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408 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Beginning at what temperature will bees draw new comb in the hive?
Is it safe to assume that if they are taking syrup and bringing in pollen that they are drawing comb? Even if daytime highs rarely break 50 degrees and lows are in the 30s?
Will results differ for foundation vs. no foundation?

408 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Well anyway today was 53 degrees and sunny for a while so I took a good look at the hive in question.
It consists of a deep on bottom and a western on top. This is how it went into winter. The western is all NC but only half of the frames are drawn.
I saw no evidence of new comb having been drawn in the western despite the fact that this colony has been consuming 1:1 syrup for the last 2 weeks and bringing in piles of pollen.
Too cold?

6,584 Posts
>Is it safe to assume that....

The one thing I've learned about beekeeping so far longarm is that it's never save to assume *anything* about what the bees will do

>Too cold?

Too cold. I wouldn't expect any comb building going on with temps in the 50's. They're no doubt provisioning the brood nest with the the feed you've been giving them, and the pollen. You may even be slowing down their development by feeding them if they're using cells to store the food that they could be using to raise brood.

Check out the latest Bee Culture- Walt Wright takes on the question of early spring so-called "stimulative" feeding of syrup- he is generally of the opinion that it does NOT speed up development, assuming that the bees still have some honey stores. The bees are mostly in need of pollen and water to thin down the honey for feeding brood. Obviously, if they're out of stores then feeding is necessary to keep them alive, but too much early feeding can be counter productive.

Early feeding of pollen on the other hand could be very beneficial, assuming spring is close enough that the bees won't get caught in a cold snap with more brood than they can cover.


1,888 Posts
I don’t have a minimum temperature number that I can throw at you. I would say that it is most likely not far out of the range required for flying and foraging.
However, for them to draw wax there needs to be several triggers fulfilled:
They need new comb,
They have a good flow of nectar (sugar) to provide the energy needed to produce wax, and trigger the urge that they need new comb to store the nectar and honey.
You also need young bees, as they are the main producers of wax in the colony.
Just because you provided open space and fed them does not mean that they need new comb for storage or that they even have the bees to produce the wax to build new comb.

Local feral survivors in eight frame medium boxes.
54,291 Posts
>Walt Wright takes on the question of early spring so-called "stimulative" feeding of syrup- he is generally of the opinion that it does NOT speed up development, assuming that the bees still have some honey stores.

I agree. If they are short on stores it makes a huge difference. If not, I don't see a difference. This observation has also been made by many of the "founding fathers" of beekeeping.

In my experience when bees want to draw comb they usually manage it no matter what the weather (assuming it's at least warm enough they aren't just tightly clustered). But they don't seem to WANT to build much comb until it's getting pretty warm during the day. An empty frame in a strong cluster's brood nest in April will be quickly drawn when the temps don't get much above 60 F during the day. But that's only because it's in the middle of the brood nest and they really don't like that hole there. They don't get excited about drawing anything other places until it's pretty much what I'd call hot. They draw a lot more comb a lot more readily when it's in the 80s F.

3,418 Posts
Comb drawing is a warmer weather activity.
It does not have to be 80, but it does have
to be warm enough for bees to "festoon"
rather than cluster.

Walt Wright keeps bees in an area of the country
that does not really have much in the way of a
winter, so his bees certainly can accomplish all
the work of utilizing stored honey just about any
time they wish. If you look at the winter
temperatures where Walt keeps bees, some years,
there simply is no perceptible "winter". But
even Walt could obtain larger spring harvests
if he fed his colonies prior to the spring
blooms, a simple step much less complex than
all the checkerboarding work he willingly does.

As for the "founding fathers" of beekeeping,
stimulative feeding has been around longer than
anyone currently alive, and is well-known to be
the most important factor in building up
a colony before the spring blooms to a size that
can take advantage of the spring blooms. Feeding
is so common among commercial beekeepers, they
have adages like "Feed equals bees".

The old adage (coined by these same "founding
fathers" who were dragged out of their comfortable
graves in an attempt to lend attribution to the
fringe position of not doing stimulative spring
feeding) is "Build your hives up for
the flow, not on the flow."

The effect is obvious when one uses high-quality
pedigree bees, such as NWCs (rather than mongrels
of unknown genetics, or only "bred by eyeball"
genetics). If one tosses in a pollen patty or two,
and slaps on a feeder any time after the Winter
solstice, one would be well-advised to jump back
quickly after doing so, as the colony population
will literally explode, and give the beekeeper a
nasty impact on the nose or forehead. NWCs are
very efficient utilizers of resources.

