My bees are ordered and I will likely be receiving them sometime in May. I ordered my bees from Better Bee Supplies in Cambridge, Ontario. Lil at Better Bees receives her nucs (pronounced “nukes”) from several Ontario breeders. The nuc of bees will cost me $175.

As a first-time bee purchaser, I would like to make sure that I’m getting high quality bees and that they are well adapted to my local climate. Buying an “overwintered nuc” means that I’ll be buying a queen that has survived at least one winter and has already mated and is laying eggs. These eggs will hatch in my hive in May and beging working for their queen soon after.

I have pulled up some information on purchasing nucs from the Ontario Beekeepers Association site which I have reposted here to help anyone else purchasing a nuc of bees this spring:

A cardboard nuc of bees near a hive

Photo provided by Mike Warren and used under Creative Commons license.

Are you buying nucs this spring? Know what you’re getting.

A ‘nuc’, or nucleus colony of bees, is the most common way to purchase a hive of honey bees, for hobbyists and sideliners and even for commercial beekeepers wanting to rapidly expand their operation.

A nuc generally consists of a queen, 2 or more frames of brood, a frame of feed, and an empty frame or frame of foundation that gives the bees space to cluster. A nuc can vary in the total number of frames (brood, feed and empty), age of the queen and the type of shipping box. Nucs are most often sold with 4 frames in an enclosed, easily transportable cardboard box, but can also be sold in variations of a screened wooden hive box.

The Ontario Bee Breeders Association attempted to standardize the definition of a nuc some years ago and came up with the following criteria for a 4 frame nuc:

  • 1 Queen bee
  • 2 frames of mostly capped brood with adhering bees
  • 1 frame of feed with adhering bees
  • 1 frame of foundation
  • A few shakes of extra frames of bees to fill the box so it is bubbling with bees.

Many beekeepers adhere to this definition of a nuc but there is still wide variation. So ask questions! Know what you are getting!

  1. Are the brood frames capped?
    2 frames of capped brood, versus 2 frames of eggs and larvae will make a HUGE difference to how fast your nuc takes off. A good nuc, when made up by the breeder with approximately ½ to ⅔ of the brood capped, should produce surplus honey in an average year.
  2. How old is the queen? Is she local stock or imported?
    A nuc will usually have a queen mated the previous summer; ideally the daughter of a queen selected for traits such as hygienic behaviour and honey production. Ask your Queen and Nuc producer whether they have a breeding program established. Good nuc producers will mark their queens with the colour of the year, so her age is obvious. It also allows for easy queen identification. In 2010, the marking colour was BLUE. In 2011, it is WHITE.
  3. Is it a spring nuc or a summer nuc?
    A spring nuc is available throughout the month of May, and will consist of an overwintered queen on her own brood. In this respect, the queen has been already proven to be a good layer and has wintered her first winter with no problems. A summer nuc will be those sold after the first week of June, and will generally have a newly mated queen, and might be boosted with brood from other hives. In this case, the queen, although young and potentially vigourous, has not had time to be assessed.
  4. What is the cost? Does it include the shipping box?
    A spring nuc with capped brood and a queen from selected Ontario breeders will demand top prices. Would you pay as much for a spring nuc made up of random brood and an imported queen? There should also be a drop in prices for summer nucs, which must be coddled through their first summer and winter with the accompanying associated costs. Although it is possible for them to produce surplus honey their first year, they generally aren’t strong enough to produce a surplus crop until their second summer.

Any beekeeper selling queens and nucs in Ontario are required to have a QUEEN AND NUC PERMIT from the provincial government. This ensures that your beekeeper is regularly inspected and is not harbouring any diseases such as American Foulbrood. The nuc box or paperwork should have an attached Queen and Nuc permit sticker.