Caring for your nuc
Just some thoughts on how I would care for a nuc. No absolutes and everyone does things differently. I will update this from time to time with more information and recommendations as my practices change.
Preparing for bees
First thing you need to do after deciding you want some honeybees is educate yourself a little. I would recommend you read up and/or watch some videos on beekeeping. Taking a class would also be great but not a requirement. The University of Arkansas is a good place to start, they also offer classes. You will need to buy a hive and some basic beekeeping equipment. I would start out with at least a bee suit, gloves, smoker and hive tool. The type of hive you need to buy is a deep hive; deep refers to the size of the frame that goes into the hive.
The best time to pick up is either before daylight in the morning or after sunset. That way the bees don’t overheat with the entrance closed on the way home and all the forager bees are also still in the hive as well, so you actually get more bees. I recommend you bring your bee suit and smoker just in case of a mishap on the way home.
This is my recommended way to install. Once you get the bees home place the nuc box on the exact spot where you are going to be placing the hive or on top of your hive. Smoke the entrance and then open. The forager bees will reorientate to that location by flying in a figure 8 pattern outside the front. If you picked up at night wait till the day to install. If picked up in the morning wait an hour or so to install the bees, this will allow the foragers to leave so you will have less bees to deal with. Put the nuc box on the ground and the hive in it’s place and move one frame at a time starting at the outside frame in the nuc box. Place all the nuc frames in the middle of the hive in the order they were in the nuc. Fill in with the remaining space with additional frames. If using a frame feeder place it on the outside position (not in between frames). The foragers will fly back to the same location and then into the new hive. Make sure you are using an entrance reducer.
You can also read about installing a nuc here.
I would recommend feeding them 1:1 sugar syrup through the summer to help the hive build up population. Mix equal parts of water and sugar to make 1:1 syrup. Feed the bees once a week until about 80% of the frames in the first hive body are drawn out with bees covering all the frames. Then add second hive body on top of the first. You can back off or stop feeding them once they are almost full draw out the second box. Once it gets hot outside it the sugar syrup can ferment so you will need to change it every 5-7 days or just put out enough for them to use in a 5-7 day period.
Locally around end of May into July would be the time to harvest honey depending on weather and other factors. I do not harvest any honey from the new hives the first year. Additionally you would not put on honey supers while feeding syrup as that would adulterate your honey with sugar syrup. In late July (or once it dries up and gets hot) I recommend testing for varroa mites and treating. I recommend Apivar or oxalic acid but there are several treatments available, just follow the directions for use. Oxalic acid requires 4-5 treatments in a row spaced 5-7 days apart.
Check your hive for honey stores, you want at least 50-70 pounds of honey for the hive going into the winter. Feed them 2:1 heavy syrup if they are light, 2 parts sugar to 1 part hot water (hot water helps sugar dissolve). In addition to honey stores the bees also need protein, I recommend you feed 2-3 pounds of a protein patty if they are light on pollen. I recommend you treat for mites again in fall. Some beekeepers also treat for mites in winter with oxalic acid vapor in addition to other treatment. At the end of fall place a few pounds of dry sugar in the top of the hive or use sugar fondant. There are several ways to do this, I use a spacer (so my hive cover will fit on) and place newspaper on the top frames of the hive then just pour dry sugar on top of the newspaper. This provides emergency feed just in case they need it and also helps absorb additional moisture.
Not much to do with the actual bees. On warm days when the temperature is above 60°f you should see the bees out and about. Every few weeks I would do a weight check on the hive, lift up one side of the hive to check the weight. If light you can try feeding them heavy syrup or adding more dry sugar. It is hard sometimes to get bees to take syrup in the cold of winter, lucky our winters in Arkansas are actually mild in comparison to beekeepers in the north. You can treat for mites with oxalic acid as mentioned above during winter.
The most important time to check for stores is in late January into early March. The weather can be warm enough that the bees are out and about but not much nectar is available. I recommend feeding some 1:1 syrup starting around February (depending on weather) if the hive is light until mid March. The hive should be strong by mid March and you might have to watch for swarming in the next few weeks…but that’s a whole another discussion.