There's a simple way to determine the preferences
of your bees. If a colony has some amount of
stores, yet the colony "takes feed" in some
quantity during the period before the spring
blooms, the bees have clearly voted with their
tiny little feet, walking past the stores to
get to the feeder of syrup. Clearly, it needs
to be warm enough that the bees can break
cluster to do this, but even under worst case
conditions, one can get two or three extra
brood cycles of rearing before spring blooms
appear, and the difference in terms of net
harvests is massive.

Other factors I have found to to important include:
  • Using real pollen, trapped the prior summer or
    fall. "Pollen substitute drools, real pollen rules."</font>
  • Using feeders of sufficient size to insure
    that the colony does not run out, and thereby
    get the impression that the artificial bloom
    you have created is "over".</font>
  • Providing sufficient pollen patties to
    insure that the bees don't run out of pollen,
    either. This means that one has to check and
    toss in more patties if the colony is down to
    "only one".</font>
  • Adding boxes of drawn comb to give the
    hive more brood chamber space, a step that
    clearly illustrates the unwillingness of bees
    to draw comb in early spring in locations
    where "winter" and "spring" can be clearly
And yes, of course "it is not natural".
Neither is keeping bees in boxes.
The bees don't want to produce any more honey
than they need to overwinter on, so if you want
an actual crop, you have to do more than just
watch your colonies do whatever they feel
like doing. (This is something that the
Birkenstock-and-Granola, "Mr. Natural" beekeepers
just don't seem to get, even though it is easy
to see the difference between fed and an unfed
colonies, side by side.

345 Posts

I know they'll make some comb and make repairs right now, but can't speak about drawing out new frames. Here's what I know, from what I saw today.

You know the double deep I was telling you about, at my daughter's house? Yesterday I compiled my best drawn comb which isn't saying much, in an attempt to add a checkerboarded box. I ended up putting on 3 frames of capped honey interespersed with 7 drawn combs. They were all well spaced in the box, hanging loose, you know how it is when you put a fresh box together? Anyway I went straight out there after getting the comb from you, to add a properly checkerboarded western below the one I added yesterday. That yesterday's box already had a bunch of bees in it, and all over the top bars. The frames were already set in there with wax, it was set as hard as you'll see- it took my best effort with a hive tool to pry them loose. They'd already glued a couple of the bottoms of the frames to the topbars below it, with bridge comb. I know this because I had to break all those frames loose and remove 1 so I could have 9 frames, respacing with the fancy spacer tool. Anyway, there ya go. But all this new wax I'm speaking of is very dark, like medium brown. They did all this in almost exactly 24 hours.

6,584 Posts
>Walt Wright keeps bees in an area of the country
that does not really have much in the way of a

Just as Walt's situation doesn't apply to your locale in Virginia, your situation doesn't apply to folks in northern parts of the country. All beekeeping is local, right?

Your advice of putting feeders and pollen on hives "any time after the Winter solstice" certainly doesn't apply to me here in Maine. When the Winter Solstice arrives here, Real Winter hasn't even started yet and the very best Maine has to offer doesn't arrive until mid-January and it stays bad until the end of February. The last thing I want my bees doing is raising brood, let alone massive amounts of brood, in January or February. Following your advice would kill my bees! Clearly you don't keep bees where the temperature drops well below 0 at night and never gets above 10 degrees F for days on end.

That said, as in most everything else with beekeeping, timing is everything and I'll grant you that the judicious use of syrup and pollen at the right time during spring build up could result in a faster buildup but the timing for such "stimulative" feeding and the amount deemed sufficient is critical, and will vary considerably depending where one is located and what spring is like in your area. Here in Maine, brood rearing starts up in earnest in March when the pussy willow blooms but even then there is considerable risk of massive amounts of chilled brood if the brood nest expands too quickly. Overnight temperatures here in March are typically in the mid-20's. Stimulative feeding at this time might enhance build up or it might hasten colony death. Our spring bloom doesn't come on strong until May. Why would I want boxes full of bees in the middle of winter?

219 Posts
We just had some LC bees jump on a frame of 4.9 foundation from Jan. 14th till today. 90% drawn and filled with brood.

The frame was inserted into the brood nest and feeding sugar syrup.

