Bruce Bryant
Rusty Foltz
Branson MacKay


Field Report #1 – Thursday, 3/26/20


First – though I am writing this report and am happy to help coordinate activities regarding a “nuc program” among BONS members, I am not an expert on nuc production. From the list of folks who have expressed interest in this endeavor, I see names of people who are much more talented and successful at this than I am. Input from all of you is encouraged and welcomed. Feel free to contact me with information on your nuc activities, thoughts, and desires. I will spread the word among BONS club members.


Second – Our mission – as I remember it, and as it is in its infancy – is to encourage club members to produce nucs…both for their own apiaries and for possible sale. This follows a consensus among beekeepers that locally produced queens and hives contributes to the concept of “sustainability”. A key point is the size of the apiary does not matter. You can do it with a couple of hives, or many. Also, if you are successful in overwintering hives, you will either make a nuc or the bees will (by swarming). By actively disseminating information about the nuc process, having some individuals willing to help members make nucs, and having some members who have graciously offered their yards for training, it does not fall on just a few “long time” beekeepers to provide the nuc inventory.


Extra note: COVID-19 has certainly thrown a wrench into many group activities with the club. As a remedy to this, we have offered “mini field day” excursions for our beginning beekeeping students. John Lewis – the class coordinator and actively involved in decisions at Valley Health about the virus – has offered his apiary for groups of 1-4 people. This seems to be a safe level of human interaction right now. Cindy offered me the opportunity to bring 2 students though none signed up.  We felt confident in using proper health practices, such as, “social distancing”, in small “responsible” groups, outside, so that we were not risking spreading COVID-19 or other disease.


Field report – Cindy Potter (one of the 4 who met to discuss nuc production for our members) had 4 hives and one nuc that overwintered and were doing extremely well. Since there have been reports from two weeks ago of swarming already observed in Manassas and in Keedysville, Western Maryland, she was concerned about losing her overwintered bees.  On, 3/26, with a break in the rain and high temp of 64 degrees, it was a perfect day to inspect hives. Cindy called me and asked if I would help. When I arrived, she had all her equipment organized and ready to go! She had a check list for us to go through so she could ascertain the status of each hive and take action as needed. She had in mind the following thoughts:


  • Look for swarm cells
  • If swarm cells were found, distribute some of those frames in a 3-section queen mating box
  • Utilize a “Doolittle”[1] system to pull brood comb and get them covered with nurse bees without having to capture and isolate the queen.
  • Depending on the state of the swarm cells either release pressure on the hive by giving them space, or creating an artificial swarm to hopefully keep from losing the original queen.
  • Insert some drone brood comb as a mite decreasing strategy
  • Provide some honey comb saved from last year to hives that could use the boost


An outside inspection of the hives showed high activity indicative of foraging and maybe some orientation flights. There was a fair amount of yellow pollen being brought in as well as some red pollen. On each hive we would tip each box and look for swarm cells along the bottom of the frames. We saw no swarm cells, even in the most crowded of her hives. There were cells we determined could be “cups”, but a close inspection showed no royal jelly or egg inside. It could be that these cups where just the beginnings of drone cells as evidenced by the cluster of cells around them. Since we saw no swarm cells along the bottom of the frames we decided because 1) the bees were incredibly calm and occupied and 2) it was a great sunny day, that we would inspect deeper – pulling almost every frame from every box! Even though this could risk hurting the queen and disrupting the hive, a full inspection is easier with two people and it would give us a more complete assessment of the hives for follow-up action.

The inspections were quite interesting. We found a lot of capped and opened brood as well as many eggs in every hive. We found the queens in 2 out of 5 hives…but evidence, by eggs, of healthy queens in all hives. She decided to place drone bait comb in 5 of the hives. She placed reserved honey comb in 3 hives.


Thoughts for future action

  • With the high count of capped brood frames and prolific laying of her queens, we speculate she may be able to produce up to 10 nucs!! She has been inspected by a regional inspector – Elizabeth Cromer who was helping out our local inspector, Amanda Bly – so she could be ready to make nucs soon. The limiting factor, of course, is always the availability of queens. There is rumor that Eversweet may be getting queens by April 1st.
  • Since we found no swarm cells, we did not transfer frames to the queen mating box
  • I advised her not to use the Doolittle system to pull nursing bees on to brood comb unless she was ready to move them into splits/nucs. Left alone they would emerge and add to the population thus adding pressure to an already full hive
  • My advice was to utilize the Doolittle system to prepare brood comb for nucs the day before she is to make and sell, or utilize in her apiary. For the nucs she would sell, she could make the nucs and insert a queen as the folks are there to purchase their nuc.
  • Most of the hives have a really good temperament. I suggested those are good queens to use for making queens (another goal some in our group have!).


Summary – it was a great day working bees that were calm, doing well, and with a fellow beekeeper in love with Honey Bees! We are looking forward to more activities as folks check their hives and find they need to take action to manage their hives as the modern hive and frame construction allows!


Again, feel free to contact me with questions and suggestions.

Rusty Foltz – default and humble administrator of the BONS Nuc Group

(reviewed and added to by Cindy)



[1] Doolittle system – Remove brood comb and inspect for queen. If queen, isolate her. If no queen, shake as many bees as possible off the frame. Insert the frame in a hive body located on top of a queen excluder and on top of the hive. The nurse bees will be drawn up through the excluder by the brood. Within 24 hours the brood comb will be covered by nurse bees.