Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Backup Nucs

I started my beekeeping journey early this year. So far, as a hobby, it is very fulfilling and exciting. I harvested my first honey a couple of weeks ago. I read somewhere that the best and sweetest honey is the honey straight from your hives. And that's absolutely true. It's priceless, and my honey is the best I have ever tasted. How exciting is this?

I would like to share with beginning beekeepers the most important lesson I have learned this year: To have small nucs as backups. Just in case your queen becomes non-laying or fails in some other way.

I attended an advanced beekeeping class in May: Queen Grafting. (Thanks to Janet and Rick Baxter for organizing the class and their hospitality.) It was a hands-on workshop with instructor Linda Monahan from Yosemite Gateway Farms. She has been keeping bees for 4 years and uses no treatments on her bees. We had the opportunity to try grafting queens under Linda’s supervision. And it was a success: I had 3 queen cells that I grafted myself.

My plan was to have few small nucs as reserves on the side. First, I had to find enough frames of capped brood with nurse bees to introduce these queen cells. Luckily, I found a local beekeeper who could provide me those frames. I bought 6 frames. At the end, I had 3 nucs with 2 frames each. Then I placed them such that the entrance of each nuc was facing a different direction. This would help foragers and queens returning from their mating flights know easily where to return.

After 10 days, I checked these mating nucs. In the first nuc, the queen had hatched, mated successfully and started to lay eggs. I saw lots of larvae. It was such a joy to see young brood. On the other hand, I did not see any brood in other nucs. I got impatient thinking that those queens had not emerged, and immediately tried to re-graft. I also tried Serge's method of cutting a piece of comb with larvae and installing it horizontally with a piece of toothpick into these nucs. One week later, when I inspected these nucs, I didn't see any queen cells but lots of larvae. It appeared that these queens took their time to mate and start laying.

Finally, I had my backup nucs ready with mated and laying queens. It was a great peace of mind to have the resources if a queen failed in the honey production hives. Here is one of these young queens with her royal chamber.

Soon enough, I had two hives that went south. One queen became non-laying. And the other hive almost died. I still don't know why, but I saw a pile of dead bees in front of the hive, which is really heartbreaking. I could not see any sign of disease in the hive, but I am a beginner, so I don't know exactly what I should look for.

I simply merged these colonies with the backup nucs that are healthy with young, laying queens. One hive recovered immediately. And the other one, I am still monitoring with my fingers crossed.

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