A nuc to overwinter?

A nuc to overwinter? What? Why would I want a nuc in winter?                 Keeping a nucleus colony (nuc) over winter is like having an insurance policy. An overwintered nuc can be used in spring to replace a colony lost over winter, to replace a failing queen or to increase colony numbers in spring. In the spring, an overwintered nuc will rapidly increase in population to become a productive full size colony.

How to successfully manage a nuc from summer until next spring.                                    Nucs can successfully overwinter even in cold climates. Mike Palmer (Northern Vermont), who has been overwintering nucs for years, notes that nucs require less winter food compared to full size colonies.

A nuc started in July or August has sufficient time to build population if properly managed and supported. Management varies depending on nectar flow and the availability of drawn comb versus foundation. If your area has lots of fall flowers, less feeding will be required. Previously built (drawn) comb helps, but your nuc will build comb if they have a steady supply of nectar or sugar syrup.

Success in overwintering a nuc has the same elements as does management of a full sized colony. To obtain lots of young bees going into winter, the queen must lay lots of eggs late into fall. A newly mated summer queen is said to produce more eggs than does an older queen (even a spring queen). However, to encourage the queen to lay, her colony must have lots of nectar and pollen (feed sugar syrup and pollen substitute if there is no honey flow). Most importantly, monitor and, if necessary, treat for Varroa mites. Provide wind protection, mouse guards and upper ventilation. Wrapping your nuc with roofing paper or other insulation further contributes to survival. Two nucs can be wrapped together, thus insulating each other; in this configuration, they cluster on their shared wall.

The picture below shows a nuc in 3 5-frame medium boxes with a feeding rim (for feeding fondant if necessary), upper ventilation and an upper entrance (both provided by an inverted inner cover), an insulated board and an outer cover. This is the configuration before wrapping. The wrapping is done without covering the upper entrance.

Consider overwintering a nuc! Make a split from one of your most successful colonies and let them raise their own queen, make a split and install a queen cell from one of the local bee club programs, or buy a starter nuc containing a new, locally reared queen. You will find multiple uses for this new “reserve” colony!


Configuration of nuc prior to wrapping


Wrapped nuc in winter