What is a Bee Nuc in Beekeeping

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The Nuc Beehive

What is a bee nuc and what can you do with one? No, it is not some secret honey bee nuclear device. Nucs are actually small mini-sized bee families. Nucs can be a valuable asset to any beekeeping program. They are a good alternative for beekeeping beginners, especially where package bees are not available.

Honey bee nuc bee hive with bees image.

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.

Full frames of drawn comb containing honey and some pollen are inside. Some brood or baby bees is present on the frames in various stages of development.

A queen bee and enough worker bees of all ages to cover the frames completes our mini colony. Herein, everything needed for the small colony to grow.

Row of nuc beehives value of bee nucs image.

Definition of a Bee Nuc

Normally, when we use the word bee nuc, we are referring to a small family of bees and the equipment they are living on or in.

What does the word nuc mean? The word “nuc” is actually an abbreviation for “nucleus”. You will see it spelled “nuc” “nuke” “nook” and pronounced several different ways.

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
5 frame bee nuc with bees image.

Is Buying a Nucleus Hive a Good Idea?

Buying nucs can be a good way to begin beekeeping. But be sure that you understand exactly what you are paying for.

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. Remember that bee nucs are 5 frames most often, but can be 4 or even 3 frames.

How Many Bees are in a Nuc?

The number of honey bees included in a nuc will be around 10,000 to 15,000 bees.

However, this number can vary greatly depending on the quality of the nucleus hive. And remember, you are not just buying bees.

You are also purchasing brood in varies stages of development and drawn out comb with honey and pollen.

A bee nuc begins to grow immediately, they do not have to begin from scratch like a package of bees.

What Does a Nuc Beehive Cost?

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.

The cost of purchasing a bee nuc can vary 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.

All nucs are not created equal. Some sellers do a better job of providing quality bee nucs. Do your research before buying.

How do You Transport a Nuc of Bees?

When transporting a nuc of bee our goal is to get the bees home safely. 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.

A good quality nucleus colony will be filled with bees. They are unable to cool the hive in the normal way.

If you are transporting a nuc in one of the cardboard carry boxes, I really like to place a netting around the box.

This can be as simple as a mesh laundry bag – it is cheap insurance for the drive home. You can also purchase a zip nuc bag for the same purpose.

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.

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.

The members of a honey bee nucleus colony feel differently about the matter. This regular “mini-sized” colony has resources and baby bees to protect.

It is a good idea to wear your beekeeping protective gear and light your smoker.

With proper planning installing a bee nuc in your equipment usually goes off without much trouble. Proceed as you would when doing any type of beehive inspection. Moving calmly and with care.

Purchased nuc bees in a temporary carry box image.

How Long Can Bees Stay in a Nuc?

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.

A nuc box of bees should be transferred to a full sized hive as soon as they are utilizing most of the space in the nuc.

A purchased nuc should be populous enough for the beekeeper to install them in a full sized hive as soon as they arrive home.

The nucleus hive can become over crowded just like a regular sized hive. Yes, your nuc hive can swarm.

Bee Nuc Boxes are Handy In Beekeeping

Bee boxes that hold these mini-families of bees are really cute and useful. 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.

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 box for less than $80. This includes the bottom board, deep, inner cover and top. The frames and foundation you have to add.

What is a Bee Nuc Box Used for?

Nucleus colonies are one of the most under-used components of beekeeping equipment.

  • 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

But every beekeeper should have a couple of bee nuc boxes on hand. They are very handy for a variety of beekeeping tasks.

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.

Final Word on Beekeeping Nucs

Whether you are purchasing a nuc of bees to start a new hive or a couple of nuc bee boxes to use in your apiary, nucs truly have a place in beekeeping.

From housing small splits to catching swarms, those bee nuc boxes come in handy – never discard them.

Beekeeper Charlotte

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