Making nucs vs. Making Honey
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  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2016
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    Colorado
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    228

    Default Making nucs vs. Making Honey

    Im thinking of switching the emphasis of my apiary from making a lot of honey to making up a substantial (for me) number of nucs for sale. I sold a few last spring that were the byproducts of swarm managment and it struck me as being comparitivly easy money. I took 15 production hives and another 8 nucs into winter. I have purchased 10 polystyrene mating nucs that I hope to use in the spring to help have a constant source of mated queens to go into new nucs. What adjustments in the spring should I be making, if any to accommodate making up more nucs? I hope to keep around 5 hives as production hives so I can have a little honey around as political capital with the neighbors and keep the wife happy. Those of you who make up a substantial number of nucs for sale, what should I be doing differently? Push pollen sub early? Thanks for the insight!

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  3. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
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    Crystal Water, Queensland, Australia
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    Default Re: Making nucs vs. Making Honey

    I'm in Australia.
    This year I made up about 70 x 5 frame nucs.
    The easiest way for me is to keep 10 frame - FD singles with very good queens and simply take my 3 frames every 3 to 4 weeks to make-up another nuc. The best hives have produced 7 nuc's so far this season and this is it.
    The reason I use these singles is simple- I'm 70 years old and lifting a honey super off is getting too much.
    This year I made quite a lot of my own queens.
    Next year ( if I'm still kicking) I will buy most of my queens - much quicker.
    I can make up to 8 nuc's ( the max for this season) in a couple of hrs, give them each a queen late in the afternoon, shiftem to another yard in the evening....bring them back a week later and if the queen is performing - sold!
    I don't take the nuc boxes back - nil danger to bring in a disease like AFB.
    I like making nuc's. It is profitable. Like you, I realised that taking honey is more work. I still have a number of honey hives. I generally take one nuc of the best ones after I have taken honey off and they are not heavy.
    The nuc season is finished. Selling the last one tonight. A few here which are not up to standard and I will nurse them along.
    In winter I make frames and nuc boxes.
    from the Bee House -http://ecologicalsolutions.com.au/bees/?page_id=8
    40 years - +/- 20 H - TF - Subtropical

  4. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2018
    Location
    bridgeport, NY, USA
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    11

    Default Re: Making nucs vs. Making Honey

    This past summer I took 4 hives. Each with 4 boxes of mediums. I made very slim nucs, meaning one frame of brood, one frame of honey, two frames of foundation. This worked well and I managed to make 36 full hives from those original 4. I was also able to harvest about 300 pounds of honey which is more than I would have expected for the 4 hives. sold a bunch of nucs and have more over wintering hives to multiply in the spring. It is a very exciting adventure.

  5. #4
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    Mar 2014
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    Red Bud, IL, USA
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    1,802

    Default Re: Making nucs vs. Making Honey

    For me it's between creating early spring nucs, at the tail end of the main flow or late splits to overwinter. I find early spring nucs have more customers but any splits come at the cost of honey production, end of flow nucs have less customers but less impact honey production and late splits require more TLC with more risk but are ready for spring sales or to cover any losses. I tend to avoid early spring splits and during the flow except those from swarm prevention, just my preference.
    “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” -George Bernard Shaw

  6. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
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    Santa Fe, NM
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    1,222

    Default Re: Making nucs vs. Making Honey

    I think you can manage both nucs and honey production. Why reduce your production colonies? We have for many years utilized "production nucs" that make a sizable honey crop. We manage them similar to production colonies by simply placing drawn comb above a queen excluder and let them store surplus on a strong honey flow. We had nucs last year that made 90 lbs each by extracting and giving back drawn comb. These are deep frame 4 over 4 nucs.
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    "Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure it is in decay".....Krishnamurti

  7. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    Location
    Seattle WA
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    1,148

    Default Re: Making nucs vs. Making Honey

    Nhaupt2, I have come to the same conclusion as you. I find honey processing a total pain in the ***. It is messy, attracts ants, takes way too much time, the extractors take up a lot of space and are expensive for a tool you use 1 day a year, and I absolutely hate the process of trying to bottle and sell all that honey. I already have a full time job that takes most of my time. Seattle summers are not that much different than yours in Colorado other than being a bit cooler. We get a good maple flow (weather permitting) and a blackberry flow in May and June. Then we get 2-3 months of drought and a total pollen and nectar dearth. If I pull the honey, I am feeding for the next 3 months. If I sell 10 nucs at $150 I get a pretty good return for a project that is just a hobby. That is a whole lot easier than selling 150 1 pound bottles of honey at $10 a piece and a lot less work. If I had the desire, I could easily make and sell 50 nucs a year.

