The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861

The Remarkable Honey Bee

Beekeeping By the Numbers

- January 1, 2015 - Larry Connor - (excerpt)

The concept of the increase or nucleus hive is directly credited to L. L. Langstroth in his original The Hive and the Honey Bee. Langstroth’s hive was based upon movable frames that honored and respected the bee space—the thickness of two worker bees on opposite combs that allows them to work without bumping into each other—while not wasting space. In the western honey bee this space is about 3/8ths of an inch (9.5-10 mm). Langstroth frames were inserted and removed from the top of a box called the hive body and were not attached to the side or in a drawer configuration as were other hives of the early 1800’s. This allowed Langstroth the ability to easily take frames from one hive and put them into another, removing frames of bees and brood from a strong colony, and, adding a new queen to the new unit or allowing the bees to raise a new queen. This created a new colony that he called a nucleus, a colony in miniature or reduced size and bee strength. Frames of bees and brood frames were easily removed from a larger hive and placed into a new hive to form the nucleus. By adding a laying queen, a virgin queen, or a queen cell, Langstroth and his many followers were quickly able to produce many new colonies from their existing colonies to develop new increase colonies.
In reaction to the heavy losses many single colony beekeepers experience we strongly recommend that every new beekeeper start with a minimum of two colonies of bees and attempt the production of at least one increase colony during their first beekeeping season.1 As simple as it sounds, not all beekeepers routinely rely on the nucleus increase system in their own apiary operation. Many are afraid to make an increase colony out of their fear of failure. Others may have failed in earlier attempts, and are reluctant to try making increase nuclei again. We will address some of the key factors and concepts of all colonies, and how these apply to our making an increase nucleus. Before we get into the nucleus making process, first we must understand the essential basic parts of a healthy have.