The art and craft of nucleus creation and management.

The art and craft of nucleus creation and management   Nuc: A miniature colony comprising Queen and workers mainly. Usually five brood combs or less.   Note I am not discussing mini nucs in this article as they are a specialised unit specifically for queen mating.   My preference for poly is more than vindicated when using poly nucleus boxes, and I routinely over winter some, usually successfully if they are strong enough in autumn.   Why run a nuc or three? Insurance is your answer.   It has been said that most beekeeping issues can be resolved by either giving to a nuc or taking from one. Lost a queen? You have a spare. Swarming colony and no more hive bodies? Your empty nucleus hive is your answer. And so on. Need a test frame? Why pinch from a good going colony when you can use one from your handy nuc. Need a few pennies in Spring, sell a spare nuc.   Nucs can be used to bank queens, say a breeder queen, so as to slow her laying rate and keep her in good condition for possibly a season longer than she might have managed left in a full colony.   Simple swarming method. Put queen and two or three good brood frames plus the bees from another three or four combs shook in to ensure they are a good strength, give a comb of stores and plug the entrance with grass. Put the new nuc where you will as after the grass wilts enough to let them out they will have adopted the new site. Leave the youngest open queen cell you can in the parent colony and let them raise a queen for themselves. Both a swarming colony guided in the right direction and a back up queen is in hand in case of need. Win win? Better still the nuc can be split in short order and made into two. Win win indeedy!   Another scenario. You have paid out your hard earned cash for the best queen ever. You could introduce her into the main colony having of course used a test frame to ensure there is no queen in there. Or you could first of all introduce her into a nucleus made up from the colony you want to put her in. Again after double checking there is no queen present. The incipient queen cups will be quite clearly visible after three or four days and to the more expert eye the following day. Assuming no cells are built then it is safe to introduce her to the nucleus which will be desperate for a queen as bees do not enjoy being queenless. Once she is settled and laying, and I would wait two weeks for them to be a cohesive colony they can be united to a full colony using newspaper. A safer method all in all.   Making up a nuc. There is the temptation to make them strong to start with as they look so small to the eye accustomed to brood boxes teeming with bees. However, as ever, there are perils lurking in the desire to get them off to a good start. The stronger they are to begin with the faster they will outgrow the container.   I often make them up as follows. Using two frames of sealed brood, I put a frame of foundation next to the hive wall, then the brood frames, then a stores frame and another foundation. This can include a frame with a queen cell or a queen can be introduced in. If the queen belongs to the bees then there is no introduction required, otherwise exercise the usual introducing precautions. I would shake in two frames of bees to ensure there are enough bees to cover the brood comfortably and get on with the foundation.   It is worth noting that virgins will fly to mate earlier from small units than larger ones. The smaller the unit the more pressure the bees apply to the virgins hence mini nucs.   If you have several nucs then it pays to paint them so they are distinct from one another and to locate them by or on a distinctive object, a tree or stone for instance. This helps the queen to know her location and return safely from her mating flights. Strong contrasts are good, strong patterns are helpful too. A circle or a rectangle in a contrasting paint is a good aid.   The one problem with nucs is they do grow and in short order are hanging out the front of the box. I promote them into a hive when there are four good frames of brood, preferably sealed, and the woodwork can barely be seen for the density of bees in the unit. Then hive them with a foundation frame next to the hive wall, then the nuc frames, then the rest can be taken with foundation or drawn frames. An insulated dummy frame can be very handy here to keep them a bit tighter in the brood box as one frame of foundation is used then move the dummy over one and give another foundation until the whole are drawn out.   A beeframer friend of mine uses this trick. He takes a good Langstroth frame of brood with a queen cell and a couple of shakes of bees and pus them into a brood box, on a floor and with a crown board and roof. He puts in a frame feeder, with a drop of syrup, and a frame of foundation along with the frame of brood. When the queen is mated, he unites them to a brood box with 9 frames of brood complete with queenless bees, then takes them to the heather where they most often return him a super or two of heather. They also over winter rather well.   Nucs are extremely useful to have, great fun to work with and my beekeeping is much enhanced by having them. At times they are useful to supplement the wallet too. Oh, and best of all it’s not difficult to do.


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