What’s a Nuc For?

21 May

In my last post, I suggested a function-based approach to identifying nucleus colonies (nucs). Rather than worrying about how big a colony is to determine whether it is a nuc, I define a nuc as a colony of honey bees that is being used for something other than honey or pollen production. In other words, a nuc is a colony that is being used as a nuc.

Every keeper that has more than three colonies should use some as nucs; this blog post explains why. Let’s set the stage by thinking about our beekeeping goals. For me, those are keeping healthy bees, harvesting honey, and producing queens and nucs for sale. Many beekeepers don’t want to sell bees; they focus on healthy bees and honey production. Whatever your goals, you would benefit from keeping some nucs.

Nucs are really handy to have around. I keep two types of colonies: nucs and production colonies. Here’s a list of things I use my nucs for – most of which are functions that support my production hives:

  • to keep an extra queen handy in case one of my honey producing colonies goes queenless for some reason. There are few things as frustrating as having a production colony go queenless in the middle of a nectar flow. It is nice to have a strong queen in a nuc that I can transplant into the production colony. I can take all the brood out of the nuc and donate it at the same time. Fresh queen and a brood boost in one.
  • to draw out combs that I then give to the production colonies so they can focus on making honey; I can crowd a nuc a little bit to get them real interested in drawing comb. I can then use that comb to make up more nucs or to expand production colonies.
  • to make brood that I can donate to my production colonies to give them a boost in their spring buildup; It is something to see the effect of “nucing” a production colony. I pull out frames full of honey that the bees have no immediate need for and replace them with frames of mostly capped brood. A week or two later all that brood has emerged and the colony population just explodes.
  • to make up winter losses; A good overwintered nuc can build up to a full size production colony before the nectar flow – especially with donations of brood frames from other nucs.
  • to help manage swarming in my production colonies by making splits. Sometimes a production colony starts making swarm preparations before I’d like them to. I find the queen and put her and a few frames of bees in a nuc. This makes the colony think the swarm has happened. I then add frames of sealed brood to the production colony and let them continue raising the queens they’ve started as part of swarm preparation. The frames of brood I add let the population continue to grow until the new queen starts laying.
  • to make winter honey stores that can supplement winter stores in my production hives;
  • to solve late-winter feeding emergencies by borrowing frames of honey or pollen from nucs that have more than they need;
  • to raise queens for sale and for my own use; and
  • to take swarms if I’m lucky enough to catch some.