I am at 70777 zip if you want to look up weather history but it probably doesn't qualify as winter to most others. Bees fly most everyday(except raining) and have been bringing pollen in since Jan. 1st.

Other frames in the upper box(s) have not seen the same comb building, if any. Seems they do not need comb there right now. The hole in the brood nest was too much for them and the queen could not resist the new comb.

While our winter is mild by comparison, it is clear that they were working on the comb even when the temps were (relatively speaking)low.

3,192 Posts
So what does a beekeeper do in an area that does not have an early spring flow? If you feed, the bees just swarm.

There is also a negative impact on winter bees from feeding. They have to expend energy on putting up the "feed" which causes them to die sooner than they would have otherwise. This can result in a colony with more old bees dieing than new bees are hatching to replace them. The colony actually shrinks in size when this happens. If the shrinking happens at just as a cold snap develops, the result is lots of frozen brood because the cluster could not cover it.

I think that a beekeeper should know his climate and his seasons. He should feed his bees at the proper time to meet his goals. A pollinator has a drastically different objective to a honey producer and how he feeds his bees should reflect this.

If I feed my bees, I can get a crop of maple honey in late February or early March. The colonies that produce the maple honey have to be split before the main flow to prevent swarming. For this reason, I try to feed a few colonies and let the rest build up naturally. I get some maple honey but more importantly, I make a crop from the main nectar flow.

Darrel Jones

3,418 Posts
> Your advice of putting feeders and pollen on
> hives "any time after the Winter solstice"
> certainly doesn't apply to me here in Maine.

Of course your time within "anytime" is going
to be later than for someone further South,
but I don't think that early feeding will
kill your bees, as they are not about
to go overboard and raise so much brood that
they would put the entire colony at risk.
If they were to over-expand the broodnest
during a short to a warm spell, they may
certainly loose the "excess" brood to the
cold, but this would not put the colony at risk.

Anyway, the bees are "smarter" than we give
them credit for - very early season build up
tends to be conservative even in warmer
climates. The broodnest expansion does not
get "out of hand" unless the temperatures
get wacky. If you put feeders on "early",
I'd bet that the bees simply ignore the
feeder and the pollen. That's what I've
seen when I got too ambitious too early.

> Why would I want boxes full of bees in the
> middle of winter?

Two words - "Maple Bloom".
When's your maple bloom?
Maybe a crop of maple is impossible in Maine,
but it is possible as far North as northern
Ohio. You don't get decent temperatures every
year, but you sure can make splits every year
if you can't get that Maple crop!

Local feral survivors in eight frame medium boxes.
54,291 Posts
"Stimulative Feeding. Some would say that I ought to practice stimulative feeding for the sake of hastening the work of building up the colony. But it takes a good deal of wisdom to know at all times just how to manage stimulative feeding so as not to do harm instead of good; and I am not certain I have that wisdom.

"Whatever else may be true about spring, I am pretty fully settled in the belief that it is of first importance that the bees should have an abundant supply of stores, whether such supply be furnished from day to day by the beekeeper, or store up by the bees themselves six months or a year previously. Moreover, I believe they build up more rapidly if they have not only enough to use from day to day, but a reserve or visible supply for future use. If a colony comes out of the cellar strong, and with combs full of stores, I have some doubts if I can hasten its building up by any tinkering I can do. So my feeding in spring is to make sure they have abundant stores, rather than for the stimulation of frequent giving." -- C.C. Miller, Fifty Years Among the Bees. Dover 2006 edition page 103

G.M. Doolittle in A Year in an Out-Apiary says basically the same thing.

6,584 Posts
>When's your maple bloom?

April, give or take.

>but you sure can make splits every year
if you can't get that Maple crop!

Our big early bloom is dandelion, in May. They build up and swarm on it. We can't reliably mate queens around here until the end of May which in normal years is the beginning of swarm season. The weather is just too cold and wet in May. Blueberries are 3 weeks in mid-May. No wonder the bees hate Blueberries.

3,418 Posts
Mike dragged the long dead out of their graves yet AGAIN!
Oh, the horror, the ghoulishness of it all!

> C.C. Miller, Fifty Years Among the Bees.

Published in 1915. Nearly 100 years ago

> G.M. Doolittle in A Year in an Out-Apiary says
> basically the same thing.

Published in 1908. Exactly 100 years ago.

