Thoughts on Nucleus Colonies

Our colonies are growing, and the bees are so healthy that we’ve decided to install two additional hives by doing some actual beekeeping. There are many different ways to do this. The first step in this process is understanding the differences between buying packaged bees vs. nucleus colonies. 

What are Packaged Bees?

In my very first moments of beekeeping, I learned that you buy bees from a reliable bee grower online, and the grower sends the bees to you in the mail. I thought to myself, huh?! What happens if they get out of the box? Then I thought, what if they die. The final and best question I asked was: I wonder if a beekeeping group is nearby to learn how this goes. So that is what I did. I got together with many other hobbyist beekeepers, and we all pitched in. Someone in the group drove somewhere far away and came back with a few boxes of bees for yours truly.

boxes of bees
Picking up my bees in 2015

Package Bees Are:

  • A box of 3 pounds of bees plus one queen bee with a can of syrup inside for feeding
  • 10,000 bees that have been gathered from many different colonies
  • They are not all from the same genetic group
  • These bees go through a great deal of stress in the first days of thier lives and during their travels
  • It will take some time for this new family of bees to come together in thier respective roles and be productive
Installing Bees

What are Nucleus Colonies?

Nucleus Colonies are small honeybee colonies created from larger colonies. To keep things as simple, we are creating our “nuc” (pronounced “nuke”) from our healthy and overabundant hives. The name is derived from the fact that “nuc” hives center around a queen – the nucleus of the honeybee colony. As soon as the weather is consistently warm and the queen is consistently laying, we will take unborn but capped frames and install them into new hives. Next, we purchase a queen and introduce her when we make the “split.”

Michael Embry’s bee yard

Start with Nucleus Colonies instead of packaged bees

Regardless of how gingerly bees are handled, in my opinion, you get a box of bees that have had stress before becoming a colony. Sometimes the process of packaging bees weakens the colony.

Benefits of nucs

In working with nucs, we’ve experienced:

  • Healthier bees from the start
  • Faster colony development due to brood presence
  • Steady laying cycle
  • Easier installation
inspecting brood
Michael Embry in the apiary inspecting bees

I added two new hives to our bee yard by installing frames of brood from the lively and healthy hives and purchased two new queens, and installed the frames of brood along with empty frames giving the bees room to grow along with the new queens (one each hive) into the new hives. The nuc frames will hatch and thrive.

The “hive mentality” is formed from the start in their home-like environment. Given the right conditions, a honey bee colony will thrive. All that is required for growth is time and space. In general, nuc honey bee colonies grow faster than package honey bee colonies.

full frame of brood
Full and beautiful frame of brood

How do I install a “nuc” frame?

– Inspect the brood chamber (the deep bottom box)
– Remove a frame of capped brood. (“nuc” frame)
– Make sure you are leaving the queen in her home!
– Install into frames of capped brood into the new hive
– Install package of bees and queen

Next blog post, you’ll learn about the first big bump in my beekeeping odyssey when someone stole my bees.