Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What's on this page?

I'm going to have to do this one a bit differently than usual, it would be exasperating to list every question, so I'll make sections arranged alphabetically.


"The girls..."

I am a firm believer in understanding the facts and truth about things and not making things into things they are not.  This includes anthropomorphizing animals.  They are not girls.  They are bees.  They are hardly even female.  They are a hive organism.  Workers are more or less expendable and their short lives are usually ended by simply wearing out.  Similarly, the queen is not even a 'queen' in any sense of the word.  I wish there was another word to use for her.  She is not a ruler or sovereign in any way.  She, like the workers and drones, is simply the single member of a caste within the hive organism.  She is nearly as expendable as a worker which is somewhat less expendable than a drone.  Each has its part to play.I am sorry if that seems harsh, but more harsh is the method of adapting to disease through natural selection.  Nature is harsh.  Life is harsh.  Each hive manipulation will result in dead bees.  I do my best to avoid as many deaths as possible, however, they cannot be avoided altogether no matter the hive or the method.  When you use animals for human purposes, that is the result, be it milking cows, making honey, gathering eggs, or just eating any animal.  They all result in perceived negative effects and animal death.  But have you ever watched a nature special on the Serengeti?  I much prefer our methods to nature's.  At least we have some consideration for suffering.  And a bee's capacity to understand suffering is far less than ours.

The "queen..."

I honestly do wish there were another word for "queen" in the honeybee context.  The queen is not a queen.  She rules nothing.  She is not a monarch.  Her issue do not have a line of succession.  She doesn't run anything.  She doesn't even make decisions.  She is the single (usually) member of a caste.  She has a couple of jobs.  Number one is to lay eggs.  Number two is to suppress the creation of new queens while she is healthy.  We should not treat her like she is something special.  She is an insect.  She should not be treated with any undue respect.


"How often should comb be rotated out of a hive?"

I like to put two frames of foundation in each box each year.  Some simple math should tell you that combs are rotated out after five years.  It doesn't quite happen that way, especially when you are in an expansion phase like I am at the moment.  I'm not trying to expand the number of hives, but expand my proportion of filled equipment.  Almost to 100%.

In treatment free hives, I'd say 5 years is more than good enough.  And ten years might be pushing it.  By that time, comb is thoroughly black.  Building new wax is a good thing, keep getting it done.

Cell Size

"By forcing bees to use foundation of a fixed size, be it 4.9, 5.1 or 5.4, are we not eliminating their ability to adapt their size to the local conditions and climate? 4.9mm may be the ideal size for Arizona, but what about northern climates? Or wetter climates?"

Dee Lusby actually made a map of what she considered natural cell sizes. You can find it on the POV section of The very coldest and high altitude zones show 5-5.2mm according to her map.  Here is the Lusby's POV page: I recommend reading the whole thing through to get a good foundation in treatment-free beekeeping. I did.

I find that on small cell, much more than on large cell, with wax foundation, the bees are more likely to build what they want anyway. A perfectly drawn 4.9mm frame is very rare. It's not a bell curve. What I mean is, smaller foundation does not *force* anything like larger foundation seems to. Plastic is another issue.

"What happens if you mix small cell with conventional comb size?"

The simplest answer is that you'll get different size bees.  The queen should be able to lay an egg in any viable cell.  You probably won't get as many of the benefits of small cell, and if you start with foundation, your larger bees are going to have a harder time building that small comb.

"How do you regress from large cell to small cell?"

Regression is a simple process in theory but ends up being a much bigger problem.  One way is to dump all the bees onto new foundation and take away all their old comb and feed them like the dickens.  The problem with this is that it is extremely stressful and may kill your hive, especially if you do it repeatedly.  Another method is to place a few new small cell foundation filled frames in the center of the broodnest every spring and any other time when foundation is expected to be drawn well.  This works okay, but it takes a really long time and may never actually succeed.  It's the way I tried.  What ultimately did it for me was getting ahold of drawn comb (in the form of purchased nucs) which gave me a foundation to build from.  Once I had those drawn frames, the correct size bees were produced which then led to more well drawn comb and the cycle continues.  Another method that has been used more often lately is to use the Mann Lake plastic frames (PF-100, PF-105, PF-120, PF-125) which have a deep cell base from which the bees will build.  I do not recommend the black frames (ending in 5) because in the sun they get wicked hot wicked fast and will melt comb and kill brood in mere minutes.


