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Posts Tagged ‘Nucs’

Update on the Nucs

Greetings from 33,000’ somewhere between South Dakota and home.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the value of nucs and how you have to watch them as they tend to build up fast and may swarm. Last Saturday was absolutely a beautiful day and thanks to a very understanding wife, I spent 7 hours in the apiaries.  I intended to only make a quick check of the top hive bodies but a crystal clear blue sky, cool temperature with the benefit of a warming sun, a slight breeze carrying wisps of the sweet smells of fresh comb and honey and the mellow buzz of a contented apiary soon had me diving deep into each colony. I simply couldn’t help myself. It was a moment we beekeepers cherish!

Everything in the hives was what I had hoped to find. Frames of eggs, larvae and brood, fresh pollen, nectar and LOTS-O-BEES! Happiness abounds! Hmmm….there sure are a lot of cup cells on this frame.  What hive is this? Ah, yes…this is one of the 3 story, overwintered nucs I hived 2 weeks ago (with 13 hives and a lousy memory, record keeping for me is essential).

What is a cup cell? Consider it a potential swarm cell in reserve. The bees build these small round cells along the bottom of the frame just in case they need to expand them quickly in the event they are needed. They are small and unused until the time required for the queen to prepare for swarming. I usually pay very little attention to cup cells but this frame had about 10 of them. This is the top box of a 3 medium colony with 5 frames of new foundation interspersed between 5 empty frames of drawn comb. Numerous cup cells appeared on a couple of the other drawn frames in the same hive body.  So now I am very interested to see the middle box. Sure ’nuf, there’s a swarm cell under construction filled with milky white royal jelly and a small larva all surrounded by bees! Two frames over, there is another one. The bottom hive body had one as well. Hmmm, what to do?

As there was a lot of space remaining among the 3 mediums, I was surprised to find this hive getting ready to skedaddle. The entire 3rd medium was empty and there were still 5-6 open frames in the 2 hive bodies below. One possible reason may be because I had the bottom entrance restricted to a small opening, creating a constant traffic jam. I thought this was OK because I also had an unrestricted top entrance, however this hive refused to used it. Go figure…

So what did I do? Gotta’ land so you’ll have to wait!

Just like for our bees, the best part of flying is a successful landing! Thanks for the upgrade Delta! I wish you hadn’t sent one of my bags to Atlanta…

So what to do with the hive? Swarm cells provide a great opportunity to increase the size of your apiary. While inspecting the other hives, I observed a healthy population of drones so the developing queens should be able to mate. Knowing this,  I made 2 more nucs – each with a frame containing a swarm cell, a frame of eggs (in case the cells do not make it) a frame of brood, another of pollen and a frame of honey.  Taking all of these bees from the donor hive did not allow me to use the third cell since I did not want to remove that many more bees from the hive. Instead, I chose to destroy the cell and add the frame, with all of the larvae, capped brood and nurse bees on it, to a hive that I thought could use a bit of a boost. This left the donor hive as 2 mediums with the original queen and 9 more frames of brood, pollen and honey with the super of mixed frames on top. I moved the 2 nucs out to Sullivan to prevent whatever foragers that had been moved into the nucs from returning to their original hive, thereby reducing the population of the nucs.  I’ll let you know how it works out.

So my beautiful day became surprisingly better. I was hopefully able to prevent a swarm and added 2 more free colonies to the apiary. Remember to watch those hives from overwintered nucs! Evidently, not just because of crowding…I hope your bees keep buzzin’.

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So you want to grow your apiary or maybe you’ve decided to take the plunge and become a beekeeper. Maybe you already are a beekeeper and just suffered some tough winter losses and now have to replace 1 or more colonies. What do you do? Do you import packages from somewhere in the South and expect them to immediately acclimate to a new climate? If they survive summer, will they overwinter? Or do you try to find a local breeder who raises quality queens and overwinters nucs? Hmmmm…. what to do?

A Package vs a Local Nuc

Here comes my rant…I am ABSOLUTELY NOT a fan of packages. Yes, they do have a place in beekeeping (commercial beekeepers adding hundreds of colonies or areas where nucs simply are not available) but for my money, give me an overwintered nuc with a proven queen every time. Unlike a package where the bees and the unproven queen have been together less than a week, are completely unrelated, have just been transported many hundreds of miles and may bring hive beetles or other unwanted problems North, an overwintered nuc is a small viable colony, where the resident queen has been with the colony since the previous Summer. Come Spring, she is the mother of all of the bees in the colony and is laying across 2-3 frames. A frame of honey with pollen plus an open frame of drawn comb complete a 5-frame nuc. It is a completely functioning colony, has genetics that are proven to survive a winter and will rapidly build up in the Spring. In fact, you have to be careful with nucs as, if you are not prepared, they may rapidly outgrow their new hive and swarm. When I hive a nuc, I always add another hive body with a mixture of drawn comb and fresh foundation. This gives the queen a place to continue to lay and the bees will quickly draw out the fresh foundation. Meanwhile, you will have to nurse a package all summer long.

Support Your Local Breeders

If you buy a nuc, make sure you select a reputable breeder who raises the queens as well as overwinters the nucs. As with anything, there are  beekeepers who sell “nucs” that they actually made in the Spring which may really be the equivalent of a package in a small hive body. Your local breeder is your best bet for providing you a high quality nuc. If you are not sure who to trust, ask your club members. Another option is raise your own nucs. It’s not hard and is inexpensive when compared with the options.

Creating Your Own Insurance Policy

Mike Palmer is beekeeping’s best known advocate of local, overwintered nucs. One of his main premises is to take one of your poorer producing hives, split it into several nucs and add a good queen to each. The original bees will help raise the first generation of brood from the new queen. You will then have 3 or 4 new nucs with good queens, young bees and will not have hurt your honey production by splitting a productive hive.

I have done this for 3 years and it absolutely works. This year, I ended up loosing 4 hives that would have cost me approximately $360 to replace with packages or possibly $500-600 if I purchased 4 nucs. Instead, late last June, I split two of my non-productive hives into 7 nucs. I purchased 4 queens and added them to 4 of the nucs. I took a frame of brood from one of my other productive hives and put it in a queen castle. I then took 3 of the cells they made and after placing them each in a different nuc, let the bees raise them. I went into Winter with 7 strong nucs. One nuc died from Nosema and another from what I believe was queen failure. That left me 5 nucs this Spring to replace my 4 dead hives plus a spare to add a new colony. Total cost was $100 for the 4 queens I purchased and I ended up with 5 new hives of local, overwintered bees that are currently pulling in pollen like there is no tomorrow. I know the genetics, I have brought nothing foreign into our community, they have low mite counts and are on track to be productive this year–all for a whopping $20/hive. Now how do packages sound?

Farm Update

The orchard area is now cleared and I’m starting to put up firewood for 2014. Looks like we will have about 3 years worth of wood. As soon as the orchard area dries out a bit, we’ll start on the stump removal and grading. Hopefully starting the barn within the next 30 days.

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