The word “Nuc” is short for “Nucleus”.
You might remember this term from your biology class back in high school.
Basically, a Nucleus is the most important part of an object.
In biology, that's the center of an atom. In beekeeping, it's the queen, her workers, and some essential resources.
All of these roles and resources form the foundation of growth and activity that are necessary to start a beehive.
From buying a Nuc to installing it successfully, this article will go over every step you need to know.
What Comes in a Nuc?
A Nuc is a miniature colony that beekeepers use to start a new beehive.
Nucs are the most common type of packaging when it comes to buying or selling live bees.
The packaging itself is usually made out of cardboard, but can sometimes be made out of wood. Most Nucs will contain 5 full frames of resources, but some apiaries sell smaller Nucs of just 3 or 4 frames.
Inside of every Nuc you'll find:
- A queen
- 1 to 3 frames of brood at various stages of life
- 1 frame of honey/nectar
- 1 frame of pollen/nectar
- Thousands of Worker Bees that fulfill over 20 different roles in the hive
- Hundreds of Drone Bees that help with your environment's genetic diversity
Why Choose a Nuc?
There are 5 main methods of obtaining bees. Let me give you a brief description of 4 of them before telling you why the Nuc is your best option if it's available.
- Finding a Swarm - It is more than likely that your county has a swarm list that you can sign up to be on. When your county is alerted of a new swarm on someone's property, they'll call the numbers on the list in the order from when they were received. To get on the swarm list, you can type your "County and State's Name Bee Swarm List" into your favorite search engine and a registration should be one of the first results. Finding free bees sounds great, but it could be a year or two before you are actually called. Click here to learn more
- Baiting a Swarm - Much like fishing, there's a whole science behind baiting a swarm. This means that it's not exactly a reliable method to obtain bees if you don't know what you're doing. Even the best beekeepers aren't able to lure a swarm to their property every year. Even still, here is the basic idea. Find a cardboard box that could hold about 40L of water. Sit it outside and put some bait in it. The most effective bait that beekeepers use is Lemongrass oil. In the spring, after a couple weeks pass by, go out and check the box. Hopefully, there's a whole colony in there. To learn more about some of the baits and environments the bees like to visit, click here
- Splitting a Hive - If you're lucky enough to know someone who already has bees, you can take a frame of fresh eggs and make a colony out of it. Preferably, there'd be a queen egg hanging on the frame that you transplant. Technically though, any egg that was going to be turned into a worker bee has a shot at becoming queen. It just can't be older than 3 days after it hatches. That's when nurse bees stop feeding larvae Royal Jelly. Discover more about splits here
- Buying a Package - A package comes as a wooden box with about 3,000 bees and a queen inside. While ordering packages can be an efficient way to buy and sell bees, it's not uncommon to have them die as they're traveling through the mail. Also, once you do get them into your hive, sometimes they'll swarm away immediately. To learn more, click here
So then, why choose a Nuc?
The primary benefit here is that they are the least likely to swarm away when you get them into your new hive.
There's nothing worse than spending money on a set of bees just to have them abscond (swarm away) the hive in a day or two.
Another benefit is that since there are eggs, honey, and pollen in the hive, most queens don't want to leave these resources behind.
Nucs also, give your hive a major head start on filling their first bee box. After their orientation period, it won't be long before you can add on your second box.
Where to Buy a Nuc?
When purchasing a Nuc we highly recommend buying 5 frame Nucs from a local apiary that has overwintered queens!
Many new beekeepers will simply find a place online to buy bees. Unfortunately, having bees shipped to you from across the country like this comes with plenty of issues.
For one thing, they may die on the way.
Another is that they have to adapt to the climate and pollen of your neck of the woods.
Instead, if you buy from a local apiary, your new bees would have already adapted to survive the winters in your area.
Local bees are a much better investment than your typical bees from Georgia -- America's major hub for Nucs.
These local bees would also be familiar with many of the food sources that grow in your state.
To find a nearby apiary, all you have to do is get ahold of your county's bee club.
You can find a whole list of bee clubs by going to: www.abfnet.org. From there, click on your state, then click on your county and give them a call. They'll know exactly where to send you for healthy, local, overwintered Nucs!
What Do I Do If My Nuc Arrived Before My Hive?
Galena Farms recommends you purchase and assemble your hive long before you buy your bees. Doing so will prevent this issue from happening.
However, in case you find yourself in a pinch, there is a way you can resolve your issue.
Many Nucs will have a little cardboard entrance that you can open to let your bees fly (see image below).
Before opening this entrance, you'll want to set your Nuc in the same location where you plan on permanently putting your new hive.
Within the next week, once your hive arrives, put it all together. Once the sun goes down, then you'll want to close the entrance of your Nuc. You'll do this when it's dark outside because it ensures that all of the foraging bees have come back.
The next morning, you'll want to complete the steps in the following section.
How to Install a Nuc?
Handling bees can be very exciting for a first-time beekeeper. Many new beekeepers miss one or two of these steps unless they are well-prepared before approaching their bees.
Please read all of these steps prior to installing your Nuc!
Step 1) Slide your hive's bottom board onto the hive stand in its new permanent location. If you haven't yet figured out where you want to put your hive, you can read our other article: 10 Factors When Considering Where to Place a Beehive.
Step 2) Take all of your empty frames out of the hive and set them to the side where they are easily accessible.
