Navigate / search

How to over-winter a nuc

After my last post, “How to keep queen bees in reserve,” a number of people asked, “Then what? What do you do with them in the winter?”

Last year was the first year I attempted to keep nucs over winter and it worked really well for me. Bear in mind, however, it was my first year, so I have limited experience. That said, I’ll explain what I did:

Study your winter temperatures carefully if you plan to do this, because it doesn’t take much freezing weather to kill a colony that is so small. On the other hand, it is great to have queens available in the winter season. If you don’t have your own, there is no other place to get them until spring.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

Emily
Reply

Thanks Rusty. Very interesting how you stacked them all up to preserve warmth and great to have queens around in winter, as you say.

Sadly I think my setup wouldn’t allow me to do this – while our apiary has a shed, it’s for the beekeepers, not the bees!

Ella
Reply

Thank you. I am coming to terms with the possibility that my husband wanted bees, but he really doesn’t like them. I think he enjoys killing them, more than anything, actually. We acquired a nuc, and he put the frames into a larger box, but didn’t add the extra frames, so they could expand onto them! It was just empty space in there, when I checked. Now, they didn’t expand, so I think we should put them back into the smaller box.

Mitchell
Reply

Really helpful, Rusty. Thank you. A couple of questions: you mention you fed with sugar patties in the winter. How did you do this, on the top bars? And if so, how did you create enough space between the patties and the double screen above it? Many thanks.

Rusty
Reply

Mitchell,

I use an eke, also known as a feeder rim, which is like a three-inch deep super with nothing inside. You can sometimes find them called “mountain camp feeders.” Failing that, you can cut a larger super in half horizontally, or your can just build one from four pieces of wood. See “How to use an eke.”

Andrew
Reply

Thank you for being such a great source of information, Rusty!

I just had a nightmare weekend of beekeeping: On Saturday, I noticed that one of my 2 hives was being robbed, so I read your advice on how to stop it and put on an entrance reducer. On Sunday, the robbing frenzy was still going on, and I noticed wasps slipping in along with the thieving bees, so I then promptly made a robbing screen & installed it.

Decided I’d better have a peek inside, opened up the inner cover & set aside, only one bee on it – the queen! I started the hive from a package in May, and they seemed to be doing so well. I’d agonized about mites before treating with 1 formic acid strip in August, and assumed things were all set for winter. Sadly, not the case at all.

There were a few bees here & there, plus a couple of wasps in the top box, and ants, but otherwise a ghost town (my previous inspection a week earlier things couldn’t have looked better). The bottom box was just foundation, but there was still a fair bit of honey in 6 or so frames above.

I went to my other hive (different location nearby) to see if they had anything to do with the crime, but no – normal activity & bees still bringing in pollen, a deep & medium full to the brim of bees. Made an emergency call to my beekeeping friends & they came & captured the lonely queen, then made up a cardboard nuc with 2 frames of bees & brood, the 2 best frames of honey from robbed hive, and follower boards. The queen is in a cage plugged with marshmallow, and I’m typing with fingers crossed that this desperate remedy works!

So now I (hopefully!) need to figure out a way to get them through the winter, and I don’t think the cardboard box is the way to go. As I see it, I’ve either got to buy or make a wooden nuc, or could I simply reduce the amount of space in a 10 frame deep? (I already have a complete hive set up for that, alas, recently vacated). If I use some thick insulation on each side & block off access with plywood, shrinking down the available space to maybe 5 frames, then I’d have a nice setup for feeding them, and they’d have a warmer, more durable home. Would that be an option?

I’m in the SF bay area, by the way, where today we finally saw some rain.

Rusty
Reply

Andrew,

Why don’t you use all six frames of honey that were left and use a normal-size deep box? That would add a lot of thermal mass to the colony and help with temperature fluctuations. You can still use the follower boards, but I think all that insulation might be overkill in your area.

Andrew
Reply

Thanks Rusty,

The packing on the sides was more to reduce the space more than for insulation, and the remaining frames aren’t full of honey – but I’m happy to give it a go. I added a top feeder yesterday with some extracted honey from nearby colony & was wondering what to do next.
Thanks, as ever, for your wonderful site.
I’m fortunate enough to have joined the Marin beekeepers’ club, through which I’ve met a 16 yr. old boy genius & his mother, who stepped in to help last week. Without their help & yours, I’d be floundering!

Cheers,
Andrew

Izzy
Reply

I have seen you mention a two-frame nuc several times now. What do these look like? I can’t seem to find any that are sold online. I am interested in keeping a few on hand for the instances that you use them for (spare queens, etc.).

Rusty
Reply

Izzy,

I have two types, both came from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm. One is a stand-alone 2 frame nuc with bottom board and lid, just like a regular nuc. And one is actually called a “queen castle.” It is a regular deep box with four division and four entrances, one on each side of the box. The divisions make four, 2-frame spaces. I like it and it’s worked well for me. I keep just tiny nucs in there, and then if I go queenless or something I just combine the two-framer with the larger one.

Neil
Reply

I’m curious, how did you determine that a hive was queenless in December?

Rusty
Reply

Neil,

I wrote about that in a different post. I found the queen on the landing board on a cold December day.

Leave a comment

name*

email* (not published)

website