Based on my instincts and the advice of an older beekeeper I consulted at the Alabama Beekeepers Convention, I opted to move my swarm colony from the 2-story, 5-frame medium nuc to an actual hive. Got that taken care of Sunday afternoon, September 29.
The guy I’d most likely describe as my beekeeping mentor, Keith Fletcher, had advised me to let the swarm hive overwinter in the 2-story nuc. But the set-up just didn’t seem stable enough and I was concerned about the size of the colony in light of the space available, even in a 2-story nuc.
When I asked Wil Montgomery about whether to move the colony into a real hive or leave it in the nuc for the winter, he immediately said “move it.”
Advice I’d received on the beesource.com forum was to let the swarm colony stay in the nuc for a month, to get settled in. I was told that swarms will sometimes move on if they’re disturbed too much.
My goal was to move the swarm hive with as little disruption as possible, although taking everything out of the nucs and putting them into a regular hive was pretty disruptive.
Once I started setting up in advance of the hive move, I realized I had two 5-frame nuc boxes stacked on top of each other. Everything I’d read before said to put the frames in the same position in the new hive as they appeared in the nuc. That meant I needed two medium boxes, because I had a 2-story nuc.
On the one hand, two medium boxes seemed like extra space to protect. But it’s still warm here and my hope is that they could continue to store food for the winter, for at least the month of October.
My first step was to get all the hive equipment stationed around the nuc location.
Then I figured out my exact plan of action, which I followed precisely and methodically:
- Move the nuc boxes just behind and to the side of the original location of the nuc.
- Position the bottom board in the exact location of the nuc and make sure it was level.
- Position the first medium box on the bottom board. Check that level.
- Transfer the five frames from the bottom nuc box into the bottom medium box in the same position as in the nuc box.
- Add five empty frames on each side of those frames transferred from the nuc.
- Add a second medium box on top of the lower box.
- Transfer the five frames from the second nuc box into the second medium, again in the same position as in the nuc box.
- Add five empty frames on each side.
- Place the inner cover on top of the second box.
- Place a third box on top of the inner cover, to serve as their feeding station.
- Position the syrup containers in the feeding box.
- Place another vented inner cover on top of the feeding box.
- Place the outer cover on top of that inner cover.
- Hope for the best.
Needless to say, once I started the process the bees were very stirred up. The smoker didn’t seem to help much. But I was calm and fulling decked out in my Ultrabreeze suit. I worked very methodically.
Leveling the hive was a bit tricky because I hadn’t positioned the nuc in the best possible location in my bee yard but I didn’t want to (couldn’t, shouldn’t) move it.
I didn’t spend any time looking for the queen or checking for eggs. Spotted some capped brood and much more capped honey than I’d anticipated finding.
Of the 10 frames in the 2 nuc boxes, they had fully built-out comb on at least 6 of the frames and were working on 2 others. That made me feel better about putting them in two medium boxes with 20 frames. The swarm colony still has lots of bees and the empty frames will give the extra worker bees an opportunity to do what bees do: Build comb and store nectar and pollen.
After I finished setting up the first two boxes, I realized the opening on the nuc hive was higher than on the 10-frame box, so I added an Imrie shim I had on hand to provide an upper opening. And I placed the entrance reducer to smallest opening in front of the front door on the bottom board.
I didn’t realize how few foundationless frames I had left. I have a box of unassembled frames but didn’t have those ready, so I ended up using mostly RiteCell Foundation frames and maybe 2-3 foundationless frames when I added the remaining frames.
The nuc had started on an alternating mix of foundationless frames and frames with plastic foundation. They had fully built out all of the foundationless frames, so I was really disappointed in myself for not having prepared better to provide them with the foundationless frames. The was only one spot with any foundation that needed to be cut away from the frame.
The bees were really flying around during the transfer, but as soon as I got the frames in the first new box they settled down quite a bit (but not entirely). I assume that’s because the queen was in the lower box.
Once I’d taken care of everything with the new hive, I positioned the bottom nuc box in front of the hive, as the forger bees were coming in and seemed a bit confused about where they lived. Quite a few bees still in the bottom nuc box, even though I’d shaken them out once or twice into the permanent hive.
The entire move took less than an hour (not counting my set up time). Once I had everything closed up and some new sugar syrup in the feeder box, I left them alone. I finished up around 4:30 p.m.
I went back out just at dark to make sure they were OK and everything seemed to be settled down nicely. A few bees were guarding the two small entrances and fewer than 5 bees were still in the original nuc box. I moved the original nuc box from the front of the hive to the side and left it there.
So the transfer seemed to go well, but it will take some time to know for certain.
I love these bees and I feel so honored to have the opportunity to work with them!