  8. #7

    Default Re: Making nucs vs. Making Honey

    A lot depends on your flow. For me it is part of my swarm management.

  9. #8
    Join Date
    May 2016
    Location
    Colorado
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    228

    Default

    Thanks everybody, I'm hoping for around 20 a year, which I think should be more than doable with the number of hives I'm working with. The real issue is going to be having enough queens and cells at the right times, which I guess is the name of the game.
    I get a strong flow starting mid to late may, with a good pollen flow from maples in late March. It seems that having enough drawn comb is going to be rather challenging. Are you all having your nucs draw out a frame or so of foundation prior to sale?
    I think going into this coming fall I'll trash all my yards out Into as many nucs as possible and the select a few strong performers to upgrade to 10 frame boxes in the spring.

    I'm only 40 years old, but hauling those boxes of honey around last year at the end of the summer really sucked alot of the fun out of it for me.

  10. #9
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    Mar 2013
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    Seattle WA
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    1,148

    Default Re: Making nucs vs. Making Honey

    Quote Originally Posted by Nhaupt2 View Post
    I get a strong flow starting mid to late may, with a good pollen flow from maples in late March. It seems that having enough drawn comb is going to be rather challenging. Are you all having your nucs draw out a frame or so of foundation prior to sale?
    I cannot get bees to draw comb in the spring until the swarm season is over. When the maple flow is on, the nectar is coming in so fast there is no time to draw comb. I have to feed all summer to get the comb drawn. I am 60 + years old so I understand your pain about hauling honey supers.

  11. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2010
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    Maple Ridge B.C. Canada
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    86

    Default Re: Making nucs vs. Making Honey

    I wrecked my back 4 years ago hauling bees into blueberry field for pollination. After that season of asking for help and suffering I gave up hauling and only uses 6 hives for honey production and the remaining are my nuc factories. Last year I sold 40 plus nucs and in Canada they are flying off out the door, if I had 40 more they would be sold also.

    We just let the ladies do what they do best, 2 frames of brood in various stages 1 frame of honey and 2 frames of empty drawn comb 30 days later new queen is laying and they are ready for sale. I do all of my nucs spilts in the same yard and very seldom do I have any problems.

  12. #11
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    Sep 2016
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    Denver Metro Area CO, USA
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    Default Re: Making nucs vs. Making Honey

    I have come to the same conclusion as you. I find honey processing a total pain in the ***
    Me 3...lol
    My main yard is not producing very well last few years, but its 5 min from the house making it a good place for cellbuilding and nuc making, thinking about taking a feed lot mentality and turning sugar in to bees.
    I find I don't have the time to sit at farmer markets etc to sell honey.

  13. #12
    Join Date
    Dec 2017
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    Dane County, WI, USA
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    Default Re: Making nucs vs. Making Honey

    Quote Originally Posted by msl View Post
    Me 3...lol
    My main yard is not producing very well last few years, but its 5 min from the house making it a good place for cellbuilding and nuc making, thinking about taking a feed lot mentality and turning sugar in to bees.
    I find I don't have the time to sit at farmer markets etc to sell honey.
    Me 4.

    One reason people around me keep buying "almond packages" - there is very little local nuc supply to speak of.
    Market is screaming for the local bees for sale.

    Outside of family consumption, I never understand the local beeks trying to make honey, and more honey (and then some more honey, and brag about it too).
    Need to be making expensive bees, not cheap honey - pretty darn obvious in my area.
    Former "smoker boy". Classic, square 12 frame Dadants >> Long hive/Short frame/chemical-free experimentations.

  14. #13
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    Sep 2016
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    Denver Metro Area CO, USA
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    Default Re: Making nucs vs. Making Honey

    The question is the market willing to

    A-pay the premium for an overwintered local nuc
    or
    B-Wait till later in the season for local nuc to be ready
    or
    C be willing to requeen sunbelt bees when local queens are available ....

    or is it D, they just don't care

    2000_58b8a0ed1cef7.jpg
    Just one of the many local shops, about 1k packages

  15. #14
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    Dec 2006
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    St. Albans, Vermont
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    8,106

    Default Re: Making nucs vs. Making Honey

    I had the same indecision, years ago. Should I make honey, or should i make nucs. In the 80s and 90s, I had an apple pollination contract. No choice. Split as many as possible in the spring, to keep the numbers up for the almighty contract. Sacrifice honey crop by spring splitting.

