Nucleus colonies are small well-balanced colonies which can develop into a full sized colony over time.
The photo shows a 6 frame plywood nuc ready to go with brood of all ages laid by the queen in the hive although we sell 5 or 6 frame nucs depending on the time of year.
We often have overwintered nucs available for early spring and can also make them up with new queens in summer. Nucs are generally on BS Deep frames - see below.
These will have a queen from the previous year from a selected mother queen. The bees and brood in the nuc with be hers. Queens are bred for low swarming, good behaviour and good honey gathering abilities. Queens are marked - usually in the correct colour!* - and can be clipped if required. It's possible that a colony will produce some honey be August, but we cannot guarantee it of course. Colonies have been treated for varroa. Usually available in late March and April.
(A limited quantity of overwintered nucs will be available for 2022 - sold out).
These have a current years queen and can build up to a viable colony to survive winter. Queens are bred for low swarming good behaviour and good honey gathering abilities. Queens are marked - usually in the correct colour! - and can be clipped if required. Usually available from late May to early July. Beginners may be better to wait for an overwintered colony the following spring if it gets too late in the season (after the end of June).
We often have spare queens available from the end of May. Queens will be at least 3 weeks old so we know that they lay a good brood pattern. They are supplied in queen cages with food and attendant bees.
Please note that a queen with a few attendants is NOT capable of starting a colony.
Starting off with a collected swarm is one way to start off beekeeping although they are variable in quality; if you get one from somewhere they can be a cheap way to start and to get experience. We are asked to collect swarms, however we NEVER sell them. Often they are re-queened and used in an apiary, or they are kept to see how they perform with the queen they came with.
Buying a nuc.
If you are a new beekeeper you should ask to see the colony first and and self-respecting vendor should be happy to oblige. After all they are valuable livestock and could be a nuisance if not well-behaved. Take an experienced beekeeper with you if at all possible. You should be able to stand by the colony and not be worried by 'followers' which are bees that buzz around you - they shouldn't take much notice at all. Ask that the colony be opened up to see what's what. Once you have seen the colony and you agree to buy, arrange for a suitable time to collect it. The best time is at dusk once the bees have finished flying for the day. The colony can be sealed up easily at this time of day without too much stress to the bees.
If you are unsure, ask us for advice on transporting it before you arrive to collect it and make sure that you have everything you need. Colonies find travelling stressful and don't like being shut-in so you should make sure that transportation arrangements are done that is best for them - your investment.
Early in the year we may have some over-wintered nucs, alternatively we can supply in early summer with the current years' queen. Please Contact us if interested.
Nucs are supplied on Hoffman self-spacing frames suited for the most common hive type - the National and WBC's both these take the same frames. (The Deep 14 " x 8.5" frame). We can supply on Langstroth, Commercial (16 x 10) or 14 x 12 frames by prior arrangement only as these are less common and not usually used by us. The Deep (8.5") frame will fit into a 14 x 12 hive and can then be slowly 'retired' to the side and removed. The deep frames will also fit the larger Commercial hives with frame adaptors to stop brace comb being built. If in doubt, do get in touch.
The following is based on the old British Standard BS:1372 of 1947 no less (!) and a more recent BBKA leaflet for nucleus colonies.
You would expect to see at least 3 frames of good brood (4 for a 6 frame nuc) and bees covering at least one frame more. (Remember that in the height of the day foraging bees will be out of the hive). There should be brood of all ages, pollen stores and honey stores to last the colony for a week of bad weather. There should be minimal drone brood and there should not be drone brood in worker cells and definitely no queencells. The colony should be disease free. The frames should not have wax that is too old and dark and all frames should be drawn. The queen should have a known provenance and be less than 1 year old and ideally marked.
Nuc Questions and Answers.
What frames do you supply on?
We use BS Deep frames however we can move bees onto 14 x 12's; Commercial or Langstroth frames. This takes time to migrate the colonies onto them. There is also extra cost involved.
What's the queen?
Overwintered colonies will have a previous years queen from a selected mother queen which has proven itself to produce well-behaved bees that are productive and healthy. We would not sell a colony that we were not happy with. We do not import queens and select from the best of our Norfolk girls.
Summer colonies will have a current years queen that's been laying for over 3 weeks old which means that it's her workers that have started to take over the colony.
Do you mark and clip the queen?
Queens are marked and can be clipped if desired. We try to use the correct colour however occasionally the right marking pen might not be available or has run out and whatever comes to hand is used! (The queens don't seem to mind!). The mark is a dob of water-based paint on her thorax.
Are they well behaved?
Yes, we would not sell a colony that wasn't and overwintered colonies are easy to assess as all the workers are from that queen herself; bees should ignore you if you stood by the hive. We would not expect to have 'followers' after an inspection or bees coming out of the hive to 'greet you'. And veil pingers are a definite NO!
What time of year are they available?
Overwintered colonies are available from the around the second half of March or April, depending on the weather. Summer colonies are usually available from late May to the end of June - although this does depend on our variable English weather and queen mating.
Have they been treated for varroa?
Overwintered colonies are generally treated in both autumn and winter, so yes, they have been treated. Summer colonies may not have been treated depending on the time of year, although we can supply treatment with them.
Can I inspect them first?
Yes by all means. Some beekeepers bring their own nuc box or hive to put the bees in whilst they have a look at them. After inspection, the colony may not be ready to take away at that time as bees will be flying.
What's the best time to collect?
Evenings around dusk is best or after the bees have stopped flying for the day and when it will be getting cooler; typically this is between 7:00 and 8:30 in the summer. The nuc can be closed up and the bees taken to their new apiary site and opened that evening. They will re-orientate around the new location the following morning. Early morning collections are also possible; it's best to get bees to their new site before it gets too hot.