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What Is a Nuc in Beekeeping?

Last Updated: 02.07.22


Nucs are smaller and complete bee colonies created from larger ones, compared to bee packages that are usually less established and don’t come with full-operating drones and workers. A nuc ideally should have 5 frames or more, and less beekeeping supplies are necessary at first, especially if you are new to this activity. 

When it comes to beekeeping, things are more complicated than one might think at first. While it’s true that bees are facing a hard time surviving given all the changes that are taking place in the environment, if you intend to take up this activity, you need to make sure that you are familiar with all the tips and tricks beforehand. 

On the other hand, it’s obviously a good idea to help bees as much as possible and create good conditions for them. After all, a crucial part of the agricultural system depends on their ability to pollinate crops, but we won’t get into that right now. In the next lines, we’ll take a look at various aspects of beekeeping, including nucs. 

For many years, packages of bees were the common and also the recommended way to start out as a beekeeper. However, as with everything else in our world, things constantly evolve, and in this case, this means nucleus colonies (also known as nucs) are becoming very popular and favored. 


So what are nucs? 

These nucleus colonies are actually the result when small honey bee colonies are created from larger ones. The word can be used to refer to both the box itself, as well as to the colony of bees that comes with it. Moreover, the name comes from the fact that hives are centered around a queen, also considered the nucleus of a colony. 

Obviously, there are some differences between nucs and bee packages. One of them is the fact that the packages usually have a queen that comes from a different line than the rest of the hive. Of course, this can mean that she might be either accepted or rejected when introduced in the colony. 

On the other hand, given that there are no eggs or larvae at a very early stage, the colony hasn’t truly established itself. Worker bees are not assigned the role based on their age either, and all of these elements mean that a package of bees is really a starter pack for both the beekeeper and the bees too. 

When it comes to nucs, things are different from this point of view. The fact that it comes with a small number of frames (usually around 5), and that these are placed right into the hive, means that the accommodation is different. Furthermore, these nuc frames contain brood of all stages, as well as pollen and stored honey, so they are a complete system. 

As for the hierarchy, it’s good to know that most nucs already come with a queen, although this is not always mandatory. The workers and drones are also born from the same queen, which means that is she does come with the colony, there is no need for the bees to acclimatize to her. 

Since we’ve already mentioned that a nuc is a complete system, it also contains all the phases of life, including eggs, larvae, and pupae. Adult workers continue with their roles as well, including nursing, cleaning, guarding, foraging, and everything else around the colony. 



What are the advantages of getting a nuc? 

The most obvious one is that the colony is already functioning, so there’s no acclimatization needed. The drones and workers are already familiar with the queen, and all life stages are present. Moreover, given that the nuc comes with pollen and honey already stored away, the hive is already established and productive. 

This also means that it can start foraging right away, so there’s no lost time on the beekeeper’s part. In terms of disadvantages, there really aren’t that many. The only one worth mentioning is that a nuc can be less flexible compared to a package, in that bees from a package can be placed into the hive, and this one can be of any type. 

The bees need to be completely removed from a package, so this gives any beekeeper the freedom to choose what the new hive is going to be like. When it comes to nucs, the bees use the frames it comes with, so there are fewer options when it comes to where these can be placed. 

There are other aspects that anyone looking into beekeeping should keep in mind. If they are available locally, bee nucs are the best way to get into this activity. We’ve already mentioned that nucs usually come with 5 frames, and this number is the right one. 

Going for nucs that only have 4 frames is less effective and, given their cost, it may be better to get a package instead. 


Questions for the retailer 

Furthermore, there are some things that you should ask any bee retailer before getting a nuc. One of these is whether the frames come with a new comb. If the answer to this is “No” then you should look elsewhere, and the reason is simple. If the frames are not new, they are going to have chemical buildup, and this can lead to future contamination within the hive. 

An old comb is usually dark brown or black, while new ones are white to medium brown. You should also ask if the queen you are getting is newly mated or not, as well as how old she is. 

You may want to bear in mind that the age recommended for a new queen is of six weeks, as this allows her to be mated and lay for around four weeks, which means that temperament and brood pattern are established as well. 

It’s not recommended for the queen to be old, as this can mean that she might be close to the end of her lifespan, and this might affect the hive’s balance at first. You should also make sure that the nuc is around four weeks old when you get it, and that overwintered ones are usually sold for a higher price. 

Bees in a nuc should be enclosed either in the morning or during the evening, in order to have the largest number of bees in it before it’s shipped. This means that you should ask the seller at what time this operation takes place. If the nuc is enclosed at a different hour, say around noon, then there’s a high chance that foraging bees are going to be left behind. 



Other details on nucs  

Just like any other living creature, bees are sensitive when it comes to being transported, which means that choosing a seller that is closer to your location is always a good idea (of course, as long as we’re talking about a reliable source). Moreover, bees that come from the same area have a higher chance to adapt rapidly to the new colony. 

You can always look and see if there’s a local beekeeping club that you can contact for more information and details on individuals members that might be selling nucs. When it comes to the cost of such a colony, the prices usually range from $120 to $200, but other aspects need to be taken into account, such as the colony’s size and the type of bees offered. 

The installation process is usually a very simple one, given that all you need to do is take the mini-hive (with the frames) and place it in the full-sized one. The queen cage issues usually associated when you get a package are not an issue in this case, making things a lot easier for those less experienced with beekeeping. 

Even though you are handling an established colony, remember that the number of bees is still small, so you need to make sure that you install an entrance reducer for a short while. This allows the bees to repel robbers in the beginning. 

In terms of feed, you need to make sure that the colony has all the help it needs at first to get the foraging and production processes going. It’s true that nucs come with honey and pollen as well, so the colony is covered for a while, but the ability to add to the reserves depends on various factors, such as if there is a honey flow or the weather, so adding a feeder is justified.



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