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The Bee Nuc – [A Valuable Tool for Beekeepers]

The world of beekeeping has some interesting terms. Learning all the different terminology can be quite a task. Have you ever heard of a nuc? What is a bee nuc and do you need to add one to your apiary? No, it is not some secret honey bee nuclear device. Nucs are actually small mini-sized bee families. They can be a valuable asset to any beekeeping program.

Bees at entrance of a nuc hive image.

Definition of a Bee Nuc

Normally, when we use the word “nuc”, we are referring to a small family of bees. The word “nuc” is actually an abbreviation for “nucleus”.

You will see it spelled “nuc” “nuke” “nook” and pronounced several different ways. To add even more confusion, the term nuc can be used in several ways when purchasing bees or equipment.

  • a small wooden (or other) deep hive box that holds bees – nuc box
  • 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.

How Bee Nucs Differ from Packages

When a beekeeper buys a package of bees, he/she receives about 10,000 bees in a transportation box. Workers, drones and a queen are included inside the package.

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When purchasing a bee nuc colony, you receive a similar amount of bees (perhaps more) but that’s not all. Nucs come with frames of finished comb and all the resources needed by the colony.

Most commonly, a nucleus hive consists of 3-5 frames-instead of a full hive size of 8-10 frames. They are usually deep sized frames that fit a standard Langstroth hive.

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

A queen bee and enough worker bees of all ages are included. There should be enough bees to cover the frames completely in our mini colony. This small start should have everything needed to grow into a productive hive..

Is Buying a Nucleus Hive a Good Idea?

Buying nucs can be a good wayt o 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.

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.

These starters colony are a good alternative for beekeeping beginners, especially where package bees are not available.

What Does a Nuc Beehive Cost?

The cost for a 5-frame bee nuc (bees, frames) averages around $150-$250. The supplier, time of year, type of honey bee and location all factor into a price.

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 Many Bees are in a Nuc Colony?

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 as you are with a bee package. 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. This is a clear advantage over a captured swarm or package of bees.

How do You Transport a Nuc of Bees?

When transporting a nuc of bees 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.

Place 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.

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.

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

Bee colonies do well when they are in a box size that is proportionate to the bee population. The nucleus hive can become over crowded just like a regular sized hive. Yes, your nuc hive can swarm.

Beekeeper Charlotte with bee nuc box image.

Value of Nucs in Beekeeping

Bee nucs are valuable to beekeepers in several ways. This mini colony can be a resource for your production hives.

  • extra swarm cells used to make a new queen
  • making splits
  • great for catching small swarms
  • lightweight method for moving frames of brood to another bee yard

They are a great way to put extra queen cells to use. A strong colony may be split into two hives – with left over queen cells to spare.

Having a nuc box on hand – means you can put a queen cell or two in the smaller box with some frames and nurse bees. Perhaps, they can raise a new queen for you to use in another colony. This is very handy when you want to keep an extra queen on hand.

Nuc-Sized Boxes

I have used a nuc-sized box to make a mini split. Perhaps my production colony is wanting to swarm but the honey flow time is upon us. I don’t want to make a large split and hurt my production. I may try to make a mini-split and reduce some congestion in the 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.

You can usually find an unassembled wood nuc box for less than $80. This includes the bottom board, deep, inner cover and top. The frames and foundation you have to add.

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

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, they truly have a place in beekeeping. From housing small splits to catching swarms, they come in handy – try to keep one or two on hand.

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