"Sol can you tell me what your drone management practices are?"

My only drone management practices are to move frames with excessive amounts of drone (more than 10-20%) to the outside of the broodnest and eventually up to the supers. I will occasionally scratch open some drone brood to check mite levels, but that's about it. Even so, some hives will produce more drones than others, filling up every bit of that 10% while others may ignore it or only fill what's inside the sphere of the broodnest.


"What is your opinion on screened bottom boards (SBB)?"

I don't use them.  In my view, they are something that helps the bees with an issue they should be able to handle on their own.  I don't use any treatments or any of the methods that help bees with disease.  None.  Not a one.  I keep bees like they did back in the day before mites when the only thing you did to affect a disease was to burn hives infected with AFB.  That's it.  That's the way I think it should be, and for me, that's the way it is.  I use virtually all solid bottoms.  I have a few screened ones I still have in the shop I use to stack boxes on or when I am moving hives so they get good ventilation on the road.

"How do you work "top entrances" into your hives? Do you still have bottoms?"

I use shims made of 3/4" material and held together in the front by a board serving as a landing board or awning. I have been using them in awning configuration lately. Lower entrances are the same sitting on an inverted migratory style cover. Nearly half now are founded on a ten frame nuc with a single inch and a half hole in the front.I build everything but the frames. You can find plenty of pictures on my blog and website. I reduce both upper and lower entrances in winter, though not every hive every winter.

"Have you made half width boxes, so that they could also be used as 6 frame Nucs?"

I have made one six frame medium nuc, but not any boxes separate from that. I had some lumber left over from making boxes that made shorter end walls and so I put a nuc together. I imagine I will use it next year (2013) when I start producing queens and nucs in medium equipment rather than just deeps.  Next will be medium plywood nucs.

"Have you tried the boxes [speaking of square boxes in "cube hives"] at right angles and does it act as a queen excluder?"

Yes I have, and I have not seen queen excluding as an effect. I did notice brooding further out to the edges than you might normally see, but that may be a subjective viewpoint.

"Are there disadvantages to this size box, other than the weight of a single box?" [Speaking of my "Cube Hives"]

Yes, there are. First, it's an odd size, so not necessarily compatible with the rest of my equipment though you can make little adapter boards to mitigate that. They are heavy, though a 12-14 frame medium should be no heavier than a 10-frame deep. Because they are wide, they are a little more awkward to lift, your center of gravity is thrown out further than with a narrower box. I will have to keep an eye on them to make sure water doesn't pool in the bottom, but that has more to do with the materials and design I used than anything else. I have noticed quite a bit of burr comb, but that is probably a symptom of using PF-120 frames or of the bees themselves rather than the boxes. I will add a couple foundationless frames in the spring to see if I can get some controlled drone comb and cut down on burr comb.


"At our last meeting of our bee club an older lady said feed feed feed.  What should I do?"

I try to feed as little as possible, and have ceased all together except in special cases.  Sugar syrup is inferior to honey and it costs money which I don't like to spend on unnecessary things.  In fact, I started nucs this spring (2012) with only a frame of brood, a frame of honey and a queen cell, and the decent performers easily filled a five frame nuc in a month or so.  Additionally, there is debate on whether feeding is actually stimulative.  I think (I could be wrong) that it's the pollen that really stimulates and that having a hive well stocked with pollen is the best stimulation.  When I do feed, it is in the fall or winter.  This last year is a good example.  After a rainy floody spring and a long hot dry summer, the bees had at most a few pounds of honey per hive.  If I hadn't fed them, they would all be dead.  Other than that, I don't generally feed anything, that's what flowers are for.  ;-)

As far as swarms, a lot of people recommend feeding swarms.  I haven't see it as necessary.  Swarms have an incredible ability to build up rapidly and it seems to me that they can do just fine without feeding.  I caught a swarm a few weeks ago and they've already filled out a single deep which here is about good enough to survive winter.

