(*Please note that this is written on opinion. There are many ways to beekeep so find what works best for you)
Nucs: (This topic I felt necessary because of bad info given to customers of someone selling nucs in the valley which is ending up in those customers likely to lose their bees over the winter)
So when you are looking for a nuc, first off try to find someone local to obtain bees that have been in our environment. Local should be within 100km in any direction but sometimes the options require going further away. Consider bees in Niagara or Thunder Bay might do well, but they would have to adapt to our location. Not saying they won’t adapt over time, but if you can make the transition minimal, they will do better and build up quicker.
Order your nucs early in the winter. Take the time to research the bees and the supplier and get your order in early to ensure your bees will be there in the spring. January and February are best. Wait till later and you might end up on the end of a long list.
So May comes and you get your nuc. A new beekeeper should take your time in installing them. Rolling (killing) the queen can be costly and set you back. When installing in your hive, you want to remove 7 frames from the lower brood box. The remaining frames should be pushed up against the side. Remove the first outer frame from the nuc box gently so not to roll your queen. Inspect the frame and look for your queen and new eggs. New eggs will look like rice standing on end but smaller. If you don’t see the eggs, not problem. Many have trouble seeing them so look for very young larva. If you don’t find her, place the frame in the center of the vacant space and slide it over next to the 3 frames already in the box. Pull another frame and repeat the process. Try not to change the sequence of the frames. You want to keep the brood nest the same as it’s still likely cold in the evenings so you want to make sure they can cluster back over the brood. Hopefully you find the queen during this process. If not, the sighting of eggs confirms laying pattern and the presence of a queen. Now your nuc is installed and you should still be missing 3 frames on the other side of the brood box. Place the first one in the same way sliding it gently up to the last nuc frame with bees. Drop the last two in and place your inner and outer cover on top.
The next step is the most important. Feed them 1:1 syrup and give them as much as they will take. Continue to feed until you have comb drawn out on the 8 center frames and the bees have just started to draw out the comb on the number 1 and 10 frame on the inside of the frame. Once you get to this point, you can then take the 2 outside frames and move them in to the 2nd and 9th locations or even the 3rd and 7th location. And add your second box. At this point you can stop feeding and let them draw comb from the resources they collect. The importance of feeding for drawing comb in the first box is that you want to expand the brood comb as fast as possible as the queen can lay on 7-10 frames with a mix of pollen and honey stored. If you maximize the first box quickly, you build population much quicker which is key to them building the rest of the hive.
Generally the nuc sellers will tell you don’t expect honey your first year. But depending on your location, you might luck out and get a small amount. Building comb is the greatest importance the first year of a new hive. Drawn comb is gold.
As a side note, most early nucs are sold with imported queens. Consider requeening with a quality Ontario queen early to mid-August to increase your chances of having a colony survive the winter.
Queens & Queen Selection: When selecting a queen, especially imported queens, consider where they come from and have an understanding of a bit of bee biology. Most queens recently came from locations like California, Hawaii, Australia and Chile. All these locations have no winter temperatures like we have in our area. Australia’s most southern point is likely the coldest of the 4 and its coldest winter temperature is about 5C. Now understanding the bee biology, and knowing about spring/summer bees differ from fall/winter bees, we need to know what the major difference is. Spring/summer bees are born to work, so they are born with majority of muscle. They work themselves to death and have a short life. The fall/winter bees do minimal work and are the bees that require to survive 5-6 months through the winter. They are born with large amounts of fat deposits (vitellogenin) and very little muscle. The fat is the insulation that helps insulate the bee(s) and the cluster. They have a small amount of muscle used to vibrate to generate heat.
So if we consider the imported queens that are developed in areas with no winters like ours, it’s likely that these queens missing the winter traits, when creating fall/winter bees, develop bees with probably more muscle and little fat. So they essentially create bees that can’t maintain enough heat in the cluster lacking the fat to insulate each other and new spring brood. Because they can’t maintain incubator temperatures of about 34-35C, the eggs/larva likely don’t develop and the winter bees eventually die off with no new bees born.
Yes we do have imported queens that can survive, but it’s likely because of what the beekeeper did but insulating the hive well and helping them through the winter. But it’s not like the queens/bees were any better quality.
So your best chances of getting good strong quality bees and having the best chances of them surviving the winter is obtained by putting Ontario stock queens in your hives. There are many beekeepers all over Ontario that breed fantastic queens, and ORHBS queen producers are likely the best you can get. ORHBS queens are breed with making some of the best quality queens with traits best for our area. Some traits are honey production, population strength, calmness, stayness (not easily knocked of the frames) and several other factors. You will likely pay a lot for a top quality queen from the ORHBS, so other breeders might be a cheaper option.
Looking at specific breeds of queens isn’t really anything to worry about, but some people have to have that one breed. You might try queens from several breeders, and eventually find something you are happy with. Calmness should always be something you should have in your yard. If the bees are calm, you are more content, and you both work well together.
Here is a link to understanding winter bees better.