I have been asked by one of my beginners last year how to take the queen out on a nucleus. This is one of the safest ways of keeping your old queen and is the method I teach beginners on our beginners course as the Pagden method can seem somewhat difficult if you have not experienced swarming before.
This is the method I use if I am making up a nucleus that is staying in my own apiary. The method is slightly different if you are taking the nucleus to another site more than 3 miles away.
- Place your queen in a queen clip
- Take 2 frames of sealed brood with no eggs or grubs if possible (this is important as it ensures that the nucleus will romp away as the young bees will not initially have to feed larvae and this brood will hatch in the next week) but with the bees attached. Remove any queen cells from these frames, so pat the bees out the way and dig out any queen cells you find on these two frames. They are really good at hiding them as they will be prosperous and there could be as many as 60,000 bees densely covering the frames in your colony
- add 2 frames of stores with bees attached
- Some additional candy just in case the weather is bad for foraging. Put this in a top feeder if you have it. If no candy you can feed syrup BUT only after a couple days otherwise you will set up a robbing scenario. You want to prevent old foragers going back to the parent hive and telling them that there is a free lunch in your nuc box. AND if you add syrup immediately the Older bees WILL return to the parent hive and tell those bees where there IS a free lunch. So, feed only after two days.
- Now most important of all. Numpties forget to do this and create a really small unit. Please please remember a lot of bees will bleed back to the parent hive so your nucleus may look strong as you are making it up but won’t be a day later) SO...
Shake 2 further frames of bees into the NUC from frames of open, not sealed brood (very important). This makes sure that the NUC gets some of the youngest bees whose job is to feed grubs as this will become their task in the build-up of the new colony. These young bees have not done an orientation flight so you know they will stay with the nucleus. These frames that you shake must not be the frames containing your chosen queen cells because you do not want to damage your chosen queen cell. Shaking queen cells will not necessarily kill them if they are about to hatch BUT it may do so. You have been warned!
- add 2 frames of foundation or one frame of drawn comb and 1 frame of foundation.
- Add your old queen
- Move the nucleus at least 6ft away from the parent hive (the unit with the queen cells). If you place it too close to the hive, you will have a mess as the foragers will sense where the queen is and pile into the nuc causing congestion
The above is the first part of what you need to do. You will then need to deal with the parent hive and the queen cells, choosing one or two cells that should not be shaken or inverted in any way. Drawing pins to mark the top of the frames with chosen queen cells are mandatory! These should be added before you begin the manipulation described above. Otherwise you risk shaking the frame with the chosen cell and you risk killing your chosen queen cell.
However, the nuc will build up quickly and after a couple of weeks may need to be hived. So you will need more equipment. At the very least you will need another brood box because once your virgin has come into lay you can kill your old queen and place the bees and brood in a brood box on top of the parent hive (containing your new Queen) using newspaper to combine the colonies. You will need to remove the supers to do this manipulation as brood must be on top of brood otherwise the manipulation does not work properly. Then a week later you can rearrange all the frames and give them back the supers and remove your brood box and any excess frames.
I am afraid nothing is ever simple!
Malcolm Wilkie - 27th March 2020