Last Sunday, Carl Chesick from the Center for Honey Bee Research here in Asheville, NC invited a bunch of volunteers who support his research to participate in a demonstration of making increase using five frame nuc colonies.
If you’d like to get in on invites like this while brushing up your hive management skills, sign up to volunteer here:
It was a great demonstration. Some images and a summary of his technique can be found here:
And It’s worth noting that you don’t have to have four nucs going to make this work. The inventory of frames needed for a successful split could all be pulled from a single strong colony.
One of the advantages of having 4 nuc’s like this to work with is that, constrained in a small space, the bees are continually in a ‘prepare to swarm’ mode, which gets them ready to rear queens. It takes weekly monitoring to insure they don’t swarm, but this method works well for creating weekly new splits from 4 strong nucs.
I wrote Carl after the demo, as I had a few more questions and even after a long hard day at the office, he was gracious enough to more thoroughly summarize the technique he uses, and some of his philosophy around it.
The Nucs are about timing, and making them up from the correct slices (frames) of “time”. With enough nurse bees they can make an omelet.
(1) Frame of eggs. Frame APPEARS empty is covered with bees. These are nurse bees. Do this in late morning/early afternoon when most foragers are out. Nurse bees stay with the new nuc. Nurse bees feed the royal jelly. Nurse bees keep the cells warm.
(1) Frame of open brood (larva) with some capped. Bees on this frame are nurse bees. Nurse bees stay with the nuc. The presence of capped brood indicates the frame was laid earlier by the Queen. These bees will hatch in about two weeks – one week before those in the first frame.
(2) Frames of capped brood. These capped cells don’t need to be warmed by the nurse bees. They will begin hatching right away and ALL will hatch within ten days. They will be nurse bees. Nurse bees stay in the hive until they are approximately 3 weeks old.
(1) Empty frame, to give those 10 day old bees something to do with the wax they excrete naturally. Let them build comb.
The nuc will lose any foragers that get included. The Nuc DOESN’T NEED ANY FORAGERS – they have a bottle of sugar water over their heads. There should be enough pollen in the two open brood frames to feed the queen cells and finish out the open brood. There will be NO NEW EGGS for three weeks.
By the time pollen is needed the starting nurse bees will have aged into foragers. Within two weeks approx. 8,000 nurse bees will hatch. As the new queen is getting mated the larva/open brood will add 4,000 more. Finally, as her first eggs go into the cells the frame that was eggs adds 4,000 more nurse bees. The colony now has bees for each occupation and although it will be three weeks before her eggs hatch the colony has a considerable population to support expansion. Nucs done this early benefit from utopian forage in April and May.
I ENCOURAGE skeptics to carefully go in on day four to see how many Queen Cells have been started. There will be on average 3-6 cells. Be very careful in removing the frames as the cells will stick out from the sides. be sure to clear enough space and lift VERTICALLY very slowly. Also care in replacing. The day the nuc is made up is day 1. If the bees select the proper 12 hr. old larva they will cap that cell on Day 5. Anything capped before five days would be from too old a larva. If it takes 7 days to cap the cells, it means the bees waited two days for a particular egg to hatch.
If one notes the day the cell is capped, it will hatch exactly 8 full days from that time. I ENCOURAGE new Beeks to go in on that 9th day and determine HOW MANY of the cells hatched. These are distinguished by a smooth hatch-like opening at the very bottom. Cells which are torn on the sides DID NOT HATCH – but either died in the cell, were torn out by workers, or were killed by rivals. You might actually see the virgins lingering near the cells or hear them “piping”! On average three virgins survive to walk on comb.
Knowing how many potential queens are present is reassuring. It takes 3 days after hatching for the queens’ ovaries to develop. Then in the afternoons they begin mating flights. Several people have witnessed queens returning with mating sign at their rears by pulling up a seat at the entrance around 3 PM:) on the fifth day after hatch. It takes two days for the queen to mix and store the semen in her spermatheca and begin laying so the soonest the queen can begin laying is 5 days after hatch and on average it is about 10 days. In about 15% of the cases it can take two and a half weeks (17 days). Having the nuc open and apart when a newly mated queen is returning can result in her winding up somewhere else, likely where she’s NOT WANTED. For that reason I RECOMMEND leaving the nuc alone for ten days after queen hatch, but checking every 4-5 days after that. If there are no eggs/open larva 3 weeks after queen hatch, another frame of eggs can be inserted.
I think that ”don’t disturb them” mostly serves to keep beekeepers from developing the art of not disturbing them.