Methods of Making Increase Colonies archives

June 2014

The Latner Method of Making Nuclei and Mating Nuclei

by John Connor


I first met Jerry Latner in 1976 when I moved to Florida to establish the Dadant bee breeding program called Genetic Systems Inc., with the dual purpose of maintaining the Starline and Midnite hybrid bee program, as well as to mass-produce instrumentally inseminated production queens called the Cale 876. Jerry was then branch manager at the Dadant branch in Umatilla, FL. Later he moved the branch to High Springs, FL to better service both Florida and Georgia beekeepers. His son Ray worked with his father during the early part of his career, took over the branch in Paris, TX (where I visited several times), and most recently moved back to High Springs to take over the branch when Jerry retired.

Because of the very strong demand for both nucleus colonies and queen bees, Ray and his wife, Wendy, have moved into independent nucleus and queen production in this north Florida location. The red maples and other trees are responsible for a strong early start to brood rearing, and there is an enormous demand for both queens and bees. Following the sage advise of mentor Harvey York, Ray and Wendy only book half of the production of queens and packages that they think they can generate in a season. They agree that this works out about right in most years.

Ray is familiar with beekeeping practices in Texas, as the Texas set-offs (described in a previous article), and has modified this system for his own method of making a large number of increase nuclei with a limited number of colonies.

In their Florida operation colonies are kept in just one hive body, with a queen excluder keeping the bees out of the supers. Both deep and medium hive bodies are used for making new units: deep frame colonies produce increase nuclei, and medium frame colonies produce mating nuclei. The increase nuclei hold five deep frames while the mating nuclei hold three medium frames. Here is a summary of the setup method the Latners use.

Yards sited for mating and production are cleared and equipment set out. The three frame mating nuclei are set out upside down until the bees and frames are added. The five-frame increase nuclei are placed containing three combs, leaving two spaces for brood frames.

Feed is provided using inverted quart or pint feed jars placed in a hole drilled in the center of the lid. Each colony gets one round of feed and then the jar is left in place to close the entrance.

Single box production hives with deep frames are inspected and all but one frame of brood and bees removed and placed into a special screened box that is spaced so it holds only eight frames (using a frame spacer) to prevent damage to the bees while in movement. These boxes of bees and brood are moved into a closed room where they settle for 24-36 hours. This allows the bees from different colonies to acclimate.

Colonies that give up the brood and bees are reduced to one frame of brood and the old queen if that queen is doing well. If she is not, all the bees are removed from the brood area and field forces from several colonies are allowed to return to one queen-right hive.

Queen production has been underway with other colonies and the ripe queen cells are held in an incubator. The cells are added one day after the colonies are set up. Each mating nucleus receives only one queen cell unless there are surplus cells. Then, two cells are positioned at the top of the frames, one frame apart.
Bees and brood are moved late in the day to keep the bees calm and minimize drifting. Each new nucleus receives two frames of bees and brood while each medium mating nucleus receives only one frame of brood.

To summarize, each newly made mating nuclei consists of one frame of brood, a frame of drawn comb, a frame of foundation, the ripe queen cell, and feed in a pint feed jar. These units are left undisturbed in the mating apiary for three weeks when they are visited and queens are harvested for waiting customers.

Newly made deep nuclei consist of two frames of brood and bees, a ripe queen cell, two drawn combs and either another drawn comb or a frame of foundation. A feed jar is placed into the lid to provide the bees with feed and to stimulate the production of beeswax for comb building. These colonies are spot checked, but usually not sold for at least four weeks. This allows the colony and the new queen to mature together.

Special equipment needed for this system includes the ten-frame hive bodies with eight-frame spacers, and the screened covers to provide ventilation while in confinement. The photo shows much of this in detail.

What is the Ideal Nucleus?

Brood strength and queen type
A queen bee’s egg-laying rate is determined by both her genetics and the rate at which she is fed by healthy worker bees. Think of a queen’s egg-laying rate as her ultimate genetic potential—her performance level when everything in the hive is working perfectly. The actual number ....


May 2014

The Ideal Nucleus

by John Connor


The double nucleus
Many beekeepers use deep frame hive bodies divided into two five-frame nuclei, often called a double nucleus. This provides room for one to three frames of brood, a frame of honey and one or two empty combs for the queen to lay into. Transferring the bees attached to the frames and maybe one shake more will give you about 3,200 or more bees, or roughly a pound. The combined heat from the two colonies growing side-by-side stimulates growth in each five-frame nucleus. These bees will keep the brood warm and care for the queen before and after she is released from the queen cage or emerges from the queen cell. In about a month, each colony will be strong enough to be moved into regular eight- or ten-frame equipment. Left in the small quarters, the nucleus will not expand further because there is not enough room or may swarm. Some beekeepers add supers to nucleus colonies to keep them growing and to prevent swarming.

