What Is a Bee Nuc?
Often referred to as the “nuke,” or “nuc,” the “nuclear” beehive is a small colony of bees plus a queen. It has all of the essentials for creating a new colony, just like the cell nucleus is the start of a healthy molecule. For seasoned beekeepers, a bee nuc is like a secret weapon. Primarily, beekeepers use a nucleus to start a new colony.
What Does a Bee Nuc Look Like?
The basic and most widely used “home” for bees is called a Langstroth box. This box has frames, typically 8–10, that sit inside and provide structure for the honeycomb and brood, or baby bees.
A bee nuc is similar to a Langstroth box, but not as wide. With a nucleus, you usually get around 4-5 frames in either a cardboard box, a wooden hive or a polystyrene box. The box normally has a few frames with honey, and a few with a brood included. One of the frames will have the queen on it.
A note on the terminology; the term “nuc” can refer to:
- Only the box
- The frames and the bees inside
- The entirety of the habitat — box, frames and bees
Differences Between a Bee Nuc and a Bee Package
Bee nucs, unlike bee packages, come with pollen, eggs, larvae, honey and a queen bee. It’s like a mini hive all in one. Conversely, a bee package is a bunch of bees in a box. This video shows the non-complex way that a bee package is made:
The bee nuc comes with all of the elements to create a new hive and to do so relatively quickly. The honey provides food and structure for the bees to draw out more honey. The roles and positions of the beehive have already been sorted out.
All of these factors can give you a head start on honey production. Plus, they’re thought to be more resistant to disease than a colony started from a bee package. In studies, bee nucs have a stronger survival rate.
What Is a Bee Nuc Used For?
Outside of using a nuc to start a new colony, there are a few advantages to investing in the material and knowledge of how to handle a nuc:
- Insurance policy when you need to “re-queen”
- Help raise the population in another, less hardy colony
- Remove extra bees from an overcrowded colony
- Raise your beekeeping revenue
Insurance Policy When You Need to “Re-Queen”
If you lose a queen or one of your queens is weakening, you can use your nuc queen as a replacement. Make sure to cut out any existing queen cells from the parent colony before you re-queen.
Help Raise the Population in Another, Less Hardy Colony
A nuc can boost the production of your hive during a honey flow. Replace empty frames or those filled with sealed honey in a production hive with worker bee frames from the nuc.
Remove Extra Bees from an Overcrowded Colony
Congested hives are the catalyst for bees to swarm. Removing frames from a congested hive to create a nuc will give you space in the existing hive and help you grow your colonies.
Raise Your Beekeeping Revenue
Honey production is variable to many factors. However, you can almost always be guaranteed to create nucs each season that you can sell.
How Do You Make a Bee Nuc?
A nuc comes from a currently healthy colony. When bee colonies grow and start to get larger than the space they have in their hive, they swarm.
Right before a swarm is one of the times that a beekeeper creates a nuc. They take a few frames from the currently healthy and almost swarming hive.
Instead of targeting a swarm cell, some beekeepers choose to start a nuc with a frame that has day-old eggs in it. The logic behind this is that starting a new colony from stressed, in-swarm mode bees is a negative factor to introduce to a new colony. Instead, taking them from a more calm, balanced environment promotes a healthier and more resilient nucleus.
In the best conditions, a beekeeper takes a frame with a brood (essentially, eggs) from the hive of one of the healthiest, high-energy, top-producing and most hygienic queen bees on their farm.
Buying a Nuc
The best way to find a nucleus is to search for a local apiarist. A nucleus from your region will be adapted better to your weather patterns and peculiarities. For example, regional viruses or bugs that could throw your hive into a danger zone.
Not only do nucs create a hardier, healthier beehive, but they also help you prepare for a variety of potentialities as a beekeeper. From handling swarm cells to re-queening, and increasing your revenue, knowing how to use a nuc will take you to the next level as a beekeeper.