Methods of Making Increase Colonies

April 2014

Large-Scale Methods of Making Increase Colonies

by John Connor


My first beekeeping book, Increase Essentials, was first published in 2006. A great deal has happened since then. Colony Collapse Disorder appeared. Many beekeepers moved away from package bees to increase nucleus production, and developed a wide array of amazing methods to make increase nuclei. Many routinely winter these colonies with different levels of success. So, as we work to produce a second edition of Increase Essentials, we will put both new and updated materials out to the thousands of people who have purchased the book. For them, I hope that they will see it as an upgrade, and for those who have not read the book, I hope it will incentivize them to read it. In this issue we continue the discussion about making increase nuclei.

Making multiple nuclei from multiple hives
Larger small-scale operators, as well as sideline beekeepers, become efficient in the production of increase nuclei and employ a few elements of Henry Ford’s assembly line to become better able to produce a number of increase colonies in a short time period. A few commercial beekeepers have used the assembly line method in a central facility to generate increase colonies, but most seem to follow an apiary-based method similar to what follows.
 Prior planning before entering the apiary. Beekeepers load their trucks with empty five-frame nuclei, whether 50 or 5,000. If queens or queen cells are to be added during the day of nucleus making, the beekeepers bring purchased mated queens or self-raised, ready-to-emerge queen cells from their own operation. Spare frames are brought in the nucleus boxes in case the beekeeper and helpers decide to discard any broken or extremely dark combs no longer suitable for a healthy and efficient beekeeping operation.

Teamwork is key in the apiary. The truck is placed so it either is central to all the colonies (if they are arranged in a horseshoe arrangement) or moved as they work the area (if colonies are in a linear pattern). With one person on the truck, equipment is handed to others on the ground who situate the equipment near the hives. The hives in question may be overwintered colonies, colonies brought back from the almonds in California or colonies in a southern state moved to overwinter from a northern state. Often one person applies smoke to all the colonies in a row and removes the lids. A second person enters each colony and removes frames of honey, brood and empty comb which the first person places into waiting boxes and loads onto the truck.

Division of hive assets into five-frame units. When each colony is opened and frames removed, old queens are killed if found unless considered breeder material. All frames of brood are divided into the five-frame nuclei boxes, usually with three frames of brood and bees. A frame of honey and pollen is added along with either an empty comb (most of the time) or a frame of foundation. Queens in sealed cages are often added at this point, unable to be released until the beekeeper removes the cork or plastic plug from the cage, although some commercial beekeepers just pull these off and let matters fall as they may be. If queen cells are being used, the increase nuclei should be moved by truck to their new location and set out on the ground, either on pallets or in rows for single handling. Queen cells are often added later in the day or a day later, after the bees have had a chance to settle down and have started foraging.

Move colonies to a new apiary location. Loaded onto a truck, the increase nuclei are moved to a new location and set out, often with entrances facing in different directions to minimize drifting. Some beekeepers use vibrant but mis-matched ‘whoops’ paint from box hardware stores to develop a colorful array of different colored boxes and lids. Others stay with the standard white hive, but stagger them in such a way as to increase orientation for workers and flying queens.

Checking the success rate. With mated queens, the success rate of introduction in these new colonies should be over 90 percent. With queen cells, the success rate is lower, perhaps 75 to 85 percent take. When this happens, the ‘blowouts’ are stacked onto queenright colonies without a great deal of ceremony. The goal is to have all of these increase nuclei shipped to their final honey production location and transferred into standard ten-frame boxes. Within a matter of days they should be ready to receive their second brood box, and soon, their first super.