    Once I started making nucs on the main flow, and had excess nucs which I could sell, I quit apples. But, I was still splitting up production colonies to make my nucs. Non-productive production hives, but production hives none-the-less.

    Eventually, I came up with the brood factory management plan. Maintaining double, 4x4x4...or higher if necessary...as a source of brood for making my nucs. That was the answer.

    So, I think you should work in that direction. How many nuclei would you like to sell? How many do you need to support your honey production apiaries? Each brood factory will give you 6 or 8 (guessing about CO). Do the math, and keep that many permanent brood factories. Use some of the wintered nuclei to boost and re-queen weaker production hives in the spring. Use brood to boost production before main flow...if they're lagging behind. All the rest of the brood production from the factories can be used to make nucs for wintering. This is done over a period of time in order to take advantage of as mayny laying queens as you can handle.

    Anyway...those are my recommendations. Good luck.

  16. #15
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    Dec 2017
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    Dane County, WI, USA
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    Default Re: Making nucs vs. Making Honey

    Quote Originally Posted by msl View Post
    The question is the market willing to

    A-pay the premium for an overwintered local nuc
    or
    B-Wait till later in the season for local nuc to be ready
    or
    C be willing to requeen sunbelt bees when local queens are available ....

    or is it D, they just don't care

    2000_58b8a0ed1cef7.jpg
    Just one of the many local shops, about 1k packages
    My answer to this will be:
    - buy from your local fellow beek (me) AND I will throw in 2-3 hours of free technical support too (within X miles from house - in person; outside of that via video conferencing).
    I mean, I am interested in building a customer base and long term relationships (whenever I am ready to sell - not yet).
    People know me by name already just for being a non-conformist, hehe.
    For sure, no-one even providing nucs for Layen's type beeks here (there are few for now; will be more).

    Almond package seller provides zero support (outside of generic advice, available even on BS - for free).
    Former "smoker boy". Classic, square 12 frame Dadants >> Long hive/Short frame/chemical-free experimentations.

  17. #16
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Location
    Madisonville,TN
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    535

    Default Re: Making nucs vs. Making Honey

    In my experience, when you sell nucs, some folks will continue to expect a lot of support / advice from you the seller. You must be ready to to give at least some advice to newbees, or get a poor reputation. In this business, word of mouth and reputation are everything. When you sell honey, no one ever calls you back and asks advice and questions on what to do with their jar of honey.

  18. #17
    Join Date
    Jul 2018
    Location
    Oklahoma USA
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    88

    Default

    I don't know why you don't do both. If you change your business model, plan, thinking around some you will hit both markets. I think most people just follow what everyone else is doing and the majority misses out.

    As soon as I stopped always wondering what is happening in my hives and started to look at the bees as more of an employee the better all around I did. If they have room, food, natural comb and water they seem pretty happy. Just like my employees in my business ( if I let them do what they are good at production is good) I am new and also never really see myself as a commerical operation but I enjoy the bees and if it can bring a side hustle all the merrier so take it for what it's worth, but I do consider myself fairly good at business.

    I adopted Michael Palmers brood factory idea and put it in place. Took my original 2 hives to 9. And they seem to all be doing good as of now. I am in Oklahoma so I dont have horrible winters by any means. I also had drawn comb that helped me out also.

    I have also adopted Michael Bush practices and have now gone to all mediums. Even trying out some top entrance only hives.

    With both of their ideas in place, nice labeling and marketing I now have a market that few are doing. I can set up nucs for medium customers I believe there is becoming more of a market for them around here at least. If I add a deep nuc to that medium nuc and split later on then over winter I am reaching both deep and medium markets for over winter nucs.

    The honey market to me is somewhat saturated. But with Palmer's system in place I dont have to steal from any production hive so I can still turn out honey. But combined with Bush's system I can capitalize now on raw local honey when no one else has it. I dont have to feed either, or very minimal, so now I am saving on that end as well. See I dont harvest honey when everyone else is doing it. I will take in the early spring. This does a few things.

    1) I can take surplus honey from stronger hives and my resource hives and spread it to hives that need some extra honey. Eliminating the need for fall feeding that everyone does.