Impact of the queen status used in increase colonies

You get the best results if you use a mated laying queen in a new nucelus colony, while letting the bees raise a queen from worker brood gives the poorest outcome. The latter includes queen failures when the queen dies and the bees must replace her from brood in the colony (if they have it). Let’s discuss this effect, using these guidelines:

  • Each nucleus was made with standard frames with an average of 75% emerging workers, or 4,800 bees/frame. I used three frames of brood for this model, which is on the strong side.
  • For each frame of brood, I added one half pound of adult nurse bees to warm the brood and keep it alive until the sealed brood emerges—4,800 bees with three frames of brood.
  • Each queen will lay an average 1,200 eggs per day after being installed and has reached maximum egg production. Some days she will lay fewer eggs because there is no place for her to put them. Even queens have bad days and labor-management conflicts.
  • When the beekeeper assembles the nucleus, it contains primarily sealed worker brood, and some open brood (eggs and larvae). This affects the colony age distribution in all colonies as they develop.
  • Various queen types, based on stage of development, are used this discussion.  They include:

Mother queen—Time before brood emergence is 21 days. Here the nucleus colony receives the queen from the parent hive, and there is no interruption in egg laying. Then you will have bee emergence from newly laid eggs in about 21 days. In four weeks we expect to see about 27,000 bees in this three-frame nucleus; in seven weeks the population will approach 50,000 bees.

Laying queen—Time before brood emergence is 24 to 28 days. You must purchase or raise your own queen and introduce her into the nucleus. Allow seven days for her to be released and start laying (to be conservative), and add 21 days for her first adult daughter workers to emerge and join her in the hive. This is a total of 28 days. In four weeks we expect to see about 18,500 bees in the hive, in seven weeks the population will be around 42,000 workers.
Virgin queen—Time before brood emergence is 31 days. Overproduction of queen cells often leads to a supply of caged, sexually-mature, ready-to-mate virgin queens. We allow 10 days for release from an introduction cage and mating and then 21 days for first brood emergence. Week-old virgin queens will provide bees in just a few more days than a mated queen. Expect 17,400 bees at 28 days from the founder bees and brood; expect 37,700 bees at seven weeks. Because it is just a bit less than a mated queen, it makes me wonder why sexually ready virgins are not used more often, especially since the queen is emerged and can be inspected for color, size and certain behaviors? I have been marking and using virgin queens for several years with excellent results.

Queen cell—Time for brood emergence is 37 days. Many beekeepers put a mature or ‘ripe’ queen cell into mating nuclei. In fact, most commercial beekeepers use queen cells. Allow 16 days for a ripe queen pupa to emerge, mate and start laying, plus 21 days for the first worker bees. This is a total of 37 days for first emergence. At seven weeks expect 31,200 bees.

Queen raised from brood—Time for brood emergence is 49 days. Plan on a full seven-week delay when you require a colony to raise its own queen. While this may provide good varroa control by providing a total break in the brood rearing, it is very costly in terms of lost population buildup. The queen will be raised from a young larva, so add 13 days for her to emerge from a queen cell. To this add 15 or 16 days for the queen’s maturation, mating and egg laying. Then, of course, you still must wait for 21 days for worker emergence. This puts the first emergence at seven weeks! The colony has not yet added any new bees for seven weeks! The population has been shrinking from 17,400 bees since the last of the brood emerged. Of course, during hive inspections you have seen the formation of queen cells, bees preparing for the queen to mate and start laying, and then the new queen’s brood appear. It’s a fun and educational process to watch, but the 28-day lack of open brood may mess up colony balance by reducing the stimulus to forage for pollen needed for royal and worker jelly production, and limit comb building and food storage.

Colonies with queens that fail often ...


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.

March 2014

 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.

Nuclei to mate and hold queens.
Make up small nuclei if you plan to produce, mate and hold queens during the season. The key is to keep these nuclei small all summer, allowing each successive queen to fill the brood nest with eggs before she is moved to another hive or sold. I recommend using three to five-frame deep or medium Langstroth frames so you do not have unique sized frames and boxes in your operation. A ten-frame hive may be divided into two or three mating units and an eight-frame hive may be divided into two sections. Such colonies require special management so they do not become too strong and promote swarming—remove extra frames of brood and bees and add them to mating nuclei that have had a queen failure or any colonies that are weak. Or use extra frames of brood to boost honey production colonies just before the nectar flow. If you mate and store laying queens in these units, you will be able to requeen hives used for honey production at any time without being forced to order queens on a rush basis. Here are some simple steps to establish these colonies:

Select one brood frame. Go to one of the colonies you have selected and managed for increase colony production. Find a frame of brood that is sealed, ideally with young adult bees emerging from the center of the brood cluster. This ensures you will have the stronger nucleus with and increasing number of young bees.
Check for queens. Carefully examine this frame for a queen bee. Your records may indicate that the queen is clipped and marked, but 10 to 20 percent of all spring colonies have two queens (mother and daughter) existing side by side. So even if you have found a marked queen in a colony, continue to check the frame for another queen! A second set of eyes is very helpful while making nuclei colonies.