As an update to this question, I definitely need to recount what I am doing lately.  In the winter of 2012, I did not use any syrup, but only granulated sugar.  For how to do that, see the Feeding page.  The winter of 2013, I did not feed any hive until February 1, 2014 when I fed one hive some granulated sugar.  This hive was completely out of honey and I wanted to keep it alive because it was on medium frames.  But other than that, I have not fed any hives and a number have starved as a result.  But since I am breeding bees I want to be resistant to everything, I must also breed them to be resistant to starvation.  So at this point, I do not recommend feeding at all except in special circumstances and for special reasons.

"What is the actual chance of harm in feeding honey from one hive to another, or unknown honey from multiple hives to prevent starvation?"

In my view, it's not that big a deal. I am not concerned with disease being passed between hives, be they mine or from somewhere else. I am breeding disease resistant bees. If they succumb to any disease that comes along, they're not very disease resistant and they're going to die. That's part of the process and it's the most valuable part, being the part that is the actual test, like a comprehensive final exam.

As far as the actual dangers, I don't think there is much of a risk and I'll tell you why. Honey is inherently antibiotic. There are already all the bacteria that could be in honey in your hive, they're just not part of an active infection. I think it is possible however unlikely that importing honey (especially modern store bought hyper filtered honey) will actually cause an outbreak. Furthermore, there's no way of proving that it came from that honey since all those bacteria are already in your hive.

Again, it all comes down to you and your goals. If you are worried about it, don't do it, but if you're not worried about it, they you're not worried about it. Best practice ultimately is to leave the bees enough honey to not need feeding. That should be number one on the list.


"Do you have a preference and any techniques to pass along?"

Foundationless will be easy as long as you are not concerned about what sort of comb you get. The bees will like it just fine, but you may not. If you want to get brood comb, it needs to be right in the middle of the broodnest, early in the season. As far as getting small cell done quickly, I'd say your best option is Mann Lake PF-1xx frames. They are drawn out acceptably more than 90% of the time. However, they still have all the downfalls of plastic foundation. Some beekeepers have cut out the foundation and used wooden frames.  Overall, I use foundationless on a very limited basis.  Most of it turns out with excessive drone which is good for honey frames or for hives to flood the area with drones.  Do it like me and do whatever is most useful with every opportunity.


"Do you think small cell or natural comb contributes anything to survivor stock or is it mainly genetic traits that attribute to your success in the treatment-free beekeeping area."

I do not know.  I have never been able to separate the two. I know it is done without small cell, however I have never done it. I do happen to have about two dozen large cell plastic frames, maybe I should try.  As to what to attribute my success, again I cannot say. I know genetics has a part of it, but small cell has always been a part of it.


"I want to raise a few queens like you recommend, how do I avoid inbreeding?"

If you are a backyard or hobbyist beekeeper, you have little to worry about.  Queens fly for miles and you only have a few hives.  That means that the vast majority (if not all) of the drones one of your queens would come in contact with would be from other hives, even miles away.  Inbreeding is only a concern for a commercial beekeeper who owns hundreds or thousands of hives and owns all the hives for miles around.  The only other worry would be if you lived in a geographically isolated area and your hives are the only ones for miles around, but I seriously doubt that is the case.  In all probability, with the limited influence of your small number of hives, you have almost no control of the drone pool whatsoever.  Virtually all drones mating with your queens will be from other hives.


"Is it possible to have a hive these days that DOESN’T have varroa mites?"

Not really, no. Mites are ubiquitous in the US. They can very easily be passed around by drones, robbers, or drifting workers. Even in the best of hygienic mite resistant hives, there are still mites who reproduce and escape notice. I come across a mite every once in a while, on a drone or a worker or in drone brood broken open when pulling a frame. That’s why it’s important to focus on having good bees.  The mites have been a constant pressure for over twenty years now and that won’t change in the future.  Fortunately, there are a growing number of us who are letting weak bees die and breeding from the best of the survivors.  We are the biggest force for change using the most natural of methods to eliminate weakness in the bee population…well, beside the feral population.

