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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Location
    Lamoille County, Vermont, USA
    Posts
    101

    Post

    Theoretically speaking, what is the minimum number of bees that it would take to start a colony? Just curious.
    GreenMountainRose

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    Location
    high bridge, nj, usa
    Posts
    68

    Big Grin

    Just like a Tootsie Roll pop! "3" A queen, a drone, and a very tired worker! :-P

    Fat Nancy
    \"Bee Healthy, Eat Your Honey\"

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2001
    Location
    New York City
    Posts
    3,401

    Post

    Wyatt Mangum keeps 20 to 40 tiny little colonies
    in 1-frame observation hives, with a comb area
    of perhaps 6 inches wide by 4 inches tall.
    (These are "top-bar observation hives", so the
    comb tends toward the triangular.)

    I'd guess that they have no more than 200 bees
    each.

    But these colonies can't be overwintered, so
    if you want a colony that will overwinter,
    most folks would say that you need to start with
    at least 3 frames of bees and brood in spring,
    as this in the "minimum-sized split" commonly
    made.

    But, if you want to "cheat", you can grow a
    even a "one-frame split" into a full colony
    from April/May to late fall, if (and only if)
    you give the colony drawn comb, feed the heck
    out of them, and otherwise make it easy for the
    queen to lay as many eggs as the nurse bees
    can handle.

    Providing feed and pollen in the hive would
    reduce the need for foraging, thus allowing
    more bees to stay on "nurse bee duties" longer
    than they otherwise might.

    Providing drawn comb simply means that the hive
    does not have to wait for comb to be drawn before
    having "enough room" for whatever brood nest they
    can support with the bee population at hand.

    With an assumed minimum egg-laying rate of
    1,000 eggs per day in warm weather, it really
    does not take too long to get to 60,000 bees
    or more, as long as one has a minimum
    "critical mass" of nurse bees and sealed brood
    to start.

    But the consensus seems to be that 3 frames
    of bees and brood is the "minimum", because
    I've never heard of anyone making 2-frame
    nucs.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Location
    mountain home, ar, usa
    Posts
    378

    Post

    A few years ago, I put one frame of brood/bees in with a buckfast queen, and the other 9 frames were undrawn Pierco frames. I did this in April, and by the end of the year, the bees had all the frames drawn out and were bursting at the seams. Of course, like Jim said, I fed them the whole time. So it can be done.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Nehawka, Nebraska USA
    Posts
    46,316

    Post

    I set up 2 medium frame nucs for mating nucs. Many end up growing into hives. I've never had any luck with less than 2 frames. One frame just doesn't seem to be able to thrive at all in my climate.

    But if my intention was to make a split, then I'd start with a minimum of three frames of brood and bees and two frames of honey and a queen in a five frame box or four frames of brood and bees and one frame of honey if there is no queen because they will need the extra bees before they are done.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Location
    medesto,indiana,usa
    Posts
    257

    Post

    For a couple of years I raised mini nuc's and it always amazed me how few bees it took to actually get a colony going.Id also say 200-300 bees and a laying queen would be about it and thats during mid-summer they would just barely be able to take care of the queen and raise replacement brood.They would need fed. constantly and it would be touch and go if they would ever be able to build up enough to over winter.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Location
    Lamoille County, Vermont, USA
    Posts
    101

    Post

    But... what if you lived in a tropical paradise where winter wasn't an issue? Again, I'm speaking theoretically... we'd need a fertile queen, but what would be the bare minimum number of workers? Could a field bee take on nursing responsibilities? How many nurse bees; how many workers... bare minimum... to make a colony take off? (Humor me.... we're up to our eyeballs here in snow and, while you people are all working your bees, all we northeasterners can do is dream about it! )
    GreenMountainRose

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Location
    mountain home, ar, usa
    Posts
    378

    Post

    >"Could a field bee take on nursing responsibilities?"

    I, at least, know the answer to this... Yes! I had a hive once whose queen died in around December. The remaining bees dwindled out, until around April, there were probably only 100 left. I happened to have some extra queens that I was just killing anyway, so for the heck of it I put one in that hive. Of course, it took about a week before they accepted her, but she started laying eggs, and those 6 month old bees produced royal jelly and fed the brood. The hive sort of titered on survival, but eventually died off, even with new brood emerging. Of course, 100 new bees might have kept 'em alive, but 100 old bees couldn't.

    But I was surprised to see such old bees rearing brood.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Location
    Western Pennsylvania
    Posts
    2,071

    Post

    --Theoretically speaking, what is the minimum number of bees that it would take to start a colony? Just curious.

    The minimum number of bees required to successfully care for brood and start up a colony is 120 bees. Less than that it was found the brood was underweight or often damaged.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Location
    Lamoille County, Vermont, USA
    Posts
    101

    Post

    Curry and naturebee.... now that's cool. Naturebee... did the bees have a readily available food source, or did they have to forage?
    GreenMountainRose

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Location
    Western Pennsylvania
    Posts
    2,071

    Post

    This study was done in 2004 by researchers in Australia to find the minimal size needed for a colony to survive. I cannot find the manuscript that pertains to this research. All they state in the article I have read is that the study was done on colony sizes ranging from 20 to 120 bees under various conditions of forage and queen status. And the minimum number of bees required to successfully care for brood is 120 bees.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Location
    Lamoille County, Vermont, USA
    Posts
    101

    Post

    Thanks, naturebee! That is really cool to know.
    GreenMountainRose

  13. #13
    Join Date
    May 2002
    Location
    Danbury,Ct. USA
    Posts
    1,966

    Post

    Last year I was combining a nuc with an established colony. (Requeening it actually). It was afternoon and there were some foragers out from the nuc that had no hive to come home to. I felt bad and gave them a medium super on a bottomboard. Since I was requeening I had the old queen in my hand at the time. I added her to the handful of bees in the super. Now, this was all wrong: old queen;bees of the wrong age; not enough bees and the flow was close to being over.
    Long story over, they made it for the summer, built up well and died in Jan despite the fact that I fed them. I don't know why. I'm starting to blame winter losses on queen mortality.

    Dickm

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Location
    Western Pennsylvania
    Posts
    2,071

    Post

    Probably died due to insufficient strength. With only a hand full of bees, it would be difficult for them to achieve the bee numbers needed for successful wintering. Also when combining nucs, if the nuc was within 50 feet or so, the bees would disperse themselves into other colonies. If in the same apiary, I just combine and not worry about the foragers coming back, they will find another colony to call home.

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