Buying a Nuc of Bees

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One popular method of obtaining honey bees for a new hive is buying 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. Along with every other method of getting bees – the purchase of a nuc hive is not without risks. Learn the ins and outs of how to buy a nuc.

Nucleus colony of bees with numbered frames, bee nuc 5 frame.

In truth, not all bees nucs for sale are created equal and that is part of the risk involved. You need to understand the basics before investing your money in buying honey bees in this form.

How to Buy a Honey Bee Nuc

The word nuc (pronounced “nuke”), bee nuc, “nuc of bees” or nucleus colony all mean the same thing. This refers to a small bee family but you get more than just bees.

The nucleus or center of a colony includes: the queen bee, workers, and drones. Unlike buying a package of bees, a honey bee nuc includes frames of honeycomb with bee brood and stores of food. Colony growth has a head start.

Common Sizes

Most of the nucs sold in the US are 5 frames in size. This is usually 5 deep frames that fit in a Langstroth hive of the correct dimensions.

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 and this may not be suitable for cold regions.

Colorful honey bee nucs sitting in an orchard.

Advantages of Buying Nucs

Purchasing a bee nuc does have some obvious advantages. 

  • comb is drawn out
  • food stores are present
  • brood is developing
  • the bees already know the queen

Drawn Comb

Honeycomb has been constructed on all 5 frames – your bees only need to complete the comb on the remaining frames in your box.

This saves the beekeeper the expense and time involved in feeding bees at a high rate to encourage the bees to draw comb. The new colony does not have to start from scratch building thousands of hexagonal cells.

Honey & Pollen Present

Also, some food is present. A frame or two of honey and pollen should be in place inside the nuc. 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.

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Developing Brood

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).

Deep frame from a nuc hive with bee brood and workers.

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.

Foragers coming and going from the entrance of a bee nuc hive.

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

Harder to Find

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.

Later Spring Delivery

Good suppliers want to ensure that they sell nucs with a good brood pattern and strong work force. Therefore, nucs are often not available for delivery until late Spring.

If weather delays delivery even more – some beekeepers find themselves waiting until Summer to start their hive.

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 more effort on feeding sugar water to your bees.

More Expensive

What does a nuc of bees cost? I hate to give a quote because of the many variables. But, expect to pay between $190 and $275 for a quality nuc hive. This is before any possible shipping costs.

Risk of Disease

The biggest concern with nucs is the increased possibility of transmitting honey bee diseaseHoneycomb wax can contain a multitude of bacteria and pathogens.

The most deadly danger is getting bees or equipment containing American Foulbrood spores. This is a serious disease in any apiary and can live in empty equipment for years.

There is also a risk of lesser diseases. 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 honey bee pests in any hive with comb. It is not uncommon to receive a colony that has pests. Consider installing small hive beetle traps right away if you buy a nuc.

Bees returning to nuc hive and beekeeper with deep hive frame.

Ordering Your Nuc Bees

People normally order and pay for nuc colonies in advance. The best time to order bee nucs is late Winter. This is when bee suppliers first begin to take orders – sometimes the prices are a bit lower.

Expect to pay a deposit if not full payment. Delivery usually happens in April, May or June.

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.

Expect Quality

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.

Where to Find Nucs for Sale

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.

FAQs

Is it better to buy a nuc or a package of bees?

Buying bee packages is less expensive and you don’t have as high of a risk of pests or disease. However, a healthy nuc should build up into a full colony much faster.

Can you harvest honey from a first year nuc?

Whether or not, a nucleus colony produces a honey harvest the first year depends on many factors including foraging resources. It is possible that a nuc may produce a small harvest the first year.

How much do bee nucs cost?

Expect to pay an average of $200 for 5 frame bee nucs. Cost will go up or down depending on region, availability and the type of box you receive the bees in.

Final Thoughts

Purchasing a nuc of bees is a great way to get started in beekeeping. However, all this assumes that the nucleus colony is healthy. A healthy package may out perform a bee nuc that is not healthy.

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.

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2 Comments

  1. Randy Birak says:

    thank you, very helpful i was thinking of getting more bees.this help me understand more so i can make a choise on what to get.

  2. Charlotte Anderson says:

    You are welcome. Nucs are great – well good quality nucs are great. But, they are not always better than packages – good luck for the season.