This article was previously published in May 2011 but contains seasonally relevant information. Winter is a great time to repair or build equipment. While you are in the shop you really should consider building a couple of nucleus hives to prepare for the upcoming season.
For plans and instructions on building an Easy Nuc click here.
If you have a hive of bees you really need a nucleus hive – a small hive that contains 5 or fewer frames.What you can do with a Nucleus Hive:
Housing a backup queen – If you only have one hive you’re working without a net. If you have a nuc with an extra queen in it you have the ability to recover gracefully from a mishap. This is the main thing you want a nuc for – Keep another one for catching swarms and all that.
A nuc is perfect for starting splits – the small size is easier for a small number of bees to regulate and defend.
A nuc is a great source of resources – brood, drawn comb, bees and other resources that you might need for your “real” hives. Once a nuc gets going you have to remove bees and brood from it if you don’t want to promote it to major hive status.
Free Queens! – If you spot a queen cell just put that frame along with the clinging bees, along with a frame of stores into a nuc and let them make a new queen! Don’t have queen cells? Start a nuc with a frame or 2 of capped brood and in about 2 weeks give them another frame of open brood and they will make one on their own!
Transporting Queens or other resources – Let’s say you need a queen and I have one you can use, a nuc is the best way to get a laying queen home with the least amount of stress.
Catching swarms – An empty nuc is just the thing to catch and house all but the largest swarms in.
Preventing swarms – Once you see swarm cells it’s really hard to prevent a swarm from issuing unless you are really fastidious about removing them – and even then you run the chance of ending up with a queenless hive that swarmed anyway. But, if you remove the queen to another location (that nuc) she probably won’t swarm because she doesn’t have a work force of foragers and the main hive won’t swarm because it doesn’t have a laying queen. Disclaimer – when it comes to swarming nothing is %100.
Harvesting honey – If you just have a hive or two an empty nuc is just right for carrying frames of caped honey into the kitchen without bringing a cloud of bees with you.
Insurance – An overwintered nuc can save your bacon if your main hive dies out.
Tool Box – A nuc makes a great bee keepers tool box, and in a pinch you can dump out the tools and put bees in it.
Nucs are easy to build – If you can build a bird house you can build a nuc, and because they are small you can build one out of scraps. Seriously every single house construction job throws away or burns up tons of perfect nuc material. BTW, they can be made out of just about anything from old political posters and duct tape to select grade mahogany. Yes, plywood and “chip” board contain glue and chemicals – if that bothers you don’t use it, but it makes great nucleus hives. While you are making one, make 2 – you won’t regret it.