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Do You Have a Nuc?

I am a firm believer that every beekeeper who has had a hive live through one Winter should have a Nuc – 12 months out of the year. Over the past 6 weeks, I have run into maybe a dozen or more beekeepers (personally) that could have used one, but didn’t have one available.

Everyone is familiar with the early Spring Nuc’s. Many folks start their beekeeping career by purchasing one from another Nuc. I sell many Nuc’s for this exact purpose. So, if you have no inclination to ‘sell Spring Nuc’s’, why would you need the daggone thing?! Because ‘selling Nuc’s’ is not the real reason that folks raise Nuc’s. The real reason is to create a Sustainable Beekeeping program.

If you are in your first year as a beekeeper, you will hopefully have little need of a Nuc. In addition, your main goal is to get your new hives built up – taking a few frames from this new, growing hive is not a good idea. Your goal is to get your hives through the Winter. If you do that successfully, you’ll begin a part of your beekeeping career that will be rivaled by little else. The last thing you want to do is to put this wonderful experience at risk. So, this post does not apply to the first year beekeepers.

So, what’s this stuff about ‘sustainable beekeeping’? It focuses on one simple fact – using your own resources (bees) you build an apiary (or multiple apiaries) that enable you to meet all ‘bee’ needs that you have with your own bees. If you want to add a few hives, you build them from your own hives. If something goes wrong, you fix it with resources from your own hives. Many folks believe that the only way to do this is if you have a few dozen hives. But, that is wrong. You only need 2 hives and one Nuc.

So, how is it that you would have a Nuc on every day of the year and why?

It all begins with the Spring Nuc. As your bees come out of Winter, you will have at least one hive that is doing well. They have moved up into the top box (by that, I mean that the queen has started laying up there) and the bottom box is full of brood coming on. At this time, you take 2 frames of brood and 1 of honey. The brood frames need to have pollen in them, otherwise you’ll need to add a frame with pollen. One of the brood frames must have forager eggs. When you transfer the bees, a bunch will come with them, but you still need to shake a frame or two of bees into the Nuc box. Nurse bees have never flown before and will simply call the new Nuc their home. Nurse bees are also critical in the raising of a new queen, so you want to take frames with brood (uncapped is best) and shake them hard into your Nuc, getting as many bees as you can into it. Of course, you must identify and set your queen (the frame she is on) asside (yet another good reason to mark you queens) first, as you do not want to shake her into the Nuc. I put foundation for the rest of the frames. I always do this with March/April Nucs, as it gives the bees something to do as they wait for the new queen to hatch, mate and finally start laying.

At this point, you have created your Bank. You put bees in and can take them out in the future, if you need them. The bees will create a new queen that will hatch in around 16 days. I typically go into the hive on Day 21 (it’s always a factor of 7 because I have to do my day job during the weekdays!) and make sure I find an open queen cell. Once found, I leave them alone (I am not looking for the queen, yet…) for another 2 weeks. At that point, I expect to find eggs and larvae. If I don’t, I give the Nuc ANOTHER frame with capped brood and eggs (eggs being the key.) This time, I shake the bees off into the parent hive – I am not trying to bring more bees to my Nuc. If they have a queen that is simply taking a while to lay or maybe I missed the eggs with my old eyes, they’ll raise the brood and simply add it to their force. BUT, if the queen was eaten by a dragon fly or otherwise perished, they’ll raise a new queen from these eggs. I start the process over again (wait 3, and then 2, weeks). If you miss these checks and the queen didn’t make it, you’ll end up with a Nuc that has laying workers, an entirely other problem.

So, now you have your Spring Nuc. Since you’re not raising them to sell, you do not feed them and let them build on their own. They’ll do just fine. They may even swarm, which is not a problem (they’re just your bank). The main thing you need to do with them is to check them for a queen every 3 to 4 weeks. That’s it. In truth, just look for capped brood. The second you don’t see capped brood, drop a frame of eggs in her! Done!

So, why do this? It’s not a lot of work, but why do it at all? For one, you have a mated queen (local, to boot) ready to go if one of your main hives has a problem. Queenless? You have an answer with your mated Nuc queen. Did a main hive swarm and you aren’t sure if the new queen made it back? Give them a frame of eggs from the Bank Nuc. Do you need to bolster a colony because of some mishap? Give them a frame of capped brood from the Bank Nuc. You have now taken the first step towards ‘sustainability’. You need no outside resources to keep your hives going during the Summer.

So, July comes along and you have this Nuc on your hands. You can sell the thing (a little to offset the cost of beekeeping), let them have a go of it  through the Winter or you can start an Overwintered Nuc. An overwintered Nuc for me is a way to cull my hives of underperformers and its an insurance policy against Winter loss. The Overwintered Nuc is an Insurance Policy (not a bank). Strictly speaking, you want a Nuc that is lead by a Queen that was born in late July (in our area – around Richmond, Virginia). I break up my weak hives to create them, but if you have your Bank going, you can simply pinch your current queen and turn the Bank into an Insurance Policy. I am a firm believer in Overwintered Nucs. They have a brand new queen that really never gets to pour it on before Winter Prep starts. She has to downshift almost immediately and stay mostly idle through the Winter. I can assure you that queens like this come out of Winter like no other. One of my best Overwintered Nucs from last Winter has two drawn deeps, 2 mediums of capped honey and a 3rd medium that they just started to draw before the Nectar flow became a dribble. By creating an Overwintering Nuc, you have an insurance policy against the loss of a main hive over the Winter. If things go well, you can sell it for a premium to a new beekeeper (I think that 150% normal Nuc rates is very reasonable – Overwintered Nucs have huge value) and then start your Bank the next day (the Spring Nuc.)

So, that’s my rant on Nucs. Every beekeeper should have two hives and a Nuc. That’s how to be successful and it also is a great way to help the bees by having local bees as your bank/insurance policy.

3 comments to Do You Have a Nuc?

  • For your overwintered nuc are you using 5, 8 or 10 frame supers?

  • For the highest success rate, I start them in 5 frame Nucs this month, begin feeding in August and add a second Nuc on top (in August). For full effect, I need to have 3 or 4 frames in the second story ALREADY drawn out. In Central Virginia, they will NOT need a full 5 frame Nuc of capped honey for the Winter, so I am not really shooting for them to cap it all off (if they do cap it all off, they will never use it and will swarm in March if I don’t manage that.)

    But, I still have good success rates on single story, 5 frame Nucs. They simply require a bit more monitoring come mid- to late-January and into February. Most will be fine making it through the Winter on 2 to 3 capped, deep frames. But, a few seem to be a bit more gluttonous in their eating habits!

    By March 1, I want all of my Overwintered Nucs to be in a double-story setup, as I will eventually split them, moving the 5 frames with the queen to a full, 10-frame Deep and letting the remaining 5 frames raise a new queen.

  • […] the feed. But, I also have brand new, queenless Nuc’s in my home  yard at this time of year. These Nuc’s (for Overwintering) are not expected to fill out a full hive  body. Instead, they only need to fill out 10 frames (5 in […]

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