Nucleus Hives Keep Your Apiary Alive

Reader Contribution by Betty Taylor

Making nucs is paramount in keeping bees these days because so many hives die each year in comparison with hive losses of the past. Just to stay in the game and to keep the bees alive, beekeepers must add new hives every year.

Making nucs during the nectar flow is a wonderful way to aid the bees, because they naturally want to swarm at this time of year, and nucs are artificial swarms! The bees win and the beekeeper wins–the bees get to do what they are meant to do and the beekeeper gets to keep more bees. Fewer bees are lost in artificial swarms than if they’d swarmed naturally, so more bees are left to produce honey AND you have a new hive.

A couple of blogs ago, I described making nucleus hives (nucs) and the importance of timing their creation to coincide with the nectar flow (read last 2 blogs) and promised I would report on how it all turned out.

I made 6 three-frame nucs just as our nectar flow was getting underway here in Middle Tennessee. I made another 5 nucs a week or so into the flow. So how did they do? Did the nucs make laying queens and get down to business? A current Bee Culture article says that a 70-percent success rate is to be expected–so that was my goal.

Of the first 6 nucs, 5 successfully reared queens and are now laying and producing brood. I added the bees from the unsuccessful nuc to one of the successful ones. These 5 nucs each received one feeding of about 1/2 shallow frame of comb honey (frozen from last year’s harvest) when I made the nucs. I did not give them anymore feed, and they are storing honey and making new wax.

I started the the last 5 nucs a week or so into the nectar flow and gave them NO supplemental feed. There was some honey in the frames, as well as pollen, brood, and unhatched eggs, at the time I made the nucs. Four of the 5 produced laying queens. Again I combined the unsuccessful nuc with one of the successful ones. Nine of 11? I’m satisfied with that. We’ll see how they progress.

The picture above shows something interesting in one of the nucs that was unsuccessful in making a queen for itself. It was the last nuc I’d made that day and I was tired. After I’d chosen the 3 frames from the original hives and was installing them, I noticed that one of the frames was almost all drone brood! Crap! I thought, a bunch of useless bees that won’t do the work of making a new hive! Well, a couple of days later, I walked by and noticed that the worker bees were dragging out drone larvae!

Smart girls! They were in survival mode and needed to make a queen and gather food. The boys were a drain on already stretched resources, so they’d uncapped the cells and discarded them. The bees in this nuc did bring in enough honey to fill all 3 frames, but there was no laying queen, so I added them and their honey to a nuc with a queen.

The pictures below show moving a successful 3-frame nuc into a deep brood box after 30  days.

After removing the top cover of the nuc, seeing these bees at the entrance of the inner cover is a very good sign. 

Closeup of capped and uncapped worker brood–signs of a laying queen.

The 3-frames installed into the center of a regular deep hive body. These hives will not produce enough honey to rob until next year. I will watch them and combine any weak hives in the fall to improve their chances of making it through the winter. So, just maybe, I’ll get to call myself a beekeeper for another year.

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