"Can splits control mites?"

The short answer is yes.  With proper timing and measurement of mite loads splits can control mites.  However, like with all treatments, what you're really doing is selecting for bees that need that particular treatment.  That's the reason I quit using screened bottom boards.  The bees should need these things.  Add to that, splitting methods are very energy intensive and a lot of work.  For these and other reasons, I don't recommend splitting for mite control unless you just can't get your bees to survive otherwise.


What is a nuc?

A nuc (nucleus hive) is a small colony, 1-10 frames, but usually 4-5.  It contains frames full of comb and bees including brood, and the queen as well.  Its purpose when purchased is to set up shop in your boxes to start a new "hive".  Unlike a package which is just a quantity of bees with a queen, a nuc is a small fully functioning hive.

Oftentimes what you get when you purchase a nuc is a couple frames of brood with bees and a queen in a cage.  What this is is essentially a pre-made split with a queen.  Nucs that I provide are not simply frames of brood and bees with some mass produced queen added, they are fully functioning hives.  The workers are daughters of the queen so you know exactly how gentle they will be. 

Nucs can be used for many things, building comb without feeding, drone source, splitting, mating nucs, and rapid increase through systematic splitting.

"If I want to always have 10 strong hives how many nucs would you work with?"

I've come to the conclusion here that nucs don't work year 'round. I just don't have the conditions. Nucs pretty consistently die in the summer and there's no fall flow to speak of so they don't work going into winter either. They certainly have their place, I use them as stepping stones to get colonies into bigger hives. But for me, they are not useful after June.

I do however have a goal number of hives to keep. I want to have about 20 hives. I have three apiaries, two with 8 hive stands, and the home apiary has 9 to 11. I figure if those are all filled going into winter, I should have right about the correct number of hives come spring. Your mileage may vary, but the same concept should serve.


"How many hives should I have prepared for next year?"

I'd say have several more than you need. For nucs, have more available than you plan to use. Make more than you plan to keep because you'll have a certain proportion of failures and dinks.  The great thing about hives is that they're not perishable if kept under cover.

Package Bees

"Have you had any experience with releasing the queen right away when installing a package?"

It depends on how long the queen has been with that package.  There is less risk if the package was made up a few days previous.  However, if you release the queen immediately without the hive getting some time to figure out where they are, you risk absconding.  When I bought my first batch of packages, I released most if not all of the queens during installation.  I lost one of the twenty, just disappeared, so those are the numbers I'm working with.  It's no sure thing, and conditions may vary.  I've heard of using some lemongrass oil in the hive to help them stay put, but I haven't bought packages in nine years and I haven't personally tried it.

Plastic Frames

"I installed my packages into PF-120's...and they have been drawing them out.  ...When I move the frames over and there are bees on it some of them scurry into the hollow on the ends of the frames and get trapped in there.  Have you noticed this and do you try to do anything about it?"

I haven't really noticed that, but I also have not been using PF frames for very long.  With wooden frames, workers just get squished between the endbars.  There is far too much to do and far too little sunlight to avoid killing every bee.  Work quickly and efficiently and learn to avoid killing too many workers.  But if you do, and you will, don't lose any sleep over it.


"Do you have any queens available?"

Check the Products page for available products and details.

"Have you had any experience with releasing the queen right away when installing a package?"

It depends on how long the queen has been with that package.  There is less risk if the package was made up a few days previous.  However, if you release the queen immediately without the hive getting some time to figure out where they are, you risk absconding.  When I bought my first batch of packages, I released most if not all of the queens during installation.  I lost one of the twenty, just disappeared, so those are the numbers I'm working with.  It's no sure thing, and conditions may vary.  I've heard of using some lemongrass oil in the hive to help them stay put, but I haven't bought packages in nine years and I haven't personally tried it.

"Have you run a two queen hive?"

I have not, though one of them did exist as a two-queen hive for a short time when the old queen was superseded the second time. She didn't survive the second time at least not for six months like she did the first.

"What's a dink? Is that a technical term?"

