A nucleus colony (often referred to as a nuc - and pronounced nuke) is a small colony that contains the queen, workers, brood and stores. As well as being the ideal way to obtain a colony, nucs are used by beekeepers to house 'spare' queens or as part of swarm control measures.
Our nucs contain a young queen, workers of all ages and brood of all ages plus sufficient food to last it for a week or two of poor weather although usually you'll be transferring it to a larger hive in any case. The nucs that we sell have 5 or 6 frames which have brood and stores and can develop into a full sized colony before winter if it's early enough in the season.
Don't plan to harvest some honey but you may be lucky! The queens are our own and not imported and they have been laying for at least 3 weeks in summer and usually will have been in the colony since mating. We usually supply the nucleus colony in a new plywood nuc box (confusingly also called a nuc) which can be stained and re-used afterwards.
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.
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.
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 onwards - 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 anutumn and winter, so yes they are 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 the 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.