Today, on the winter solstice, I reflect on my beekeeping experiences over the past nine months. I have gained much knowledge, yet I feel I have just scratched the surface of the bees’ world. They are, by far one of God’s most interesting and complex creatures. There is much that humans, as a species, could stand to learn from the bees’ sense of community, duty and loyalty; however, that’s too much to tackle with this post. For now, I would like to share some thoughts on my decision to begin with NUCs. In my first blog post, I highlighted the reasons I chose the NUC. Since then, I have had the great luck of gaining three additional hives, all from swarms. I have noticed some pretty big differences between my NUC colonies and my swarms this year. I want to share those with you, so that others may make a more informed decision when getting into beekeeping and deciding how to obtain their first hives.
Varroa mites were an issue this year, and a big one. This is one of the biggest problems that bees and beekeepers face. I’m not going to get into the specifics of the problem, there’s tons of material to get you up to speed in that area on the web. However, there was a big difference in mite population between my NUCs and my swarms. The NUCs had a much higher mite population, where the swarms had seemingly little to no mite problem. This makes sense though, if you think about it. When you purchase a NUC, you get bees and frames of brood. Mites breed in the brood; so it is to be expected that mites are transferred to your NUC in the frames obtained from the original hive. With a swarm, you’re not transferring any frames; this breaks the brood cycle and does wonders against the mite population.
This was a great year for honey and the NUCs did not disappoint in that regard. However, I was more impressed with how quickly the swarms built-out their comb, grew their population, and collected enough stores for winter. While they didn’t produce an excess of honey in their first year, they got themselves in a good position for winter. I think that swarms have a different mentality; they know that they must work quickly to prepare themselves for the winter, therefore they are noticeably more vigorous workers. Even a tiny swarm that I obtained in late July filled a five frame NUC with brood and honey stores, growing their population enough to make me question whether I should re-home them in a 10 frame deep. I decided they would be better off packed into the five frame NUC for winter.