What is a Bee Nuc?
Using nucs is a good start in beekeeping for beginners, especially where package bees are not available. These small mini-sized beehives are an important part of any beekeeping program. What is a bee nuc anyway and what can you do with one?
Let’s attempt to define exactly what we are talking about. The word “nuc” is actually an abbreviation for “nucleus”. You will see it spelled “nuc” “nuke” and pronounced several different ways.
The bee nucleus is a small colony. This mini hive is the heart of a honey bee colony – or a starter bee colony.
A nucleus hive consists of 3-5 frames instead of a full 8-10. It is usually only 1 deep box. Inside you should have all the components necessary to build a productive colony.
A queen bee and enough worker bees to cover the frames completes our mini colony. Herein, everything needed for the small colony to grow.
Is it a Nuc or a Nuc?
Beginner beekeepers have a lot of new terminology to learn. To add even more confusion, the term nuc can be used in several ways.
The word nuc could refer to any of the following.
- a small wooden (or other) deep hive box that holds bees
- only the frames and bees – you provide your own box
- both the outside box and the bees and frames inside
Buying a Nucleus Hive
If you are buying bees and want to purchase a nuc, most suppliers sell you just the bees and frames. They are picked up (or shipped) in a temporary carry box.
You carry the box home and install the nuc in your own equipment. This “heart of the colony” will grow fast. It has all the components needed to develop into a regular sized hive.
If a larger local beekeeper has extra bees to sell, pickup may be possible. In this case, the buyer takes an empty full sized hive to the beekeeper’s yard.
A nucleus of bees is placed inside by the seller. You return after dark or the next day to pick up the nuc.
Picking up during the day will result in a loss of foragers unless the seller closes the entrance the night before.
When ordering bees, ask questions until you clearly understand what is included in your purchase. Bear in mind that nucs are 5 frames most often, but can be 4 or even 3 frames.
Installing a Bee Nuc in Your Equipment
The installation of a bee nuc into a larger hive is a bit different than package bees. Package bees are a bit disoriented and have no hive to protect.
Bee nucs feel differently about the matter. This regular “mini-sized” colony has resources and baby bees to protect.
What Does a Nuc Beehive Cost?
The cost of purchasing a bee nuc varies greatly. Are we referring to the bees and frames only as a purchase? If so, You may receive a temporary carry home box to hold them.
Nucs for sale with a nice wood nuc box included tend to be more expensive. The box can be used over and over again in your beekeeping program.
The cost for a 5-frame bee nuc (bees, frames) averages around $150-$200. The supplier, time of year, type of honey bee and location all factor into a price.
All nucs are not created equal. Some sellers do a better job of providing quality bee nucs. Do your research before buying.
Transporting the Nuc Box
A good quality nucleus colony will be filled with bees. They are unable to cool the hive in the normal way. The goal should be to get the box home as soon as possible so the bees can be free.
Make sure the entrance of the nuc is closed and no bees are escaping from any cracks. Please the sealed nuc inside your vehicle so that it will not turn over.
Keep the bees cool – there is danger of overheating. As soon as you arrive home, place the nuc in a cool secure place – or take the nuc directly to the bee yard.
Sit the box down right beside the hive that is to be their home and open the small entrance. The bees will come out and start to investigate and forage.
That’s okay because you have them sitting right where their new home will be located. Now is a good time to get the rest of your gear and prepare for installation.
The Bee Nuc Box
Bee boxes that hold these mini-hives are really cute. They are traditionally the same height as a standard Langstroth deep box.
But, due to the use of fewer frames they are only about half the width. The number of frames 3 or 5 also determines the size of the box. The normal sized frames can be placed directly in a standard hive.
Some beekeepers even use 2 deep nuc boxes stacked on top of each other as the colony grows. And of course, you can buy nuc sized equipment in shallow and medium sizes as well.
What does a bee nuc box cost? You can usually find an unassembled nuc for less than $80. This includes the bottom board, deep, inner cover and top. The frames and foundation you have to add.
How Long Can Bees Stay in a Nuc?
The nucleus hive can become over crowded just like a regular sized hive. Yes, your nuc hive can swarm. A quality nuc of bees has around 10-15K of bees inside.
Move the bees from the nuc to a full-sized hive when there are enough bees to cover 80% of the nuc frames. Bee colonies do well when they are in a box size that is proportionate to the bee population.
What is a Bee Nuc Used for?
Nucleus colonies are one of the most under-used components of beekeeping equipment. As stated, many beekeepers choose to purchase nucleus colonies for new hives.
But every beekeeper should have a couple of bee nuc boxes on hand. They are very handy for a variety of tasks.
Uses for Nuc Boxes
- great for catching small swarms
- lightweight method for moving frames of brood to another beeyard
- swarm cells can be moved to a nuc – make a new queen
- making splits
Based on the design of the Langstroth hive and using the same sizes of frames, nuc boxes serve a useful purpose for any beekeeper.
Use them as a temporary home for a small bee swarm or a place to house queen cells until you have a mated queen.
Because they are small, they do not take up much space and can be easily stored until needed.