of being isolated too long.
Some say, well…these frames don’t fit anything I have now. Actually, they fit everything including a top bar. When the mini is filled four boxes high, take the top three boxes of frames and zip tie them into medium or deep frames and place into standard Langstroth boxes. Or take a top bar frame and zip tie it in there as well. We recommend that you always keep one box so there is always a mini nuc in waiting.
Every responsible beekeeper needs to have a swarm control hive near their apiary. A mini hive is suitable for this and can also be used as a swarm lure. Melt some dark comb to the inside panel of the box and let it sit or hang in your yard. Your mini becomes your first line of defense.
Some people just want some kind of pollination for their gardens and a full hive with 80,000 bees is a bit intimidating. This mini hive is the same size as a tree hive, the bee’s natural habitat. Even children aren’t scared by a mini. We supply pole stands which allow a MUB to be mounted and raised above a garden or flowerbed. These support brackets fit under the bottom board and can be attached to the bottom board with screws. This support fits over a 2 3/8″ pipe that is driven into the ground. Some customers choose to cement the pole in. You can also drive a secondary pipe into the ground that the support pipe slides over. Having a hive on a pole is a great way to get your hives away from ants, weevils, mice, rodents, etc.
Save the Bees
Some only want a bit of honey, or none at all. Each person decides why they want bees, and many just want to help.
Often those getting into beekeeping have thought they had no other options than a big hive, and either it does well and or it dies. If it dies, the beekeeper has to pay again for a new package of bees. If it does well, the new beekeeper is quickly overwhelmed. A mini can be inexpensive to start and is easy to inspect and ideal for learning the skills of finding the queen, identifying eggs, larva, capped brood, and learning what to look for, learning to feed, care for, and be around the honey bees. Some environments may have issues with honey bees, and testing the waters out first is practical. Some neighborhoods have those adamant against anything new. See if things are fine before you dive in.
We sell local comb honey from our comb box hives, which uses frames the same size as those in the mini hive. We let the consumer harvest by cutting the comb out, dropping it into a baggie, squishing it, letting it settle, popping several holes under the baggie with a tooth pick and letting it drain. It is all natural and easily done by the consumer. No larva juice, no bee guts, no unsterilized equipment, no additives, and no surprises. Extracting honey isn’t regulated by the food industry, just bottling is.
Starting a Mini Hive
Bees can be added to the MUB with any of the following methods:
- Existing drawn frames of eggs, larva, and nurse bees (no queen)
- Queen with nurse bees / queen sabbatical
- Package of bees
- Using empty frames with an existing colony
- Swarm capture
- Cut-out feral colony
- Isolation with use of follower board methods
Existing Drawn Frames of Eggs, Larva, and Nurse Bees (No Queen)
In the MUB system, typically two or more frames of eggs, larva, and nurse bees are needed for successful starting. Start with one box, with a top and bottom. Place the frames tightly to the rear of the box. The remaining frames need starter strips of beeswax (thin surplus) added to them. This is done by tearing small (silver dollar size) pieces and adding them to the frame with pressure or drops of melted beeswax. (Important note: regular candle wax is made with petroleum and is harmful to living creatures). After 3-5 days the nurse bees will pick which larva is to go the route to become a queen bee. The initial development of a bee is as follows:
Queen lays either a drone (unfertilized) egg in a large cell, or a worker bee (fertilized) egg is a small cell.
The eggs hatch 3 days later.
Once eggs hatch, all larvae are fed royal jelly for 2-3 days.
Queen larvae are continuously fed royal jelly until capped.
Feeding the bees is recommended during the queen development stage, as there are very few foraging bees. Feed consists of 50% Cane sugar, 50% water, and a cap full of Complete Bee supplements. If the bag of sugar does not say Cane Sugar, it is then made with Sugar Beets and is not ideal for brood (honey bee babies). Do not use organic sugar or brown sugar, as they have properties difficult to impossible for the bees to digest. Place the syrup in a front entrance feeder or in a sealed baggy above the frames (poke a few holes with a toothpick in the top middle of the baggy). Each MUB needs a silver dollar size portion of pollen patty added for protein. Place the hive in a spot with morning sun and mid-day shade, unless in an area with high moisture. High moisture areas require sun to dry the hive and keep it warm. It is ideal to have the hive off the ground to avoid ants and rodents. As bees fill and grow, the frames with starter strips will fill up with drawn wax. At times the creative bees draw the frame out crooked or flawed, gently twist it to how you prefer it. Once the frames are filled with drawn wax and brood (babies), you will see them grow and eventually get capped for the last stage of incubation. Once the bees hatch, you can space the frames 1/8”-1/4” apart. The bees will draw the comb out a bit thicker on each frame. Let the bees go through a second hatch, and when the frames are all capped again, add a second box to the bottom of the MUB. Medicine for a small/tiny colony is discouraged.
