MAKING UP A HONEY BEE “NUC”
Prepared by W. John Johnson
If we have a colony of honey bees which has over-wintered
and by mid April to early May has a good population of bees and
several frames of sealed brood, we can remove some of the frames
with sealed brood and bees, place them in a separate hive body,
introduce a new young queen and thus have what beekeepers call
a Nuc. This is a low cost and practical way to add colonies or
replace old ones.
In Central Iowa nucs are usually established during
April or early May in a single hive body or nuc box. The queen
which will be introduced to the nuc must be obtained from some
source, usually a southern queen breeder.
Equipment needed to “make up” a nuc
includes bottom board; entrance reducer; hive body or nuc box;
six to eight frames of drawn comb for a hive body or four frames
for a nuc box; inner cover; outer cover; and over head or division
board feeder and sugar syrup. Also needed are a new queen and
two or three frames of sealed brood with adhering bees.
One of the challenges in “making up”
a successful nuc is getting bees to accept the new queen. Experience
has shown that a relatively weak nuc with no more than 2 or 3
frames of brood will accept a new queen more readily than one
with 4 or more.
Proceed as follows to “make up” the
- Select a day when the temperature is 55 degrees
or warmer and preferably when it is sunny.
- Remove 3 frames from the middle of the hive
body or nuc box that is to receive
the new queen and frames of sealed brood with adhering bees.
- Gently smoke the over wintered colony or colonies
from which combs of sealed
brood with adhering bees will be taken.
- Find the comb on which the hive queen from
the over-wintered colony is
located. Remove that comb and queen from the colony and put
it in a safe
- Remove 3 frames of sealed brood with adhering
bees and place them in the
hive body or nuc box which will house the nuc. Combs of brood
and bees which
make up the nuc may come from several different over-wintered
NOTE: Some of the bees on combs just removed
from the old unit and placed in the nuc box are field bees. That
is, they fly out of their parent colony and forage for nectar
and pollen. Remember, they have been removed from their parent
colony and placed in a new location. If that new location is approximately
2 miles or less from their parent colony, they will return to
that unit. These field bees are thus lost to the nuc. To offset
the loss of field bees when the new unit is 2 miles or closer
to the parent colony, take a frame with a substantial number of
bees on it from the old unit and shake them into the nuc. This
step is important as the nuc you are establishing needs sufficient
bees to keep the brood warm and feed the newly laid eggs and larvae
when the new queen begins to lay eggs.
Now, place the little queen cage with the queen
inside into the new unit. First, note that the queen cage has
a screen on one side and a hole covered by a small cork on each
end. Under one of the corks is some white material which beekeepers
call candy. It has served as feed for the queen while in transit.
With a nail or knife blade remove the cork covering the candy.
Now, being careful not to injure the queen, use a nail or similar
object to poke a hole through the candy. Next, tightly wedge the
queen cage between two frames which contain sealed brood and adhering
bees. Locate the queen cage so the candy end is pointed up and
the screened side of the queen cage faces the back of the hive.
Make certain the screen on the queen cage is located so
the bees outside on the combs have access to it and can feed the
queen through the screen.
Important – Feed the
nuc a mixture of ½ clean, chemical free water and ½
sugar. Stir well so the mixture forms a syrup. Use either an overhead
pail over the inner cover of the hive or a division board feeder
which is located inside the hive in place of two frames. Close
the hive put entrance reducer with small entrance in place. Leave
nuc undisturbed for five days.
After five days, check and see that the new queen
has been accepted by the bees. Look first to see if there are
newly laid eggs in the bottom of open cells. Don’t expect
to see eggs in many cells as the queen has been out of her cage
only a short time. Of course, you have added assurance if you
do see the queen. If the cage is empty and you see neither eggs
nor queen, close the hive up and check again in several days.
Sometimes the queen is out and okay, but does not immediately
start laying. When the queen is accepted, refill the feeder with
sugar syrup and insure the nuc has frames with drawn comb or foundation
so they have room to grow. Refill the feeder as needed
until the bees stop taking the syrup or a nectar flow begins.
When the single hive body in which the nuc is housed has several
frames of brood, add the second hive body with tem frames of drawn
comb or foundation.