There are many ways to add bees to a newly purchased hive. After choosing a good location, assembling your hive and gathering the necessary tools, it’s time to decide how you will obtain your bees. In this first of three Learning Center articles on these options, we cover the positive and negative aspects of using a nucleus, or nucs, to establish your colony.
When beekeepers want to populate new hives with honey bees, they can choose from several options. One of the most popular ways is to order package bees, which are often shipped complete with a queen in a queen cage. Previously, we discussed the details of preparing a hive and installing package bees. In this three-part series, we’ll explore the pros and cons of three other popular methods of adding bees to a hive: obtaining nucleus colonies, capturing swarms and purchasing established colonies.
What is a Nucleus Colony?
A nucleus colony, more commonly known as a “nuc” or “split,” is one of the easiest ways for beekeepers to start a colony in a new hive. Nucs are nothing more than frames of comb that are removed from an established hive. Because they come from a successful colony, nucs contain comb with developing brood at several stages of development. In most cases, they also contain cells with honey and pollen stored by the original colony.
What are the Benefits of Using Nucs?
There are several benefits of using nucs to start a new colony. To begin with, adding nucs to a hive is easy. Typically, a beekeeper will advertise nucs for sale when their established hives grow to the point where they are likely to swarm. The purchaser brings their new hive to the seller’s location, and four or five frames of comb are transferred into the new hive.
This method has the distinct advantage of starting off a hive with a good base population of adult workers and brood at various stages of development. Unlike purchasing package bees where there is a 21-day wait for newly-laid eggs to develop, workers start emerging from cells right away. These bees quickly get to work foraging and drawing out foundation in the new hive.
What are the Downsides of Using Nucs?
Installing nucs is a great way to get a colony off to a good start. However, there are a few things to consider. The first is that nucs cannot be shipped like package bees. This means that you need to find a reputable beekeeper who is selling nucs within a reasonable driving distance.
The second consideration is making sure you are purchasing healthy, quality brood and bees from a successful beekeeper. Carefully inspect the nucs and general condition of the seller’s hives. Look for well-constructed hive bodies and frames without any signs of wood rot or other damage. On the comb, look for signs of disease and parasites such as American foulbrood or Varroa mites.
Additionally, pay attention to how the seller handles their bees, hives and equipment. A calm and confident beekeeper will likely have better nucs than a novice that seems uneasy or nervous.
Lastly, using nucs usually requires purchasing a new queen that must be introduced to the fledgling colony. While doing so is not difficult, it does require frequent inspections to ensure the new queen is accepted by the colony and laying eggs in her new home.
What to Look for When Purchasing Nucs
Nucs should contain comb with lots of healthy brood of all ages as well as stored honey and/or pollen. When transferring the frames into the new hive, make sure they’re covered with a good number of worker bees, too. This provides a good base population to care for the developing brood. As the brood develops, new workers emerge and quickly fill out the receiving hive.
Stay tuned for parts two and three in this series!
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