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Basic Beekeeping with Nucs:
There are several options for replacing or adding colonies into your apiary whether you have one or one-thousand hives. Packaged bees have always been a popular method for replacement or expansion. However, they sometimes pose supercedure issues due to the fact that you are combining a young mated queen with unrelated loose bees in an empty hive with pheromones (odors) unfamiliar to all. Often with new beekeepers, the bees are put into new equipment with undrawn combs. It is easier for bees to adapt to introduction onto comb that is already drawn and ready for the queen to lay eggs.
A five frame bee nucleus (NUC) consists of:
- a "laying" queen that has already been accepted by the hive
- 3 inner frames containing brood in all stages
- 2 outer frames containing honey, pollen, and adhering bees.
FAQs about NUCs
Q 1) As a beginner, should I buy a package or a NUC?
In our half a century of beekeeping experience we have installed thousands of our own packages and tens of thousands of our own splits, or NUCs. We think that beginning beekeepers should purchase a NUC first because of the difficulties of getting a package started on brand new frames and foundation. In this case, supersedure of the queen works against the beginners through no fault of their own. The tendency of bees to supersede their queen often makes initial success very difficult. This is unfortunate because many beginners have spent hundreds of dollars to experience the wonders of beekeeping only to fail at the outset. With a NUC, bees are installed on drawn comb, a brood nest has been established, honey and pollen have been stored and most importantly a young queen has been accepted.
Q 2) How do I install my NUC?
Your hive or hives in the "bee yard" should face south with the sun, and some wind protection if possible. In a 10 frame hive body, remove the cover and 6 frames from the center of the hive body. Remove the cover from your NUC and the outer frames from the side that seems to have the lesser quantity of bees (the queen is more likely to be on the other side). Place this frame against either of the outer pair of empty frames in your hive body. Then transfer each of the remaining frames in order. We do not recommend looking for the queen at this time, for this might cause her to run, which is not preferred. When you have transferred all the frames from the NUC to the hive body, you should gently shake your NUC box upside down over the hive body to make sure any adhering bees go into your hive. You may now replace the hive cover and lid. We recommend that you feed the bees which stimulate the queen to continue laying eggs. You are finished for now. You can return in a week or so. The queen should be hard at work laying eggs. These are sometimes easier to see than looking for the queen herself.
Q 3) What should I do for treatment for diseases?
We maintain our own bee lab in our Bunkie, LA location. We are constantly checking the different sections of our operation for mites and nosema. This allows us to treat as the IPM guidelines instruct. We are able to monitor our infestation levels and measure our hygienic levels. We are now able to more effectively time our treatments to optimally benefit from their use. All of our colonies receive bi-annual preventative treatments for American and European foulbrood. As a beekeeper you will need to develop a strategy to prevent outbreaks of the above mentioned pests. Tylosin has finally been approved as a new treatment for American foulbrood, and should soon be available from vendors such as Mann Lake Supply. Apistan and check mite strips may be used alternatively to control varroa mites. Formic acid is also available, but should be used with proper care. We are all anxiously awaiting the availability of a fungal treatment for varroa mites currently being developed by the USDA Lab in Weslaco, Texas.
We recommend treatment of your bees with Fumigillin as a syrup ingredient in the fall and spring to prevent Nosema. This disease is often reflected in "spring dwindling" which is a common occurrence in beekeeping.
Q 4) How much honey will my bees produce?
The answer to this question will depend a lot on where you live or better yet where you keep your bees. In most locations, your hive will need to keep 60 pounds of its honey and pollen to survive the winter conditions. If you make 90 to 100 pounds of honey, you can expect to harvest 30 or 40 pounds from that colony. The amount of honey for harvest can vary tremendously from 40-60 pounds up to 200 pounds depending on the season, the temperature, the moisture and floral sources.
Q 5) What can I expect from my beekeeping experience?
Beekeeping on a small scale offers everyone an opportunity to participate in the risks and rewards of agriculture. Careful planning and execution of beekeeping practices can result in the survival of your hive with some surplus honey, pollen and beeswax to be enjoyed as well. As with any agricultural enterprise, there are risks involved and one should avoid discouragement if results are less than anticipated. No matter how you measure the success or failure of your beekeeping experience the science of beekeeping, the social structure of the hive, and the co-evolution of the honeybee and flowering plants can lead one to look at the world in a new way.
Q 6) A word about hive beetles - a pest?
This native of South Africa was introduced to the US in the late 1990's and has since spread to most other states. As it is with greater and lesser wax moths, most of the economic damage caused by hive beetles is confined to the southern states. As with the wax moth, hive beetles can survive in Northern climates and can cause minor damage. Our northern climate does much to limit the impact of this pest. There are a few methods to use in protection of your hive. The use of Mineral oil in the plastic bottom board trays, and the small black plastic strips that fit over the top of the frames are good to treat adults. Lime fairly thickly spread around the front of the hive kill the larvae when they try to crawl into the ground.
Advantages of Nucs:
- NUCs build up more rapidly than packages and do not suffer the sudden drop in population (dwindling) associated with the aging process in packages. The population of the package dies off without the advantage of having a stockpile of young bees hatching off and replenishing the population.
- Recent increases in package bee prices and postal rates have made NUC prices very close to the price of package bees.
- NUCs are not as delicate as packages and do not require the careful handling associated with package bees. We guarantee that your NUC will arrive alive.
- Our NUCs are less likely to supersede their queen. She is already a functioning part of the hive. She has produced the brood that is in the NUC. It is already a fully operational beehive, only smaller.
- NUCs can be installed later in the spring as weather conditions improve and more reliable nectar and pollen sources become available.
- NUCs do not require immediate installation relieving the urgency to immediately install in adverse weather conditions or at inopportune times as may be the case with package bees.
- Our NUCs are grown in Louisiana and can be picked up there, or at our two farms in the Northeast (MA and NY). While we are based in the northeast, with over 12,000 colonies, we were the first beekeepers to offer NUCs to beginners, hobbyists and commercial beekeepers alike as an alternative to packages. Remember, NUCs build up bee populations faster increasing your chances for a bigger honey crop!
Why is genetic diversity important?
Genetic diversity is an important factor in maintaining honey bee health and viability. Individual colonies that have good diversity among the bees in each hive are more productive, have increased colony growth, and are less susceptible to severe disease infections1,2.
Lack of genetic diversity (or inbreeding) can be devastating in honey bees, especially when diversity is low at the single site of the one gene where the gender of a bee is determined. Brood viability decreases when there is little genetic diversity among the drones with which a queen mates3.
- Mattila, H.R. & T.D. Seeley. 2007. Genetic diversity in honey bee colonies enhances productivity and fitness. Science 317: 362-364.
- Tarpey, D.R. 2003. Genetic diversity with honeybee colonies prevents severe infections and promotes colony growth. Proceedings of the Royal Society, London 270: 99-103.
- Mackenson, O. 1951. Viability and sex determination in the honey bees. Genetics 36: 500-509.