How to over-winter a nuc
After my last post, “How to keep queen bees in reserve,” a number of people asked, “Then what? What do you do with them in the winter?”
Last year was the first year I attempted to keep nucs over winter and it worked really well for me. Bear in mind, however, it was my first year, so I have limited experience. That said, I’ll explain what I did:
- I kept the queens in two-frame nucs from June until August. This wasn’t my plan. I just assumed I would need those queens before August, but it turned out I didn’t.
- When it became obvious they would still be around in the fall, I decided to put them in five-frame nucs so they could expand. So I just put each two-frame nuc in a five-frame box and added three drawn frames to each.
- As soon as I put them in the larger boxes, the colonies began to expand. By early October, each covered about four of the five frames.
- In mid-October, I gave each nuc a frame of honey from my larger hives. I had to juggle things around—sometimes moving bees as well as honey—until all the nucs had a good supply of food.
- After I evened out the food supply, I stacked the nucs in a column with a double-screen board between each. The nuc with the largest population went on the bottom and the smallest population went on the top. This arrangement allows heat from the most populous hives to rise up through the less populous hives, which helps to keep them warm.
- We have fairly mild winter temperatures here, with an average of about 40 degrees F. So I just left the nucs outside under a rain shelter.
- Three times during the winter, it got into the 20-degree range for several days to a week. During those times I put the nucs inside a shed where I keep the temperature in the 40s. I thought the small nucs might not survive sub-freezing temperatures for extended periods because the winter clusters were so small.
- In December I used the smallest nuc to requeen one of my large hives. I just combined them using the newspaper method and didn’t open the hive again till spring, except to add feed. That hive, I’m happy to report, is doing great.
- The other two nucs made it till spring. I fed all my hives—including the nucs—sugar patties with pollen starting in February. In early April, I combined the two nucs because one was looking a bit weak. In early May, I deleted the remaining queen and merged the nucs into a regular hive.
Study your winter temperatures carefully if you plan to do this, because it doesn’t take much freezing weather to kill a colony that is so small. On the other hand, it is great to have queens available in the winter season. If you don’t have your own, there is no other place to get them until spring.