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Nucleus colonies

A nucleus colony, or nuc, is essentially a smaller hive, sometimes in a smaller box, consisting of bees in all stages of development, as well as food, a laying queen, and enough workers to cover from three to five combs (Figure 17). When placed into a full-sized hive body and given supplemental feeding, the nuc usually expands rapidly into a strong colony. When started in early spring, these hives may produce surplus honey in their first year under favorable weather and nectar flow conditions. The advantages of starting with a nuc rather than a package include: faster colony development due to the presence of brood and no break in the queen’s laying cycle; ease of establishing the unit in your own equipment; and a chance to inspect the nuc before purchasing. Sales of nucs have increased tremendously over the past few years and are making inroads into the well-established package bee businesses.

While nucleus colonies are initially more expensive than packages, their potential financial returns at season’s end more than make up for the increased purchase price. The biggest disadvantage in purchasing a nuc is the potential of disease and/or mite transmission. Inspection and certification of nucs for sale  is not required  and depending on how they were handled before saledisease may occur among some nucleus colonies after they are purchased. Bees that are diseased and have been fed antibiotic drugs may appear healthy, but the combs will be contaminated with disease-causing organisms. If the buyer does not continue the drug feeding program, it will be only a matter of time until the disease reappears (see “American foulbrood”). You should only purchase nucs from reputable beekeepers. Check with your local or state beekeeping association to identify beekeepers that have a good reputation for producing high-quality, disease-free nucs.

The strength of nucs varies a great deal from source to source based partly on number of frames, bee stock, and environmental conditions during the time the nuc was made up. Population differences may also be due to how long the nuc has been made up and/or the lack of well-defined guidelines for making up nucs. One beekeeper may provide one frame of brood in a five-frame nuc box, while another will provide three. Before purchasing nucs, be sure price reflects the strength of the nucleus colonies.

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