Gee, there's been quite a bit of research in
bee biology and behavior in the past hundred years,
perhaps this work might have added some knowledge,
and be of value. Welcome to the 21st century.

While both books certainly are interesting
to read (Miller has some poignant tales of
honey marketing), they never even dreamed of
the concept of a "pollen trap", did they?

Even if they tried to save frames of pollen,
they couldn't keep pollen frozen for long with
iceboxes, so I'm not surprised that they would
have had limited success in building up colonies
prior to the blooms with dried out or moldy

And didn't they both, like all beekeepers in those
days, think that wax moths could kill hives?

6,584 Posts
>If the shrinking happens at just as a cold snap develops, the result is lots of frozen brood because the cluster could not cover it.

An even greater risk is that the bees DO cover it and end up, tightly clustered and stranded too far from fresh honey. I've only been keeping bees 2 years so far and I've already seen deadouts resulting from the bee's refusal to abandon brood during an extended cold snap. Here in Maine, the hardest and riskiest month for bees is March precisely because they ARE beginning to brood up in earnest.

>I think that a beekeeper should know his climate and his seasons.

Ayuh. All beekeeping is local and hence, all beekeeping advice needs to be considered in light of one's location and local conditions.

>I make a crop from the main nectar flow.

We all try. Our main flow starts in early June and ends around the end of July. I want my hives to hit the ground running but I don't need to feed them in the winter to get them ready. I've got 2 months to get my bees in shape- April and May- and they do a pretty good job of building up on their own. Many folks down south have their main flow in the spring. They might well benefit from early on feeding.

1,888 Posts
Beekeeping is local and all advice should be taken with an eye on the environment from which the giver is located.

I like to always look at HDD or the for monthly averages and records. It does not give one's micro climate, but a good picture of conditions.

However, colonies tend to react similarly to the same stimulations, as a general rule. When the days start to get longer, and the temperatures begin to moderate, the colony will start rearing brood for the upcoming spring flow. On this spring flow the colony expands, and with the build up comes swarming. This happens whether you are in Alberta, Maine, New York, Virginia, or South Carolina. The timing and the speed in which the colony must expand to produce a surplus in the season is what is different.

March & April are the months when most of my winter loses use to occur. The colony was expanding population wise and the weather here can be very unfriendly in March, April, and even into May.

I don’t see the “spring” loses I did when I first started keeping bees. I used to set my hives up like the books – “others” told me to. I left the lots of honey, ran 3 deeps, wrapped the hive, etc. I had my colonies that went vertical or anchored themselves with brood and cold starved. My losses were no better or worse than what I read was “normal” winter loses.

I now run 2 deeps and even set up a few single deeps (not by choice) this year. I set them up with an empty box and granular sugar on paper sometime in December when I am done with fall feeding of light syrup. I want bees in the colony. If I have bees, I can get them through winter. I wrap with a felt paper for solar gain and wind protection.

I have found that the clusters like to get right up under the sugar in most hives and they make a doom out of the sugar cap. They work the granular sugar all winter. I checked a few hives in my home yard yesterday, and most of the colonies that I checked were visible working the sugar. They still have honey stores, but bees horde theirs stores. They don’t want to use their stores, they would rather use another source if possible.

I have colonies 15 miles from my home yard. They sit by the Hudson in Catskill, NY. This yard has a season that starts 2 weeks or so earlier and extends 2 weeks or so longer. Hence, I start my “spring” feeding for them in about 1 – 2 weeks, and I start my spring feeding here is about 2 – 3 weeks.

I will be putting light syrup on and pollen substitute to try and stimulate the colony into rearing brood. I want to replace the “old” bees that have died during winter and get the colony moving so that I can make my splits in middle to end of April. This times the mating flights to the start of swarm season and there are plenty of drones. I get a crop from the over wintered colonies, I usually get a crop from my splits as well. I have also done most of my swarm control as well.

I went into this winter without doing any treatments with 35 colonies. I have used oils in the past and just ran out of time this year. Out of the 35 hives, 6 or 7 should have been culled in the fall. They were swarms, or hives that I tried to save that a bear trashed last spring, that never got going. Another 10 hives were very light on stores, too many hives at my home yard. As of yesterday, 30 colonies were alive and heading to spring. I am a few hives ahead of the game, with a fair amount of winter left.

No body’s system is perfect and if they tell you it is, they are lying. You need to try a wide range of systems and find what works for you and your area.
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