Michael Bush has asked that I participate in a discussuin on "Wintering Nucs."
I do winter nucs here in the northern Champlain Valley of Vermont and New York. More than 400 this winter. This is sometning that my good friend and sometimes mentor, Kirk Webster, has talked me into. I say talked me into, because at first I was not convinced. I mean, if my production colonies couldn't winter very well, how could 4 frame nucs. Anyway, I did give it a half hearted try...about 15 years ago.
I had a yard to move, one that had dwindled to only 15 colonies. The spot was too windy, and the road too rough, and the neighbors...recently built a house...too angry. Rather than just move them, I split them into 4 frame nucs, installed queens, and walked away. I wintered them on top of other colonies. 90% made it. I thought that was pretty amazing, considering I had done no management.
So, encouraged, I made more the next summer. I had two options. I could remove brood from production colonies, or I could split up weak...non-productive colonies. Since the best time for me to make these nucs is mid-summer, and that's when the crop is on, and would require lots of extra lifting, I chose the latter method.. It has become the foundation of my ability to keep my numbers up, and raise my own stock.
I think the method is simple enough, and what is required of each beekeeper is to get the timing right for each area of the country. Obviously, the time for making up nucs in Vermont will not be the same as for Nebraska where MB lives, or Virginia, or Ohio...etc.
Anyway, here in Vermont, the best time for making up nucs is mid to late July. Non-productive colonies are sacrifised. 1 1/2 frames of brood and bees are place in each nuc box, until all brood from the weak colony is used up. I use 4 frame, double nuc boxes, but the style isn't of much importance. It's what's in the box that counts. Along with the two frames containing brood, I add one comb of honey and pollen, and one empty comb or frame of foundation. This yields 4 - 6 nucs. I find if I make them too strong that they will swarm on the fall flow. So, resist adding extra shakes of bees...as you would with spring made splits. Mid-summer nucs are different. You want them to just build up enough to populate the box with young bees, and then shut down. Remember, when the brood hatches, there will be lots of bees. So, just add enough bees to cover the brood. Also remember...it is mid-summer. The nights are warmer, and chilled brood isn't much of a problem. Swarming is!! So, after making up what nucs you can from the weak hive. I move the nuc boxes to another yard and give each a laying queen or ripe cell.
The split up hive can often be saved, if you find the old queen, as they still have all the field bees. Give the one box on the bottom 4 to 6 combs of honey, and 4 to 5 empty combs, and the old queen. They build up quite quickly. When there is hatching brood, the unit can be requeened with the last round of mated queens...in August, and wintered on top of another colony. If you have a longer season, it can be increased to 1 1/2 stories, and wintewred on a stand that way.
A few weeks after making them up, they must be checked for strength. Those with exceptionally prolific queens will begin swarm preparationa on the fall (late) flows. Don't let this happen. If it does, you lose your bought or raised queen, and they often go into winter with small clusters...although many will still winter. Uf they are getting too strong...cups with eggs, or young cells are started, remove a frame, and add a empty or foundation. As long as there is a flow on, you have to manage them. Some will be so strong that you can remove two frames and give an empty and a foundation, or two empties. The idea is to have them packed with bees at the end of your last flow, with a couple frames of food, and no cells. THis is where the iming comes in. It's just something you will have to experiment with.
For winter...here...I want about 20 pounds of feed for winter. I don't want every cell and nook and cranny filled with honey or syrup. The bees still need clustering space...just like a full sized colony. I remove each frame, and see hoe much additional feed they will need to have 3.5 frames of feed...in a four frame nuc. They are moved in late fall, and winter on top of a production colony's inner cover. No communication hole or screen between the two. This gives them a nice warm dry place to winter. Further south, they can be wintered on a stand, and even stacked on top of each other...wintered in blocks of 6 or 9 double boxes.
Now, another plan is to start them earlier...say mid June here. These will positively swarm. So, after they fill their section, they are again split...say in mid-July. In this way, the original 4 - 6 nucs becomes 8 - 12. So, from your original weak colony, you can get anwhere from 4 to 12 nucs. Some years, the second round of splitting will yield 3 nucs from each original nuc, and will yield 12 - 18 nucs. This of course depends on where you keep bees, how strong your flows are, and how well they build up.
I think the biggest problems you will face are swarming, chalk brood, and poor queens. But if you make enough, you will have some spectacular nucs, some average nucs, and some duds that can be requeened and given brood from nucs that are too strong.
That's it for now. Have to go to Darts, where we're playing a top ranked team. We beat #1 the other night 20-10 I went out with 140 in 301, if you know what that means.
I'm sure I haven't been entirely clear on my procedure, and there will be plenty of questions...so I'll answer them as they come in.