The Jigs and Reels of Installing a Nuc in Newfoundland

Here’s a 20-minute video that documents what it’s like to get a nucleus colony (or a starter hive) on the island of Newfoundland. It’s not always easy. (I’ve also posted a 6-minute version for those who want to cut to the chase.)

Here’s a quick review of what’s in the video:

00:00 – 01:05 — Ordering the nucs in January and driving across the island to get them in July.
01:06 – 04:50 — Driving the bees back to my house, stopping to give them water and fresh air along the way.
04:20 – 06:40 — Installing the nucs, an explanation of the frames in the nucs, some shots of the hive boxes the nucs will go in.
07:07 — Spotting the queen.
08:25 — Explaining drawn comb with a hole in it.
10:20 — A frame full of pollen.
11:15 — A look at the frame feeder I use in my nucs.
12:40 — Reducing the bottom entrance.
15:10 — A shot of some fresh brood.
16:20 — Adding a type of hive top feeder called a rapid feeder.

There’s a lot more info conveyed in the video, but I suppose those are the highlights.

People in Newfoundland usually have to order nucs (pronounced ‘nukes’) in early January and then hope they’re available sometime in July. (July 16th is the earliest I’ve been able to get nucs. I couldn’t get them until July 27th this year.) Confirmation usually doesn’t happen until about a week before the nucs are ready. Picking up the nucs, for me and many others, involves an 8-hour road trip and an overnight stay, and another 8-hour road trip on the way back. Nucs in Newfoundland currently go for about $300 each (Canadian) and consist of four deep frames* in a cardboard nuc box. One frame is blank foundation to give the bees something to work on while they’re confined in the box. Another is pollen and honey. There’s usually between one and one and a half frames of capped brood and enough bees to cover about two or three frames. I’ve had the occasional nuc that was full of bees on every frames, but most of them aren’t.

I haven’t had many problems with these nucs, but when they aren’t ready until late July, that gives a typical novice beekeeper, who doesn’t have any drawn comb, maybe three months by the end of the summer and into the fall to build up a full 20-frame colony from one or two frames of brood and maybe 10,000 bees. The number of bees needs to at least triple in those three months and the bees need to draw out at least 15 deep frames of comb and then fill most of that comb with sugar syrup or honey to keep them alive all winter. Not to say that they can’t survive in a single deep over the winter, but it can be a challenge.

The average temperature in July is about 16°C (61°F); in August it’s 16.5°C (62°F); in September it’s 12.5°C (54°F) with an average of 11 days of rain, though it gets better the farther the bees are from the open ocean. The weather in Newfoundland, especially on the east coast, can turn cold and dreary and knock back foraging days by two or three weeks at any time in the summer or fall. I’ve started nucs in late July and two weeks later saw drones being expelled in preparation for winter. Trying to get a colony to build up when they’re in shutting down mode requires some magic tricks at times. And luck.

With more people getting in on the nuc-making game, the 8-hour drive and overnight stay aren’t as necessary as they used to be. But everything else seems to be the same.

* 5-frame nucs with an extra frame of brood are becoming more common now (in 2022), which I am glad to see, despite the jump in price that makes beekeeping even more out of reach for the average Joe living off a 5-figure income, especially the “starter hives” being sold for over $1000. I wish I had never introduced that term in Newfoundland now that I see it being used for financial gain. But I’ve also noticed how more small-scale beekeepers and hobbyists who know what they’re doing provide nucs for fellow and prospective beekeepers at more affordable prices — and for free. Beekeeping in Newfoundland, while still in its infancy compared to most places in North America, has come a long way since I purchased my first two nucs in 2010.