    2) This opens up a new market. I now have honey in very early spring that most around me dont have.

    3) I dont have to worry about storage of supers. I take the honey accordingly add the supers back on. When the colonies are coming out of winter strong, or boosted as Palmer does they are ready for production.

    4) I am finding out that Carniolan bees are good for this because they are not eating as much as other local beeks around me Italians are. So different bee breeds are something to look into also IMO. Also why people should be going after local bees, they are suited for your area

    5) I run all natural comb as well, I dont even wire it. I have alot of people tell me it's going to cause trouble, but when I ask them if they have done it the common answer is no it's what I was told or this happened to so and so... I already said that honey seems saturated to me so I harvest more for comb honey (which brings higher prices in my area) creamed honey (again higher prices in my area) and wax production ( which again is something that is asked for more than honey in my area) this also helps me again in storage of expensive equipment that gets used once or a few times, since I take the comb and all, hence why I use no wires. I leave a small strip at the top of each frame so no need to make up any strips either, saving time and money.

    I also have found a niche market for top bar nucs that are pretty hard to come by. I l enjoy my top bar and plan to add a few more and see if I can get into that niche market as well. The warre hive I have that's another story, peoples hive 🤔

    I think if people would stop looking at what everyone is doing, stop trying to make bees do what they want them to do and start looking at the local markets, become sustainable and raise your own queens then they would find that there is a lot of opportunity for bees besides honey and nucs. On both a small scale and probably a commercial scale.

    Alot of skepticism happens when people fail at what they have tried. A lot of missed opportunities are lost when people follow what everyone else is doing. Just my 2 cents for what its worth

  19. #18
    Join Date
    Mar 2017
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    Dade county, Mo.
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    197

    Default Re: Making nucs vs. Making Honey

    Having a decent number of hives that are not reserved for honey production opens up a lot of opportunities.

    Boosting, splitting, cell builders, mating nucs,,,,

    I watched "The sustainable apiary" when first started and that really helped give direction from the beginning.

  20. #19
    Join Date
    Jun 2015
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    Rib Lake WI
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    Default Re: Making nucs vs. Making Honey

    Once you start making your own queens you will find it hard not to make honey and bees at the same time. I found that out this year if i had more bees to start with I could of made twice the hives that i made this year. I set up mine like Michael Palmer and boy did it work great.

  21. #20
    Join Date
    Sep 2014
    Location
    John Day River, OR
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    276

    Default Re: Making nucs vs. Making Honey

    I think most of the strategies have been mentioned above but here are a few more things to consider.

    1st. What is your flow like? Colorado is a big state with a lot of variation. Is there much sweet clover or alfalfa? If so, those plants give you a really nice flow through the middle of summer (given decent but not too much ground moisture). With a good long flow like that, its pretty easy to break everything into nucs and make a good crop midsummer. If you flow is strong in april and may and then dries up in the summer, its a different matter. Then you really do trade honey production for nuc production. (although you probably can still make a few just doing swarm control).

    2nd. How do you like to overwinter? Doubles? Singles? Nucs? If you overwinter in a double, you need to leave yourself a unit that can grown back into a double by the end of the season. But doubles also mean you are ready to go next season. If you winter in singles, you might build them into doubles early spring, then break them down in may to build your nucs, then put honey supers on your remaining singles.

    There are A LOT of ways to juggle bees.
    In years where I have managed for honey production, we equalize early in the season to boost anything small. Then I start pulling brood in mid-late april. In double deep 8 framers, I like to leave them with 6 frames of brood. 3 below and 3 above. I also try to requeen while I do this but never have enough queens. Doing this, with good strong hives, I probably average pulling 3-5 frames from most hives and use that brood to build nucs and fix any duds. So that's averaging close to one nuc per hive.
    If I want to manage for nucs, I basically break everything down into 3-4 framers and add cells. Thats 2-3 frames of brood, 1-2 frames of honey, good cover of bees. In late april, that gets me 3-4 nucs per hive. So I can sell 2-3 and keep the remainder to rebuild my stock. If you want, you can build the ones you want to keep a little stronger and keep them in singles until they are bigger.

    And yet another route, because beekeepers always need more options...
    Break a couple-few hives down into 2 or 3 frame nucs. Use these just to get your queens mated and laying. Let the queens lay out a bit and break down another few hives, use the resulting brood and honey to build your mating nucs into 4-5 framers or whatever you want to sell, or 6 framers if you want to build them up for honey.

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