I just finished reading the February 2012 edition of the American Bee Journal. In this edition, I discovered a most interesting article: “The Half-Hive: Setting Up and Managing a Nucleus Hive“. The author, Larry Connor, does a wonderful job of explaining the proper use of a Hive Nucleus in an apiary. I have never really understood the purpose before. Mr. Connor does such a fine job, that I am now totally motivated to build and use a nucleus in my apiary thisyear.
To start with, a nucleus is essentually a half hive. That is, instead of using a super with 10 frames, a nucleus uses a super with only 5 frames. The reason being that the purpose of a nucleus is to be an apiary nursery, not to produce honey, like a normal hive.
So what exactly is an apiary nursery? An apiary nursery is a nucleus that is used to produce frames of brood. Once the brood is capped, the frames are moved from the nucleus hive to anormal hive. Worker bees and the queen must be removed from the brood frames(shake em baby, shake em) before they are transferred. Otherwise, you would be moving worker bees from one hive to anotherand a fight might break out.
Besides, you want the nucleus work bees to stay at home and produce more broodframes.
Adding brood frames to a hive, strengthens the hive by quickly adding worker bees. I have tried added swarms to an existing hive, in the past, with minimalresults. The worker bees started fighting and the result was lots of dead bees. Adding brood frames is like adding a swarm without a fight.
You can create as many nukes as you want. But I have decided to use a single nucleus this year in my apiary. I want to start simple. I will ensure that the nucleus always has at least one frame of brood. Extra frames will be moved to normal hives, when the brood is capped. Thus the nucleus will never get larger than a single super.
At the end of the season, I will add a new queen to the nucleus, to help it make it through the winter. Hopefully, the nucleus will result in stronger honey hives that survive thewinter.