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Spring Splits

This year, my main focus is increase. Due to the higher than normal losses over the past 6 months! So far, the stars have aligned nicely for this goal, as I have been able to create around 15 Nuc’s over the past couple of weeks.

It seems that many folks call a “Nuc” a Spring Split. For me, any split is dividing the frames in a mature hive evenly among two hives. I usually tackle splits (if I do ’em) in late April and early May, during a full on Flow. Regardless, this is the perfect time for me to create a Nuc (or Split!) in areas just to the east of Richmond, Va.

Bees on a Frame

What I mean by “working a frame”

Starting in March, I begin to gauge my hives – usually during the Spring clean-up (scraping frames and bottom boards, re-leveling, etc..) But, oftentimes I am simply pulling off the boxes until I get to the bottom deep and pulling a few frames in the center of the deep. My rule is to only pull a Nuc when the weather is right and the colony is at least working a few frames in the bottom deep. By gauging my hives in mid-March, I can usually tell when to next check them for possibly Nuc creation.

Once I identify the target colony, I need to find the queen. In fact, regardless of whether I take a Nuc or not, I make it an absolute must to find all queens by April 1 (and mark them). In this way, I know that any unmarked queen is last year’s queen – I have probably marked 10 white queens this Spring (the rest were either already white or even green and blue – I actually noted one Red queen, but once I realized that queen had to be from 2013, I wonder if I didn’t see some pollen or something….need to find that queen again!) I then place the frame with the queen off to the side, leaning up against the hive. It’s now work time!

The Nuc is a 5-framer. If I am creating a Deep Nuc (colony is working 5 or 6 frames), I move 3 frames to the Nuc (the remaining two are either already drawn frames or with foundation). I make sure that a frame with eggs is dead center in the Nuc. Once the frames are squared, I then shake 3 frames of bees onto the top of the Nuc frames. Lots fall on the ground, but they make their way back to the Nuc. Once done, I put the top on the Nuc and let her be for 3 weeks (it should be noted that I create all of my Nucs within 50′ of the parent hive – most times within 10′, and that’s where they stay).

For Medium Nucs, I have found that I need 4 frames from the parent hive. I also create most of them a bit later in the season (usually mid-April.) I may have 3 out there right now, but will create quite a few more in a week or two.

Once the Nuc is created, I let it sit for 3 weeks. By then, they will have raised and hatched a new queen, so I am ONLY actively looking for an open queen cell or two. If I do not see that, they receive another frame of eggs and I make a note to check again in 3 weeks. Once I see an open queen cell, I return in 2 weeks to find either evidence of a queen (eggs, larvae) or the queen herself. They get another frame of eggs if I don’t find one of these things, otherwise I note that we have a laying queen and come back 2 weeks later to mark the queen and take action on the Nuc (sell, convert to full hive, move, etc…)

These are the Split/Nuc creation basics. In some cases, I take several Nucs from the same hive. Some queens seem hell bent on growing like gangbusters. I will continue to revisit these hives, sometimes one week apart, creating a new Nuc each time. But, I never put the bees at jeopardy. I only do this with my really strong hives. They seem focused on building up to swarm, so I take advantage of this growth until they actually do.

2 comments to Spring Splits

  • Wr Sanford

    So when you place the nuc near the hive do you change direction of the entrance? and won’t the foragers go back to the original hive?

  • Sometimes the direction of the Nuc is different from the main hive, but that is not because of the foragers. Sometimes, I might have a lot of Nucs in a single yard. My “yards” are probably about 30′ across in space and kept weed free with round up, so I am confined to a given area for mature hives and Nucs. If, for some odd reason, the Nuc I am creating is of very similar color (paint) to a nearby Nuc, I will face it in a different direction to prevent “drift” (or bees accidentally going to the wrong Nuc and possibly weakening an upwind Nuc).

    But, yes, nearly all foragers will return to the parent hive. I believe a very few sometimes stay with the new Nuc and I am guessing they are recent additions to the forager force and just reorient on the new Nuc. But, I like to assume that a real force of foragers will not exist for the Nuc for a week (by then, I think they will have enough foraging bees to at least meet current Nuc needs.) So, part of my “Nuc creation process” is to first find the queen (I just set the frame she is on to the side of the hive). Then, I move three frames to the Nuc. Ideally, one of them has a good bit of honey and pollen on it (we call this the resource frame) – if not, I will drop a mason jar of syrup on the Nuc to get them through the dearth of resources. But, of equal importance, I try to shake 3 full frame of bees (on brood frames) onto the top of the Nuc frames. This gets me a strong population of brood bees that do not return to the parent hive (they have never flown in their life and have no idea where the parent hive is.)

    The bottom line is that I do not count the foragers as part of my new Nuc no matter where I set it up in the yard. I assume they are going home. I am stocking my Nuc with bees that have not oriented on the parent hive and given them the resources to make it through the week when their foraging will be minimal.

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