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The Back-up Nuc

The honey bee happenings in Richmond, Virginia continue at a fast pace. Most hives are building up nicely and I received another swarm call today (it’s nice to pick up swarms OUTSIDE of your backyard=). But,  all is not cozy on the front.

Earlier this week, my cousin called to say that both of his hives had perished over the last three weeks. They were looking fine in mid-March, but both were dead as of late last week. It sounded like they starved (he said lots of bees were head first down in the cells and more were lying dead on the bottom board), but I really find that hard to believe (nectar and pollen have been available since then and the weather has been abnormally warm – they should have been able to get out and at least keep going – he did say they were small clusters.) I’ve heard folks say that most hives die in late March and I suppose one or both of his hives succumbed to it. It really bad because it was both of his hives, although he does have two packages coming. So far, he has purchased 4 packages and all 4 have perished, either after/during their first Winter or in their first Fall. This only firms my belief that packages are a very risky affair compared to Nucs.

This leads me to my thoughts of the day. The many starter Nucs/Queen Castle Sections have more uses then simply building them each into a hive of their own. Maybe having so many will not be such a bad thing after all.

I now hope to give my cousin one or two of my starter Nucs/Queen Castle Set-ups by the end of April (when I should be able to determine which are doing well and which are not doing well) to get his numbers back up. This is also somewhat selfish, as his hives are within 3 miles of three of my outyards. Getting him into some strong, local bees only improves the genetic pool in that area, which benefits me in the long run (as opposed to drones coming off of some queen that has never proven her mettle in central Virginia.) So, that’s one good use for the many starter hives that I have.

There are also other good uses for a spare Nuc or two in my inventory. I checked 7 hives this weekend. One, Albo, continues to do very poorly. They have not expanded past the 2 frames of brood that they had in early March. I found the lazy queen (with so few bees, it was like looking for a queen in a Nuc – pretty easy) lazily walking about the frames. No queen worth her salt would stay at 2 frames of brood over the past month, with the weather that we have been getting (and the honey she has in that hive.) This Friday, I will kill the Albo queen (and make Queen Juice, something that might help out my swarm traps.) I have never killed a queen before. On Saturday, I will take one of my virgin queens from Larry and add her to the hive. So, I have found yet another good use for the starter hives – replacing poor queens in my existing hives.

Also, Berkeley appears to have swarmed or failed in replacing a dead queen. I found very little brood and only one open queen cell – although it is clear that they did have a lot of brood over the last couple of weeks hatch (they expanded into 3 of the frames that were previously filled with honey). It is hard for me to believe that they swarmed, unless they really were honey-bound (it is said that bees can be surrounded by too much honey, which restricts their growth and causes them to swarm – I have never experienced it, until maybe now). Unlike Albo, this hive built up GREAT last year. I will do a real thorough inspection this Saturday and, if I find no sign of the queen, I may give them one of my virgin queens. I need to do the Bee math, as I really want genetics from this hive. Hopefully, a virgin queen is out there and getting her legs under her.

Another hive, Westover, also had no sign of a queen. I took their queen back in mid-March, to keep the good genetics and let them raise their own. Oddly, they only tried to raise one queen (at least two frames had eggs on them when I removed the queen). I expected to see two or three cells. Like Berkeley, I may give them a virgin queen this weekend or wait one more week.

Finally, the swarm call that I received on Sunday indicated that the bees had collected on the trunk of a tree. I thought I was going to need a frame of brood to entice them off of the tree (as I couldn’t shake them.) As it turned out, the trunk was narrow (small tree) and I was able to easily shake them. But, if I had needed a frame of brood, one of my stronger Nucs would have been the donor. Another great use for a Nuc.

The bottom line to all of these random notes is that I have definitely come to understand the value of having a Nuc or two available for emergency situations. Missing a queen? I have one that I like, right on hand! Although I do plan to grow several of these Nucs into full hives, I now am fairly certain that I will keep a couple on hand all Summer, just to be ready for special situations. They are a real resource bank.

1 comment to The Back-up Nuc

  • Doug Ladd

    there is nothing wrong with package bees, its a queen issue. those bees from the package dont live but a few more weeks after you get them, its all queen issues. I tell many people that get packages think about spending the 20-30 bucks a month or so later to replace the package queen with a VSH or something queen. Whats 20-30 bucks when a package cost about $80 now?

    I would just have your cousin use yout QC queens in his package after they settle.

    I had a package queen last 2 summer, was a top performer, and died this past winter to what seems to have been a high varroa level due to lack of any treatment. so good queens come from packages, just not often enough to hedge your bets…

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