Beekeeping is not all honey and roses. This summer we had a stark reminder of how, despite our best efforts, a project can go inexplicably wrong.
The project in question was the creation of a new ‘nuc‘ or nucleus colony – a small ‘starter colony’ consisting of a queen and some worker bees. The idea was that once the nuc was functional and healthy, we would use it to populate a spare hive in Passfield Hall.
The nuc was to be housed in a nuc box – the small box in between the white hive and the cedar hive (pictured below).
The nuc queen was imported from Greece and she arrived – believe it or not – by post! She came in a ‘queen introduction cage’ (pictured below). The cage has a plug of sugar candy, which takes the bees a few days to eat through. This delays the release of the queen into the new colony, giving the other bees enough time to get used to her scent and reducing the likelihood that the bees will attack and kill the alien queen.
Of course a queen needs subjects, and to that end we took a couple of healthy frames from the white hive and placed them in the nuc box. And then, with our fingers firmly crossed, we walked away.
We came back a week later to check on the nuc, but the inspection was inconclusive. The nuc seemed active, but we could not see any eggs. The week after, the nuc box was abandoned.
With many bee-related calamities, the causes are unknown, and so it was with the failure of our nuc. Having a fraction of the workforce of a regular colony, nucs are extremely vulnerable. Ours may have been enfeebled by the unseasonable rain in the week after we set it up. Luke, our professional beekeeper, said some of the other Greek queens from the same batch had also not assimilated well, and a strong queen bee is crucial for the health of a hive. Whatever the causes, we have to move on and recommence our efforts to breed a new nuc.