Maintaining and having a nucleus hive (“Nuc”) in your apiary is helpful whether you have two hives or 100 hives.  They are a needed source of resources to assist you in managing a problem hive, to increase your operations or to have nucs available for sale.  A five frame nuc has the necessary resources to ensure the nucs survival which initially consist of three frames of brood and two frames of pollen/nectar.

Nucs require more attention than a full hive, so you will need to be active in its management to ensure it survives and prospers.  The nuc should include:

  • Sufficient bees to cover all of the brood. It is best to include capped brood in the split, as this will assist in the thermoregulation of the hive.  Capped brood creates its own heat.  In addition capped brood will emerge and be available to replace nurse bees to manage uncapped brood as the queen gears up.  Try to place the nuc in a secured, protected location and not in full sun.  The lower population coupled with the reduced ventilation can stress the hive.
  • Maintaining a consistent and sufficient food supply. This includes frames (pollen and honey) and internal feeding.
  • Maintaining a small/reduced entrance to limit the area a hive must guard and resist any robbing.
  • A queen, either the queen from the donor hive or a new queen (caged). I do not encourage walk-away splits.

The successful beekeeper uses the bee’s biology to set up and manage the bees and their hives.  This same philosophy is needed to make nucs/splits:

  • Nurse bees/young bees are not aggressive and are loyal to the queen;
  • Nurse bees have a specific area on a brood frame that they will tend to;
  • Bees have a natural tendency to swarm in the spring;
  • Queen cells/swarm cells can make excellent queens;
  • Workers from different colonies do not fight when moved into a new box together. You may take nurse or worker bees from separate colonies and put them together in a new box. Nurse bees added to a colony or nuc by shaking/brushing will adapt to their new conditions.
  • It is easiest to make nucs/splits during the middle of the day when most of the field bees are out of the hive.

While making your nucs/splits remember to:

  • Try to keep the nuc -in-progress covered; too much sunlight is detrimental to open brood and to avoid robbing.
  • Use a minimum amount of smoke. You might want to have a spray bottle with light sugar water in it to help control the bees if necessary
  • All nucs should have reduced entrances
  • Be prepared to feed

Once you are ready to make nucs/splits, lay out all the necessary equipment, and be sure you have queens or cells available or will be available within the next 24 hours. Now it is time to begin.

Where do you get the Bees & Brood for the nuc/split?

You will pull the necessary frames of stores and brood from your strong hives.  Not all of the frames have to come from the same hive, they can be mixed and matched.  If you do not have sufficient brood in one hive you can take the necessary brood from multiple hives.

Initially you want to pull frames, preferably capped brood from very strong hives.  By using these resources the reduced population does not create a loss in honey production but is a means for swarm control.

Steps to making up your nuc, assuming you are using one strong donor hive:

  • Be prepared and organized before you start.
  • Have all of your equipment on hand.
    • Nuc Box (bottom board, lid, entrance reducers, replacement frames (5 for each Nuc)
    • Nuc Box entrance screened, if you are going to move them to another site.
    • Site location set and ready to receive the nuc(s).
    • Sugar solution 1:1 for feeding (consider adding supplements or protein)
  • Begin pulling frames
    • Start with an outside frame
      • Pull a frame of capped honey if available otherwise pull a frame of nectar
      • Pull a frame of pollen with honey
    • Move to the brood chamber of the donor hive
      • Look down between frames to see where the bees are hanging out (generally the top brood chamber)
      • Go slow and make sure the queen is not on the frame.
      • Find two or three frames of mostly capped brood
  • Assemble the nuc – Two methods.  Method one is used if (a) you have a hard time locating the queen, or (b) if the nuc will be in the same yard as the donor hive:
    • Method One: With all frames taken, include the bees on the frame, but look to ensure you have not taken the queen
      • It is not necessary to locate the queen, though you need to keep an eye out for her and make sure she is not on the frames being removed;
      • Remove one frame of capped honey if available otherwise pull a frame of nectar and a one frame of honey and pollen. Look for the queen, if you see her remove her and place her back in the hive or hold her in a queen clip.  Set frames aside.
      • Remove two frames of capped brood and one with opened cells. A frame with some open brood will help keep the nurse bees occupied.   Look for the queen, if you see her remove her and place her back in the hive or hold her in a queen clip.  Set frames aside.
      • Gently brush the bees off the five frames back into the donor hive.
      • In a ten frame deep, starting on the outside, place one frame of honey, then the frames of capped brood, and finished with a frame of honey/pollen.
      • Put in the five replacement frames into the donor hive.
      • Place a queen excluder on top of the donor hive.
      • Place the deep with five frames on top of the donor and queen excluder.
      • Close up the hive for three to 12 hours. Nurse bees will move to cover the brood frames.
      • After three to 12 hours, confirm frames are covered with bees. Remove the deep and five frames.  Move the five frames into a nuc box.
      • Some beekeepers keep the bees screened in the remainder of the day to discourage bees from returning to the donor hive.
      • The next day place the new queen, within her cage in between to brood frames. The nuc may be kept in the existing bee yard with few bees returning to donor hive.
    • Method Two, finding the queen and moving nuc(s) to an outlying bee yard. Include the bees on the frame, but look to ensure you have not taken the queen
      • Begin as outlined in method one, pulling two frames of honey/nectar and pollen, and three frames of brood, with at least two frames of capped brood. A frame with some open brood will help keep the nurse bees occupied.
      • Check for the queen; it is important to ensure she is not on any of the frames.
      • Place frames with bees into the nuc box as outlined under method one with the entrance of the nuc box temporarily screened.
      • Pull an additional frame of uncapped brood, thoroughly check for the queen. Gently brush bees into the nuc box and close the lid.  Transport bees to new bee yard.
      • If uncertain of the whereabouts of the queen, continue checking in donor box to ensure the original queen remains in the donor hive and not in the nuc box.
      • Move the nuc to a different bee yard. Once they are at the new location you can remove the screen.
      • The next day place the new queen, within her cage in between to brood frame
  • Summary, each nuc should consist of:
      • One frame of Honey (outside wall)
      • One frame of pollen (outside wall)
      • One frame of open brood (need open brood to keep the nurse bees occupied). Bees will not abandon open brood.  Check to ensure there is bee bread around the edge
      • Two frames of capped brood
      • Do not take the queen

Adding the Queen

  • Wait until the next day to add a queen or the queen cell. This will give the bees time to settle down and discover they are queenless.
  • Add a queen cage in a way that the screen is accessible to the bees after it is gently placed between two brood frames.
  • After three to seven days, look through the frames to ensure no queen cells have been started, if they have been started remove them, wait an additional day before you remove the cork on the queen cage and allow the bees to self-release.

 Care of a Nuc

  • Nucs have all of needs and requirements of a full sized colony, such as pest and disease control
  • Nucs are different than full-sized colonies in:
    • Size – Bee population: Nuc has only 10-25% of the population of a full sized colony
    • Ease of frame manipulation:  Less difficult to locate queen
    • Colony difficulties are concentrated
    • They develop very rapid and need to be managed more intensely,
      • You may need to remove frames of capped honey to provide room and/or, add a second box with frames,
      • Continue to feed as there is a lack of forgers,
      • They can remove frames of drawn wax to store and use at a later date
      • They can provide brood to boost weaker colonies in your apiary
      • They can be maintained to produce cut comb and honey for use and extraction.

Why Make a Nuc

  • It is less expensive to increase through internal growth then to buy hives for growth.
  • The installation of over wintered nucs allows for the opportunity to have productive hive increases due to their rapid growth in the spring.
  • Brood from a nuc or nucs may be used to boost a colony just before the honey flow starts.
  • It may be split to make a second nuc.
  • It can be used to make clean drawn comb for comb
  • If a queen is lost, the combining a nuc with the colony that lost the queen will ensure that you don’t lose honey production.
  • As a teaching tool it is much easier to find a queen on 5 frames and point out eggs and larvae.
  • It is easier to introduce queen to a full size hive by adding a nuc.
  • Queen rearing can be done in nuc boxes. Full nuc boxes make excellent mating boxes and allow the beekeeper time to observe the new queens temperament and performance.
  • Making a nuc from a populous hive in the spring will slow down the swarming urge.

by Tim Scheer

Posted 3/14/2020