"Dink" is a term I use for a hive that won't grow but also won't die. It's used by some other beekeepers too. An I idea I have adapted from Michael Palmer was to divide them up in the spring for mating nucs and/or keep them in five frame nucs where they can draw comb until they die of something. Sometimes, just pinch the queen and merge with another hive or requeen with a nuc.

"Do they ever get going or will they remain a lethargic colony?"

I may have mentioned this before, or may not have been clear about it. I have found that even if they are not the sort to build up and bring in honey, they still seem to do well in five frame nucs drawing out a frame of foundation at a time. Perhaps it has something to do with the natural size of a colony of bees. Give me twenty years and maybe I'll have a better answer and a bigger sample size.

Buying Queens

"I've been told that to raise queens, I need to buy a breeder queen from a breeder.  Should I?"

You do not need to bring in new queens, you need to use the queens you have, if they meet your standards, because they are adapted to your area, forage, and weather patterns.  Local is best.  Plus, you're not going to be able to find many treatment-free breeders.

Queen Rearing

"I've read you use the Ben Harden Method of Queen Rearing.  Tell me about it."

Everything I know I got from this page:

So, I don't really have much more to tell you than that.  I found that having more brood up around the queen cells helps in the cool spring.  I also made my blanks the wrong size so six frames fit in the top box.  Gives more space for brood frames.  Some people don't even use blanks.  One thing that I discovered by doing it is to place an empty frame of comb in the box on a Tuesday and along with it, placing the rest of the equipment above at the same time for the bees to become accustomed to.  Then on Saturday, you can open up the hive, graft from the frame of new larvae, and place it next to the cell bar frame when you're done.  Doing it that way, I got 17/18 grafts made into queens this year (2012) and they have almost all been of stellar quality.


"I have not used any chemicals this season and now find two of my three hives queenless in November! What on earth can I do?" (Massachusetts)

I cannot make any diagnoses without more information. Are you certain that the hives are queenless rather than just shutting down brood rearing for the winter?  Queenlessness is a beekeeping issue, not treatment-free issue. There are no treatments that I know of that will keep your hive from going queenless, but I do know of at least one which will give it a good chance of going queenless. In Massachusetts in November, my first guess would be that they are not queenless, just not brooding, which is what they should be doing this time of year.


"I think in a recent post you indicated that you don't requeen until after the main honey flow is over. That surprised me. Can you explain the rationale?"

Anything you do in the hive during the productive times of the year will have some effect on hive operations. Changing out queens (especially if you do something like a walk away split) will have more effect and leave time during which there is no new brood being produced. You want your hives to have all the chance they can to bring in honey. That's also why I use queenright cell builders, because the original hive can continue on without much interruption. Even if you do major things before the flow, you're still interrupting the production of brood which will affect the field force during the flow.

Once the flow is mostly over, you know what hives produced and what ones didn't, you can replace the worst ones. At the beginning of the year, I use the slowest builders for brood for mating nucs. Those hives weren't likely to make any honey anyway. It's an adaptation of Michael Palmer's methods. He advocates leaving the good production hives alone during the flow. Split up the weaker hives for nucs and such, but don't make queens from them.

"Is a couple of days long enough for the bees to become accustomed to a new queen if I remove the queen that comes with a package and substitute her with another?"

Should be. This is more of a general beekeeping question, and one with which I don't have any experience. Lots of people are going to tell you it will work just fine. Few of them will have done it.  Sorry I don't have anything solid for you, I'm not fond of packages. I have about 100% success with putting queens in freshly queenless splits. That's what I like to do.


"Would it be reasonable to order two queens and expect to split this hive 3 ways."

While I can't speak to the precise conditions of the area or the hives, I see no reason why a reasonably strong hive could not be split into three especially with queens being provided. My mating nucs consist of one frame of brood and one frame of honey and the ones with good hatched and mated queens go into winter occupying more than ten frames and not having been fed. That being said, conditions and results will vary.

Remember to prepare ahead of time for equipment needs. It's no fun getting out there on the day and realizing you don't have enough lids or something else.

Survivor Bees

"From what lineage are your bees descended?"