Queen with Nurse Bees / Queen Sabbatical
This method requires a queen and existing colony and an empty MUB. Locate the queen and place or chase her onto the MUB mini frame. Once she is on the frame, brush or shake the frame of bees she was with into the MUB. Add a feeder and a protein patty and leave alone for 3-5 days. The queen will lay eggs in the new MUB. In the meantime the original colony will produce emergency queen cells. After 3-5 days the queen can be returned to the original colony and they will immediately accept her, or she can remain in the MUB and the original colony will requeen itself. If the queen cells in the original colony are on natural comb they can be cut and placed into the MUB. The young bees in the MUB will sense a lack of queen pheromones and go to work generating queen cells.
Package of Bees
This is the standard practice for starting and distributing colonies in the US and Canada. Bees are weighed and placed into a screened crate with liquid feed, and a foreign queen is caged and suspended inside the crate. This queen remains caged for 3-4 days, then she is released.
A 2lb or 3lb package of bees can be added to an MUB (or a 26 frame comb box). In 7 days this 20 frame hive will be completely drawn and ready to split. Separate each box with a new top and bottom for each box, or use McGinty separation boards between the boxes, alternating the direction of the entrances from front to rear. The boxes that are without a queen will now start emergency queen development, which will be visible in 3-5 days. Once it is clear which boxes have queen cells, it is easy to determine which box has the queen. Add more boxes for the queen to expand into and let the other boxes raise their queen(s).
If multiple queen cells appear, these can be separated carefully by cutting them out in square shapes and grafting them into other frames, allowing each queen to hatch without the risk of sibling queen rivalry.
Empty Frames with Existing Colony
Two mini frames (with starter wax strips or drawn comb secured to the frames with elastic bands) can be wired or zip-tied into a Langstroth, Top-bar, or Warré frame and placed inside a hive near the colony’s brood. Inspect periodically for appropriate aged larvae (newly hatched larvae in pools of royal jelly). Once the mini frames are drawn out and filled with young larvae, remove the mini frames and place into the MUB with the attending nurse bees. You can add more bees from the hive when doing this separation. In 3-5 days new queen cells will appear in the hive that does not have the queen.
There are three ways to start an MUB with a swarm:
Swarm – Dropping / adding a swarm found in your community. Drop a portion of the swarm into the MUB, then drop the rest on the front landing area to encourage them to walk in. If the MUB has frames with drawn comb, or lemon grass, or melted dark comb, or a swarm lure inside the MUB, immediate acceptance will be seen. It is ideal to add a pollen patty and 1:1 cane sugar feed with supplements. You may lock the bees in the MUB for 3-5 days to promote acceptance. Keep in the shade. Once released, be sure there is a water source 15’ or more away. It is hard for bees to locate sources of food and water within 15’ of the hive.
Apiary maintenance – Responsible beekeeping dictates each apiary (place where bees are kept), have some form of external swarm control / capture. The probability of a colony swarming is high and is natural and expected. An MUB hive can be placed nearby (15’ or further away). It is better to attempt initial capture rather than causing fear to nearby people, or risk a swarm taking up residence in a nearby home. If bees abscond, many beekeepers are bee-less until the next season. Some beekeepers even practice apiary maintenance for unattended apiaries.
Intentional baiting is the practice of setting hives like an MUB in areas susceptible to swarms. Swarms are looking for an area where they can control the environment – humidity, temperature, and defense. They are also attracted to areas with a nearby water source. If the area the swarm scouts are inspecting was previously used, or smells previously used, scouts are apt to find it appealing. Swarm lures exist in the market, some effective and some less so. A small portion of dark comb melted onto the inside wall of the hive aides in acceptance. Do not bait with food! This creates a robbing frenzy, and no one, not even bees, want to relocate to a place they have to defend.
Cut-Outs or Retrieving a Feral Colony
A cut-out can be very challenging, only do it if you have a good knowledge of construction. The key for a successful extraction is obtaining comb with eggs and larvae and as many bees as you can get. A bee vac is very useful for removals in awkward locations. Begin removing comb from the outer edges, working your way to the brood chamber. The outer edges and top of the hive are usually honey. Place the honey in a bucket and take home to crush and strain for personal use. Take empty comb and brood comb and place into mini frames with elastic bands, using the slots on the side bars. Keep the comb right side up when transferring to mini frames. Transfer the brood with bees intact on the comb, or quickly add them once secured because the eggs and larvae can dry out. If transferring the brood without the bees covering them, cover the brood comb with a warm wet cloth and avoid air flow. If the queen died during the removal the bees will generate new queens from the young brood collected.
Isolation with Follower Boards or Honey Walls
Follower boards are equipment used to separate a colony from itself. Typically follower boards are used in top-bar hives, but they can be used in creating nucs as well. In the MUB, McGinty boards are vertical follower boards that isolate sections of the hive. Another way to generate a kind of follower board is by creating honey walls. Honey walls are areas filled with capped honey, and they act as a barrier for the queen. While a queen can walk on honey and capped comb, she prefers to lay and typically reside in the area called the brood nest or brood chamber. A queen will not lay multiple brood nests in a hive, so once the honey wall is in place she will lay no further. Multiple queens can be kept in a long box or top-bar with honey walls to separate her from the other areas.