Bees are an essential part of agriculture. One way of influencing such an important factor in our way of life is though beekeeping. Creating a colony or expanding the number of hives already in existence will help perpetuate our way of life, as well as that of the bees themselves.

What Is A Nuc?

For those wondering what is a nuc, it is also known as a nucleus colony and consists of a queen bee and small number of honeybees, workers and clones, looking to start their own hive. Practiced beekeepers assist in creating the nuc from existing hives to expand the number of colonies and promote continued population. These nucs can also be sold to others who wish to start colonies of their own.

With the queen bee at the center of their success, this aptly named group also refers to the box the developing colony starts out in, which replicates a smaller version of a fully operational beehive. Brood rearing is vital for a colony's success. Therefore, the smaller size of the nuc helps the fewer bees maintain the ideal temperature and humidity to encourage prosperity.

Nuc Uses

pile of bee hives

A nucleus colony has several uses. First, when overcrowding occurs, it would be best to split the population as a way to maintain a healthy colony. Nucs may also be used in the keeping of additional queen bees should an existing colony need to be re-queened. Offering a new queen rather than waiting for the bees to make a new queen will alleviate the break in brood rearing. For keepers wishing to start or expand their colonies, a nuc can help assist in its creation or expansion.


Catching A Swarm

man catching a Swarm

Part of knowing what is a nuc is knowing the term “swarm,” which refers to a group of honeybees traveling together, much like a school of fish or a herd of cattle, and is a natural method that bees use for reproduction. As honeybees go, a swarm leaves an existing hive to create their own hive and will comprise a queen bee with a few hundred worker bees in tow. Having come from the same colony originally, the swarm already knows how to work together to kick-start a new settlement.

Where To Find A Swarm

Swarm of bees

When the original queen and half the colony of worker bees leave the hive, usually between spring and early summer, they cluster themselves close by and send scouts in search of a new hive location. This would be the ideal time, while clustering, to capture a swarm and introduce them to an empty hive for a repopulation. The cluster location will determine the method used to obtain the clustered swarm.

Ground 

bee on the ground

Lemongrass oil
can be used to lure a cluster of honeybees found on the ground into a sideway-tilted cardboard box. The oil will allow the bees to move into the box on their
own.


Branch

bee hive

With protective gear on, a swarm can be shaken into a box from its branch cluster location.

Fence, Wall, Etc.

Fence

Have your bee brush at the ready as you lightly mist the cluster with sugar water or pure water, then brush the bees into the box with a quick downward motion, attempting to keep the cluster intact as much as possible.

Bushes Or Vegetation

bee on a flower

Using pruning shears to cut the branch(es) the cluster clings to, simply transport the vegetation directly into the box for carriage to the new hive.

Catching a swarm can be intimidating to an inexperienced or first time beekeeper. Having the right tools and insight to various cluster locations as they pop up will help ensure success.

 Being involved in a local beekeepers group to help answer questions and share knowledge would be most helpful to those just starting out.

Creating Colonies: Nuc Packages Vs Swarm Catching


When the decision has been made to create a new colony, beekeepers have a few options. Let us explore the pros and cons of purchasing a nuc package versus catching a swarm in hopes of bee perpetuation, thus bringing us closer to knowing what is a nuc.


Nuc Packages

Nuc Packages

What is a nuc? As described above, a nuc consists of a group of honeybees and a queen already working together to start their own hive. Being centered around the queen, who is ready to produce offspring immediately if not already doing so, this package will help jump start comb and honey production as a fully functional unit.

Nuc packages can be purchased from local beekeepers or online and shipped. If not purchasing locally, it is best to purchase nucs from a similar climate as yours to ensure bee survival and for hive acclimation to be a success. The nuc box usually replicates a 10-frame Langstroth hive including all of its features, but with a reduced width. There are also cardboard nucleus boxes and top-bar nucleus boxes available, though neither are as popular as the standard Langstroth.


Swarm Catching

Swarm Catching

If you are able to find a swarm of bees clustered in your local area, your future hive will have many advantages. Because they are already from the area, there is no worry about the bees acclimating to the native environment or weather conditions. The bees making up the swarm have already proven themselves strong enough to leave, as well as loyal to the also-swarming queen, so picking up where they left off at their new hive should be a breeze.

The main concern in this method of starting a colony is finding a cluster. Being in touch with beekeepers in the area may prove advantageous. Local public services such as police and fire departments or pest control companies should be aware of those interested in peacefully containing a swarming cluster, as well.

When calls come in about large groups of bees needing removal, public services can call bee-friendly keepers rather than unleash harsh chemicals to disburse this natural occurrence. In order to be available to answer these calls or catch these clusters while they happen, a hopeful swarm catcher should keep the necessary gear close by at all times and be ready at the drop of a hat.

Best Method

bee colony

The method used to start a bee colony is decisively up to the keeper himself. As a novice, it would be advised to buy a nuc package as an easier transition. Experienced beekeepers have done the hard work of transferring the new colony recruits and a queen bee into a temporary mini-hive. The beginner keeper would then have a much easier time transferring the mini-hive over to a larger one.

If a mentor is willing to assist or teach the ways of swarm catching, it would be an advantage to guarantee a thriving colony that is locally adapted and in a cohesive working relationship. Without adequate research into the methods of cluster removal or a guiding hand to show the way, it may be a dangerous route. Ultimately, the decision in technique lies with the resources and experience of each beekeeper.


Caring For Your Nuc: Tools, Tricks, And More

Before you collect a clustered swarm of bees or place an order online, setting up the future colony's forever home is a must. Begin by outfitting yourself with the proper gear for their handling.

Any job is made easier with the right tools. For a beginning beekeeper, here are some essential tools to have on-hand before your Nuc arrives:

  • Veil
  • Smoker
  • Hive tool
  • Gloves

Hive Location

Before your nuc arrives, pick a spot for their larger hive to reside. Ideally, this location would have warm morning sunshine with afternoon shade during late spring and summer months. Be mindful of the vegetation with its varying pollen and nectar options. Lastly, provide a water source if a natural one is not near by. This is very important in regards to what is a nuc.

Transferring To The New Hive


Inside the nuc box are several frames consisting of brood, honey and pollen. Some also come with an empty frame of drawn comb. All of these will be transferred to your larger Langstroth hive in the predetermined location.

After resting the nuc as close to the new hive location as possible for 24 hours, it is time to transfer the bees. Working in the morning when bees are calmest, open the nuc, smoke the bees, and remove the frames one at a time, placing them in the same order and direction into the full size hive.
Once in their new home, keep the opening to the hive smaller in the beginning to prevent other hostile hives from bullying your newly relocated bees into submission.

Some new hives will need food assistance during transition, or due to weather restrictions. With a mixture of granulated sugar and water in varying proportions depending on hive needs, it is easy to keep the bees thriving.

Conclusion


All in all, bee rearing is an exciting hobby. Learning the ins and outs of colony creation, transfer and success will continue to lure people to beekeeping. Using a nucleus box has become second nature to most, whether they are purchased with a growing colony already inside or filled by the keeper after catching a swarming cluster themselves. Now, you know what is a nuc. No matter the method used, all beekeepers desire a thriving bee colony in the end.

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