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How to Buy a Nucleus Colony – Nuc of Bees

If you want to begin beekeeping, you need some bees. There are several ways to buy honey bees . One popular method of acquiring them is to buy a nuc of bees. Also known as a “nucleus colony”, this is not the cheapest way to get bees but it is a quick way to grow a colony. Not all bee nucs are created equal. Educate yourself to ensure your best chances of getting off to a good start.

image of a 5 frame nuc of honey bees in a box

When Can You Buy Bee Nucs

What is a Nuc or Nucleus Colony?

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.

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These words refer to a small bee family. The nucleus or center of the colony includes: the queen, workers, drones and young bees. Each member of the hive is represented inside the small colony.

Unlike package bees,  a nuc includes frames of honeycomb including brood and stores of food.

image of bee nucs - what you need to know about buying a nuc of bees

Beekeepers Value Nucs for Fast Growth

From any size nucleus, a honey bee colony can grow to be large and productive given the right conditions.  The only thing needed is time and space to grow.

In general, colony growth with a nuc will happen more quickly than package honey bees.  This is because much of the honeycomb has already been built.

Honey bees do a great job of building comb but it takes a lot of effort. A nuc with brood has new bees developing that will soon join the work force.

However, this assumes that the nucleus colony is healthy. A package of healthy bees may out perform a bee nuc that is not healthy.

Common Sizes of Nucleus Colonies

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

But, some suppliers offer smaller colonies for sale. Buying a 3 or 4 frame nuc is also a good idea but it will take longer for your new colony to grow. Location and weather is also a consideration.

Most of these small colonies are started in early Spring. You want to ensure that the nuc box has enough bees 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.

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 bee nucs does have some obvious advantages.   A lot of work has already been done by the bees. This small colony will grow fast.

Honeycomb has been constructed so the colony does not have to work so hard to build thousands of 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. And, the bees will not be able to fly on rainy days – stored food important.

Deep frame from a nuc hive with bee brood image.

Several frames of bee brood should be present in hive. From fresh eggs to capped brood, the next generation of worker bees is in the works. This is important because some bees die every day of old age. Replacements must be on hand.

With a nuc, the population increases steadily – unlike package bees that have a temporary decline in population until eggs are laid and brood emerges.

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 of bees.

There is no need to worry about a queen being accepted. She is already in place and known by the colony.

Once the beekeeper arrives at the bee yard with the nuc. It is time to move this small bee family into a regular 8 or 10 frame hive.  Installing the bee nuc quickly into a full size hive allows the bee family to get to work.

image of a bee nucleus hive in a white box

Disadvantages of Buying Nuc Colonies

It would seem that buying a bee nuc is the absolute best way to get started with bees. However, they are not without a few disadvantages. 

  • limited availability
  • delivered later in the Spring
  • more expensive
  • risk of disease
  • not all are good quality

The best time to order bee nucs is late Winter or very early Spring. This is when bee suppliers begin to take orders.

There are many more bee packages available for sale than nuc boxes of bees. You may not be able to purchase one – especially if you fail to order early.

Suppliers want to ensure that each nuc has a good brood pattern before they are sold. 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.

The biggest concern with nucs is the increased possibility of transmitting pests and disease.  Honeycomb can contain a multitude of bacteria and diseases. The biggest concern is getting bees or equipment containing American Foulbrood Spores.

There is also a bigger risk of obtaining pests in any hive with comb. With thousands of bees busy on the comb, it is often difficult to check before arriving home with the bees.

Ordering Your Bees

Nucs are almost always ordered in advance. Most orders are taken in late December or early January until they are sold out. Delivery happens in April, May or June.

Expect to pay a deposit or even the entire cost of the bees when you order. Expect to be flexible on delivery dates. Beekeepers can not control the weather and bee deliveries can be a few weeks early or late.

If you decide to try a nuc, be sure to purchase from a reputable beekeeper who will stand behind the bees in case of disease or other problems.

Not all nucs sold are of equal quality – get a clear idea of exactly what you are buying. Of course, this is true whenever you are buying bees in any manner.

A Final Word of Buying a Nuc of Bees

Purchasing a nucleus colony is a great way to get started in beekeeping. The challenges involved in are different than that of package bees.  However, every method of getting bees has ups and downs.

Getting a jump start on growth may outweigh the possibilities of disease and pests. A good quality nuc will be bursting with bees. 

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.

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