Character leaning against question mark

This morning I received an email from a reader of my blog. It is a good question about whether you should keep a jar of feed for your colony after installing a nuc.

Hi, I just got a nuc of bees brought in and setup into a brand new hive that my neighbours have built for me. At this point it consists of two boxes with ten frames per box and a third on the top. The bees were introduced about one week ago. My neighbour set them up, he put a mason jar of sugar water upside-down with holes in the lid in the top box. There has been slight activity during the first part of the week as the daytime highs have only been about 12 degrees (Celsius) or so. Yesterday the temp was about 18 degrees and sunny. The hive was very active at that temp. Today was colder and this evening before dark I had a quick peek in the top box by gently removing the lid. I noticed that all the sugar water was gone. My question (finally) is should this quart size mason jar always have sugar water in it???  What should I do? FYI they are Buckfast Bees.

I answered this email directly, but I also thought I’d post my answer here and spark a discussion. If I understand correctly, this reader has two boxes with frames in them, and a third box on top of those that contains a mason jar for feeding. The nuc only arrived one week ago.

To answer the main question first: No, you don’t need to keep that mason jar filled with sugar syrup. You can remove it and take off the 3rd box that it’s sitting in. The feed is sometimes used to boost production in the hive. It’s typically used in smaller/weaker colonies. Your bees will eat the sugar syrup, but it is not what they’re designed to eat regularly. You don’t want them to choose that over nectar from flowers.

In the winter, or early spring, you may need to feed them again, but for now, as we head into summer, you’re fine without it. In fact, I didn’t use any feeder at all when I installed my nuc, around the same time.

Also, just a bit more information to help: Your bees will likely stay in their hive during colder weather, especially if it’s a bit rainy. It’s perfectly normal to not see a lot of activity around your hive on these cold & rainy days. As you mentioned, it’s when it’s sunny and 18 degrees that the bees get to work.

Try to avoid checking your hive when it’s chilly outside. If it’s around 10 degrees Celcius or colder, then you risk chilling your brood if you have your hive open for too long. It’s best to do your inspections mid-day, when a lot of your bees will be out foraging.

Another point I thought I should mention is that if you had a 4-frame nuc and you just installed it one week ago, then you might not need to have a second box with frames on it yet. You add boxes as you go, when the first box is roughly 75%-90% full. That’s the time when you plop another box with frames on top. If you give them too much space early on, it might be difficult to stay warm during really cold nights. At this point, however, they may have already started using that box, so it’s up to you whether you want to remove it or not. It may just be easier to leave it now.

In the future, it’s good to know that if you’re buying your nuc from a reputable breeder, there are guidelines to follow which are in place for your benefit. Your nuc should have been shipped with some food stores when it arrived. Adding sugar syrup is an extra safety measure to provide a bit more feed to your bees after their stressful journey to their new home. For information on what the Ontario Beekeeping Association recommends for nucs, please visit my blog post here: Buying nucs of bees in Ontario. Take into consideration that these are just guidelines, and your nuc may have been a bit different.

I hope this answers your question. I wish you all the best for a happy and healthy bee season. Good luck!