My bees are well and truly mutts.  Their grandmothers and beyond came from anywhere between Northern California and Georgia and from New Mexico to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  But they all have survived the short harsh winters here in NW Arkansas and the long hot summers and they have done it with no help whatsoever as it pertains to mites or disease.  I propagate from the best performers in the spring.  One of the reasons I don't ship is that I focus directly on local bees.  So if you're not willing to drive here, you're probably too far away.  My bees are definitely influenced by the local bees as they are all open mated.  The local bees are generally light colored and gentle.

"I bought some bees from BeeWeaver and they were kinda mean.  Are survivor genetics naturally more defensive?"

I have found some to be aggressive and I do believe it comes from their lineage. The bees that I have raised here have been generally gentle, however, last year (2011) I purchased four queens from Zia Queenbee in New Mexico. About three of the four have been more aggressive than I would like and one was so terrible I requeened.

Coincidentally, one of my thresholds for breeding is being able to work a hive in rain with no smoke. If I can't do that, I just leave them for honey production and forget about multiplying them. The genes for the next generation come from the good bees.

I would not doubt that BeeWeaver queens could get testy in certain conditions, especially rain or dearth. They have been definitively shown to have some Africanized genes, but rather than seeing that as a problem, it might be better to see it as part of the journey. Given enough generations, even Africanized bees can be tamed. We need to provide continuing selection pressure to end up with gentle, productive, and disease resistant bees.  The Africanization will spread as far as it spreads, we will need to deal with it.

"Have you managed to get survivors and still maintain decent disposition?  Or do they survive BECAUSE they defend the colony well?"

In my experience, it is true that survivors are often mean, however, not always.  I don't think the two traits are necessarily tied, but they may be correlated to some degree.  Really, because the actual traits at work in disease resistant bees are numerous and varied, temperament is also not a one to one relationship.  My current practice is to breed from gentle productive hives, to transfer mean productive queens to nucs to draw foundation, and to eliminate or requeen unproductive queens of either stripe.  They're all survivors as they have to survive the winter to get to this point anyway.  I get hives of all of those types.  Each year, the goal is to end up with more hives that are gentle and productive and fewer of the other types.

Treament-Free Beekeeping

"What do you think will be required to support treatment free beekeeping?"

It doesn't need any support. It is the default.

"Do you have any interest in making a case for treatment free beekeeping?"

Of course I do. I answer all serious questions. People who ask honest questions are open minded and seeking the facts. Even if my case isn't all roses and Laffy Taffy, it is the facts. Similarly, treating doesn't guarantee survival yet the two positions are held up as opposite sides in some weird sort of battle.


"What are your thoughts on Warre hives?"

I'm not too into Warré personally, I like to focus on standard methods of beekeeping (minus treatments and such of course) and standard equipment.  In my view, Warre is good for exactly what Warré intended it, the people's hive.  I'm trying to make bees and honey in that order and to do that you need frames.  So while I don't disparage anyone their Warré hive by any means, they're just not for me.  If you want to try them out, by all means, enjoy yourself.  If you aren't enjoying it, you probably shouldn't be doing it anyway.  If it doesn't work out, try something else.  It's my general view that you'll probably end up trying something else if you don't get discouraged.


"Can you comment on condensation?"

I can comment on condensation. As you know, bees eat honey during winter. Like most fuels, when "burned," honey turns into water and carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide escapes naturally as its condensation point is -70 degrees, though the lowest recorded temperature was -128 F. Just a fun fact. Anyway, for those not familiar with the process, the water vapor released by the bees will condensate on the interior of the hive if it is cold enough and the humidity is high enough due to heat being drawn through the walls. One may do a few things to keep this from happening. First, you can keep the humidity low by increasing ventilation. Second, you can insulate the hive so that the interior surfaces do not reach a low enough temperature to cause condensation. Some people use thick insulation on the roof of the hive so that any condensation will be on the walls and will run down the sides harmlessly. Water dripping on the cluster is likely to kill the colony.