Step 3) Light your smoker. To do so, take the circle vent out of your new smoker's canister, bend the three prongs downwards, then place the circle vent back into the canister so that it is elevated by sitting on the prongs. Next, take some newspaper and ball it up into the size of a baseball. Put the newspaper ball into the canister on top of the circle vent. Use a long-neck lighter to reach as far down as you can into the smoker and light the newspaper ball at the base. Once there is a blaze, slowly add a couple of handfuls of dried pine needles (alternatively, you can use the wood shavings that usually go at the bottom of a hamster cage) into the canister. As you squeeze the bellow, let the pine needles blaze for about 20 seconds then add another newspaper ball at the top. Finally, flip the nozzle-cap of the smoker over. This should extinguish the flame. However, the pine needles will continue to smolder and produce cold smoke. Once the smoke coming out of the nozzle is cool to the touch you can set your smoker aside and move on to step 4.
Step 4) Put your protective gear on. If you bought the starter kit then it came with an accessory kit. The kit comes with a jacket, veil, gloves, smoker, and hive tool. Since the jacket stops at your waistline, you'll want to avoid wearing shorts. Keep in mind that the denim on blue jean pants does very well at resisting stingers.
Step 5) You can now use the smoker to start billowing your bees within the Nuc. Only use a couple of puffs, it doesn't take much smoke to distract and disguise you from your bees.
Step 6) Now that you have suited up and your bees have been smoked, bring your Nuc over to where your new hive is. Remove the tape that keeps the lid from flying open. It is now time to say hello to your new bees. Open the lid of the Nuc. It is likely you'll immediately have some bees fly out, but they won't go far.
Step 7) Slowly start to take out either frame 1 or frame 5 from the Nuc's package (see image below). If the frames are stuck to the box, you may need to scrape some of the wax off the cardboard using your hive tool. Use caution though! You'll want to be careful when removing your first frame, it could potentially have your queen on it. Lifting the first frame out of the Nuc or hive is always the most dangerous because if the frames are too close together then you could harm the bees by rolling them between the frames. By taking frame 1 or 5 out first, you're limiting your chances of harming your queen because she's likely on frame 2, 3, or 4 where the brood is.
Step 8) As you're pulling out each frame from your Nuc, you'll want to inspect them for a few things.
- Brood - Make sure you can find brood in the various stages of life. That means, eggs, larva, and capped brood
- Pollen - Pollen is what is used to provide protein for both the worker bees and the brood
- Worker Bees - The population of bees in the Nuc should be in the thousands
- The Queen - Depending on who you buy from, the queen should have a spot of color on her back to make her easier to find
Step 9) One by one as you inspect your frames from step 7, you'll hang them on the frame shelf near the middle of your deep brood box. When you place your Nuc's frames into the hive, try to keep them in the same order that you pulled them out from the Nuc (see image below).
Step 10) Once all of the frames from your Nuc are now in the center of your hive. Slide them close together, then surround these frames with the empty frames that you pulled from Step 2. Afterward, you can do one of two things. You can either set the frameless Nuc aside and give the remaining bees that are inside of the box time to find their new hive. Or you could turn the Nuc upside down and shake it until all of the bees are out -- it won't harm the bees to shake the box, but please make sure the queen isn't still in the Nuc beforehand.
Step 11) You're almost done, but before you close up the hive, you'll want to feed them. Anytime you buy new bees, they'll have an orientation period of about two weeks. During this stretch of time, your bees are taking their first orientation flights to get their bearings. They'll need to figure out where their hive is in relation to the sun as well as the flowers. This is why it's best to feed your bees until you put on your first medium honey super that you want to harvest from. There are many ways to feed your bees, but we recommend feeding them a sugar syrup made from 1 part water and 1 part sugar. You can read more on this method here.
Step 12) Do not add on another deep brood box or medium honey super just yet. Your bees are not ready for it. There would be too many frames which can slow the growth of your bees. Instead, place the cover back on top of the hive and allow your new bees to rest for a week until your next inspection. You can learn when you should add on a your next box by clicking here.
To help prevent your hive from swarming in the first few days, you can use a queen excluder on the bottom of the hive. Normally a queen excluder is placed on top of the brood chamber to prevent the queen from ascending and laying eggs on the honey supers above. When installing a Nuc though, you can use a queen excluder on the bottom of the hive, by sitting it on the brim of the bottom board and on top of the entrance reducer. You'll also want to make sure that the notch/top entrance in the inner cover is closed off by pulling the telescoping top cover all the way back to block the entrance. Doing so will trap the queen in the hive until you remove the queen excluder. This assures that your hive won't abscond, because they won't abandon the trapped queen. After 3 to 7 days, you'll know that your queen has made her new hive into her new home. Once this occurs, please be sure to remove the queen excluder from the bottom of your hive, otherwise, you'll have a slow production of honey and beeswax.
Now that you have successfully installed your Nuc, you are now a beekeeper!
Your choice to use a Nuc has significantly increased the chances of your colony making their new hive their new home.
If you've followed the advice in this article then you've purchased a Nuc that has 5 full frames, is locally raised, and has an overwintered queen.
Using this kind of Nuc, as well as feeding your bees during the orientation period, will give you your best shot at starting a successful hive in your first year of beekeeping!
If you skipped the Special Hint above, I highly recommend checking it out!
I wish you all the best of luck heading into the new season!
Keep On Beekeeping On!
Continue Your Bee Journey!
The following articles could be very helpful in taking your next steps.
Recommended First Hives
If you haven't yet purchased your first hive, we recommend one of our Starter Hive Kits. Each kit comes with all the essential parts of a beehive and the accessories you'll need for your first few years of beekeeping. We consider them "Nuc Ready" which means they come with 5 frames and are ready for the 5 that you buy when you purchase a 5-Frame Nuc of bees.