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If you want to begin beekeeping, you need some bees. There are several ways to get bees for your hive. One popular method is to buy a nuc of bees. The word nuc comes from the term “nucleus colony”. It is not the cheapest way to get a hive started. But, it is a quick way to grow a colony. However, not all bee nucs are created equal. Here are some basics that you need to know before investing your money.
How to Buy a Bee Nuc
The word nuc (pronounced “nuke”) is used in the industry as a short form of “nucleus”. A bee nuc, “nuc of bees” or nucleus colony are all the same thing.
These words refer to a small bee family. The nucleus or center of the colony includes: the queen, workers, and drones – as well as the comb, food and developing young.
Unlike buying a package bees, a honey bee nuc includes frames of honeycomb including brood and stores of food. Colony growth has a head start.
Why Beekeepers Value Nucs
From a nucleus, a honey bee colony can grow to be large and productive – the only thing needed is time and space to grow.
If you are starting a new hive, you can expect one started with a nuc to reach full size more quickly than using package honey bees.
There are several reasons for this but one issue is that much of the honeycomb has already been built. Honey bees do a great job of building comb but it takes a lot of effort.
However, all this progress assumes that the nucleus colony is healthy. A healthy package may out perform a bee nuc that is not healthy.
Common Sizes of Nucs Sold
Most of the nucs sold in the US are 5 frames in size. This is usually 5 deep frames that fit in a standard Langstroth hive body.
Though deep frames have been the standard, some suppliers offer bees in medium sized frames too. Be sure to discuss this with your supplier so you will have the right equipment on hand.
In addition, some suppliers offer smaller sized nucs for sale. Buying a 3 or 4 frame bee nuc is good for some situations. But it will take longer for your new colony to reach production strength.
Location and weather are also a consideration. Most of these small colonies are started in early Spring. You want to ensure that the new colony has enough population to maintain warmth in the hive on cold nights.
In Northern regions, a colony that is too small may freeze out in very early Spring. If you live in a frigid area, it might be best to consider at least a 5 frame nucleus colony.
Advantages of Buying Bees in a Nuc
- comb is drawn out
- food stores are present
- brood is developing
- the bees already know the queen
Purchasing a bee nuc does have some obvious advantages. A lot of work has already been done. Honeycomb has been constructed on half the frames in the box (assuming you are using a 10 frame hive.)
The new colony does not have to start from scratch building thousands of hexagonal beeswax cells. A frame or two of honey and pollen should be in place inside the hive.
Of course the work force will begin to collect nectar right away but stored honey is very beneficial to the nurse bees feeding young.
Even though bees do sleep (or rest), the colony does not stop working at night. Food in the hive means they can carry on during the night and on rainy days.
Having developing brood prevents the temporary drop in population that we see with packages. In fact, several frames of bee brood should be present. From fresh eggs to capped brood, the next generation is in the works.
New adult bees are emerging every day to replace those that die of natural causes. This colony will grow in population rapidly.
With a nuc, the population increases steadily – unlike packages that have a temporary decline in population until eggs are laid and new brood emerges (usually about 3 weeks).
Queen is Already Accepted
The nuc colony contains a queen bee that is already accepted by the workers. This queen has been in the hive laying for a while. This is one of the biggest advantages of buying a nuc.
There is no need to worry about a queen being accepted. She is already in place and known by the colony. Hopefully, the supplier verified her brood pattern so you can be assured that she is doing her job.
Of course if you do not like the performance of your queen, you can always buy another queen later.
Disadvantages of Nucs
It would seem that buying a bee nuc is the absolute best way to get started in beekeeping. And, some people would argue that it is. However, they are not without a few disadvantages.
- limited availability
- delivered later in the Spring
- more expensive
- risk of disease
There are many more bee packages available for sale than nucs. You may not be able to purchase one – especially if you fail to order early.
Good suppliers want to ensure that they sell nucs with a good brood pattern.Therefore, nucs are often not available for delivery until late Spring.
If you live in an area that has an early honey flow, the majority of the bloom time may be past before your nuc arrives. That’s okay-but it means that you may have to spend on effort on feeding your bees.
What does a nuc of bees cost? I hate to give a quote because of the many variables. But, expect to pay between $175 and $250.
The biggest concern is getting bees or equipment containing American Foulbrood Spores. This is a serious disease in any apiary.
The bacteria that causes EFB or European Foulbrood may be present too. But, it is not as dangerous as AFB and the colony can recover.
Another possible problem is the presence of an intestinal pathogen- called Nosema Disease.
There is also a bigger risk of obtaining pests in any hive with comb. It is not uncommon to receive a colony that has Small Hive Beetles or other pests.
Ordering Your Nuc Bees
People normally order and pay for nuc in advance. Late December or early January is the most popular ordering months. Delivery happens in April, May or June.
The best time to order bee nucs is late Winter or very early Spring. This is when bee suppliers first begin to take orders – sometimes the prices are a bit lower.
Expect to pay a deposit or even the entire cost of the nuc when you order. You need to be a bit flexible on delivery dates.
Beekeepers can not control the weather and bee deliveries can be a few weeks early or late.
Where to Buy a Nuc of Bees
Check with local beekeeping associations and agricultural departments to find a source of nuc sellers.
However, if you decide to purchase a bee nuc choose a reputable beekeeper (or beekeeping business) who will stand behind the sale. What guarantees (if any) do they offer?
What can you do if you pay a deposit and they don’t deliver? Do they refund the money promptly? Approach this as you would any method of buying bees.
Quality, quality, quality – I can not say that enough. Be considerate of your suppliers – selling boxes of thousands of stinging insects is not easy.
But, not all nucs sold are of equal quality – get a clear idea of exactly what you are buying. How many frames? Will all the frames be drawn out with comb?
Quality nucs should be “busting at the seams” with bees – a good population. Installing the bee nuc quickly into a full size hive allows the bee family to get to work.
Be sure that you have your equipment ready to put your nuc into a larger box as soon as they arrive. If the nuc is not full of bees – you may not have received your money’s worth.
Upon arriving back home with your nuc, it is best to take it straight to the bee yard. A good nuc should be ready to size up into a regular 8 or 10 frame hive.
Purchasing a nucleus colony is a great way to get started in beekeeping. The challenges involved are different than those of package bees.
However, every method of getting started has ups and downs. Getting a jump start on hive growth may outweigh the disadvantages of choosing a bee nuc for your new hive.