My method is to increase ventilation, lowering the humidity in the hive and greatly diminishing the possibility of condensation. Having large hives with empty comb in the top few boxes over winter also helps baffle any falling water, keeping it from reaching the bees further below. This last winter, my ten frame nucs bottom boxes gave a good case study. Throughout the winter, I was able to look in the hole in the front and see the cluster a mere three inches in despite single digits and bitterly cold winds outside. For this reason and others (including infrared camera data) I am convinced that bees only heat the cluster and they are able to provide the necessary heat to keep themselves alive in all but the most unfortunate conditions such as the lid of the hive blowing off in a blizzard. I feel insulation is unnecessary and further aids the bees in unnecessary ways allowing some to survive which might not otherwise. I am also unconvinced by tales of *the chimney effect*. The one thing a hive has in it that distinguishes it from a chimney is stuff. Chimneys full of stuff don't pass fluids well. Comb makes a very effective baffle. My recommendation is to use an upper entrance on hives in the winter. A lower entrance is less important. Our hives are quite a bit different in many ways than tree hollows or underground cavities. Problems with condensation are the beekeepers fault, not the fault of the bees.

"Would you make any alterations to your conclusion based on a substantially colder climate?"

That's a good question. There are those who swear by insulation as you'll find. I have a couple of ways to think about it. First is mathematically. I keep such large hives and the local strain of bees tend to keep quite small clusters. Therefore, mathematically speaking, the hive is significantly larger than the cluster and no insulation would do any good as the heat will still escape at a greater rate than the bees can create it.

On another level, I look at Michael Bush whose bees go uninsulated (though many are on 14 hive pallets) and he has appalling weather conditions with 60 mile an hour winds and temperatures at -20 and lower for extended periods of time. Virtually all his hives have upper entrances and the lion's share have lower vents of sorts as well. A good portion I saw had no wind breaks whatsoever. His hives do pretty well as long as the wind doesn't blow the bricks off the lid which does happen from time to time.

The hive will gain some temperature from the presence of the cluster of course, the question is how much and where it goes and the effect of humidity. What is true is that "plenty of ventilation" will remove water vapor, but it will also drastically reduce the temperature in the hive.

Other than this, I cannot give you too much more. So much depends on location.

"4 frames for overwintering?"

Michael Palmer is known for overwintering four frame nucs with a feeder in Vermont. Video available here.  He uses division board feeders. Like the one on the right in this picture:  These are both from Kirk Webster's operation, but they're both in Vermont and they both use the same feeders as far as I'm aware.

"How do I know when to feed in the middle of winter?"

My general rule regarding when to feed in the middle of winter is this: If when I open the hive and look down on the cluster (easier to do at night with a flashlight) I can see capped honey, then they probably don't need to be fed yet.  You'll ultimately have to make the determination. But if they're not going to starve, there's no reason to feed them. If they are going to starve, why? If it's your fault, make amends. If it's their fault, either let them go or put them on the requeening list. The more you do this, the more these decisions will come automatically.

"Will they move into the honey?"

They should move up into the honey. Occasionally they can't or wont and end up starving. I have not seen a good explanation as to why that sometimes happens. I tend to think some mixture of genetics predisposes some hives to be unable to move around when it is very cold.

"Should I steal some frames from the strong hive with a full super?"

You can if you feel it is necessary, though it may be a little more disruptive than feeding granulated sugar. I like sugar because they'll move up into it when they need it. They'll hardly eat it at all if they don't need it and if they don't end up needing it, you can save it for next year. Feeding granulated sugar, you'll need some sort of cavity beneath the lid. A super works. My shims provide about 7/8" which seems to be fine generally. I've never had a hive starve under my management.

"Should I pull frames to check and disrupt the hive or just leave them alone?"

Just leave them alone. You might check to see if they still have honey capped. I like to use a flashlight on a cold dark night so they don't fly out and get all disturbed.


"Why are there ads on your website?"
Web hosting costs money.  Ads pay less than web hosting costs, but they make up most of the costs.  The price for this website existing is the ads.  I do my best to screen out possibly offensive or really dumb ones, and there are only three per page.  If it really bothers you, get an ad blocker for your browser.  If by some miracle one day it is profitable (neglecting the dozens of hours I spend working on it each year) then when you click an ad, you'll be paying for this website and funding my little beekeeping enterprise.  But for now, I'm paying for this to be here.