Move the frame to a prepared nucleus box: There are wood, plastic, and cardboard versions of nucleus boxes. You may divide a ten-frame hive body into two sections by using a thin plywood or Masonite™ sheet as a divider. The double five-frame nucleus allows the two colonies to share heat and build up better.

Give each nucleus colony an entrance facing a different direction. You do not want all the entrances on the same side of the box if more than one nucleus colony is being setup inside. Place entrances at opposite sides so the bees remain separate.

Add another shake of bees. Select another brood frame covered with bees. Again, carefully check the frame for a queen. Gently shake (or brush) the bees from the frame into the nucleus box. Your objective is to cover the brood with bees. If you do not think you have enough bees, shake bees from one or two more frames to finish the job letting the older bees fly home.
Add a frame of honey and pollen. This will provide food for the young bees that emerge, and for any brood that is still unsealed. You may add the frame of honey and pollen in advance, or pull a frame from a colony in your apiary.

Add a queen. Install a purchased queen in a push-in cage or another introduction system. You may use a queen cell you have produced yourself, or purchased from a local beekeeper. Install the queen or queen cell on the brood frame so it will be covered and cared for by nurse bees. Do not let such a small nucleus produce its own queen—it may be substandard and subsequently superseded.

Add drawn combs to fill the nucleus box.  Then close up the hive body.

Position the increase hive in the same apiary or in an out apiary. If you only add nurse bees, few bees will fly back to the parent hive. If you shook bees from the outer frames where foragers are located, you should expect to lose part of the bee population if left within 2 miles of the source apiary. Move new hives least 2 miles away.

Feed the increase colony. Use a division board (frame) feeder, top feeder, or a sugar syrup jar on the top of the nucleus or in a feed shell. Keep feeding for at least a month or as long as you are putting new queen cells into the colony for mating.
Reduce the entrance. Limit the entrance of the hive since small increase colonies are vulnerable to robbing by stronger hives. Use screen vent holes to avoid overheating the colony during hot weather. Protect the colony from strong winds and provide the bees with a water source.

Manage this unit. Once a mated queen has been producing eggs long enough to fill the frames with brood, she may be used to requeen another colony. Use the old queen you removed to keep this nucleus going until you are ready to replace the her. If you ....


February 2014

 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.

Selecting colonies for increase production
At the first hive inspection in late winter or early spring, select the colonies that are thriving and growing rapidly. In Florida, southern Texas and the Southwest, this may be in January, while in the northern tier of states and Canada this may not happen until March or early April in average years. While you may feed all your colonies to keep them alive, select certain colonies you want to “push” brood and bee production, to make new increase colonies. Give them constant sugar syrup stimulation and pollen patties or pollen substitute. This allows the bees and the queen to produce a large amount of brood, and this will grow your bee population. The bees will respond to the push in February or early March in northern states and in lower Canada.
Deciding which colonies in your apiary will be used for increase production depends upon your objective and your beekeeping conditions as expressed as potential nectar flows.  Here are three strategy examples:

Every colony will be used to provide brood and bees adequate to produce one or more increase nuclei. This is an ideal program when all hives are about equal in strength and you have been successful at keeping winter loss low and the colonies are responding well to stimulative feeding. If your colonies go to California for almond pollination, you can remove a nucleus or two from each colony when the hives are successfully returned to you. By doing this, you accomplish two goals: first you will make new colonies at a point in the colony cycle when they are producing surplus bees, and second, removing bees and brood will seriously discourage these hives from swarming.

Only certain colonies will produce increase nuclei. While you might use just the strongest colonies to make increase nuclei, beekeepers like Vermont’s Mike Palmer routinely sort out the lower quality colonies and use only these to form increase nuclei. These are ‘C’ level colonies that will require effort and still only produce a below average honey crop. He uses only the strongest colonies for clover honey production, following a rigorous swarm prevention program of adding supers early and other methods. Keep your ‘A’ and ‘B+’ strength colonies for honey production or pollination and put the rest of the hives into making increase.

All colonies are converted to nuclei. The most severe system of making increase nuclei is commonly used by larger sideline and most commercial beekeepers. All colonies are completely dismantled at some point in the seasonal management cycle and made into a number of new increase nuclei colonies. Each colony receives a minimum of three frames of brood, food frames, and left-over comb. This is an excellent time to remove old combs and add new foundation or starter strips. Some beekeepers set up an assembly-line production facility at the base apiary or in the field to collect colonies, pull frames and add queens. There are an amazing variety of methods commercial beekeepers use to accomplish this extensive colony manipulation. The advantages are clear—you end up with colonies with all new queens, potentially new brood combs, and have entirely eliminated swarming as a major management focus, in addition to setting back the varroa mite build up in the original colonies.