A Definitive Book on Nucs

Another book I read while stricken with the flu is Increase Essentials by Lawrence John Connor, a short and easy read that’s probably the definitive book on nucs — it’s comprehensive. It’s mainly about increasing hives by creating splits and nucleus colonies from established hives. Beginner beekeepers or backyard beekeepers who are happy with two or three hives don’t need to concern themselves with it. Laidback beekeepers who want to create nucs for themselves but don’t feel the need to earn a PhD while they’re at it can simply read Why every beekeeper should have a nuc at Honey Bee Suite. I didn’t read every single word of the book (I did some skimming), because I don’t need to know everything it covers just yet. But I do plan to expand our four hives to eight this summer, and continually expand every summer after that as I secure more land for our hives. That means I eventually need to learn the basics of creating nucs and rearing mated queens for the nucs. I’ll take on queen rearing next year. This year I’ll start with making my own nucs.

Most of the following notes (and there aren’t too many) address swarming and queen mating issues. To delve into the main details of the book would take too long. Suffice it to say there is a huge amount of information in this small book, and it all seems sound. I know I will constantly reference Increase Essentials when I decide to create mating nucs and expand our hives further next year.

Page 16. “…drones and virgins [i.e., virgin queens] from the same colony go to different drone congregation areas (DCAs) that develop naturally near apiaries.” Connor explains how queens will fly a mile or more in search of drones, but drones will only fly a fraction of that distance from the hive. This is nature’s way of reducing the likelihood of inbreeding. So if you need to get your queens mated with greater genetic diversity, you might have better luck if the drones aren’t hived in the same bee yard as the queens.

Page 22. The queen’s pheromones can become diluted in colonies with a large population — a trigger for swarming. The workers respond to the reduced level of queen pheromone in the usual manner by not feeding the queen and chasing her around the hive, thus preparing her to fly away with a swarm. Poor ventilation and a lack of empty cells for egg laying will also trigger a swarm. Adding honey supers before the nectar flow helps to prevent swarming.

Page 82-83. However, once queen cells are sealed, it’s game over. Connor describes swarming conditions like this: “When the colony is large, when there are no cells for eggs or nectar, when the hive is congested with bees underfoot everywhere, when the wax makers let their wax scales drop to the bottom board, and large numbers of drones are present in the hive; this is when the level of queen substance falls to a certain level… the queen leaves the normal brood area to find prepared queen cups and lays eggs into them… when eggs are found in queen cups… it should be clear that the colony is on the road toward swarming.”

Page 23. After the old queen has swarmed and established a new colony in a different location, she’s usually “replaced through supercedure during the honey flow.”

Page 39. Connor describes several methods for creating and caring for nucs, mating virgin queens, etc. I won’t get into it, but it covers the basics and much more. The basics being: Pull a frame of brood, honey and pollen from a hive to start a nuc. The nuc can be queened with a swarm cell, a virgin queen, a mated queen, or it can be allowed to create its own queen. Personally, in Newfoundland, I’d go with a mated queen. It all depends on your circumstance and what you want to do with your bees. It’s also good to know that foragers always return to the original hive location and nurse bees will never abandon the brood. They can usually be added to new hives without getting attacked. (There’s a lot more to it than this. I may add some of that information to the comments for this post.)

Page 84. “Queens that have not been through a season are less likely to swarm…” That’s why some beekeepers prefer to requeen near the end of the summer.

Page 111. Pollen substitute contains no pollen. Pollen supplement does, but it should be treated to kill foulbrood and chalkbrood spores.

Page 121. Connor explains how a two-queen system works. Two hives are separated by a double screen (I think some people call it a cloak board). The heat in the bottom hive helps the colony in the top hive. The colonies quickly expand in the spring. Then the screen along with the weakest queen is removed just before the first honey flow. The resulting megahive produces a huge amount of honey. That’s a simplified overview.

Page 122. Bees respond to the odour of empty drawn comb as a stimulus, “providing them incentive to get out and forage for nectar and fill those drawn cells with honey (this stimulus is not observed when foundation is used).” The moral of the story: Add the supers full of drawn comb before the flow if you want the most honey from your bees. And don’t be late because: “Once the flow is underway, the empty comb works against the hoarding instinct.”

Note: I’m only repeating what I read in the book. I can’t confirm or argue with any of the above statements because I have no experience with swarms or in creating nucs and rearing queens. Not yet anyway.

The next book on my list is Hive Management by Richard E. Bonney. I hear it’s excellent.