The Buzz from Cornwall: Nucs
by Tamsin Harris
Beekeeping seems to have a language all of its own and a prime example of this is the word nuc.
This refers to a nucleus colonly or half sized colony living on 5 or 6 frames, complete with a laying queen, workers of all ages, possibly some drones and brood in all stages of development. There will be stores and pollen to keep this small colony supplied and the colony will most likely be housed in a wooden or polystyrene nuc box, although it may be delivered in a temporary nuc box.
Nucs are an ideal way for a new beekeeper to obtain a colony of bees, a perfect size to initially handle and to watch grow as your skills develop. They can be sold in a variety of stages of development but the age of colony that I feel performs extremely well is an overwintered nuc. These bees have had time to form into a cohesive group with all the colony being the offspring of their queen. Once established into a full hive with plenty of new foundation and a good nectar flow or syrup feed, a good healthy nuc will very soon become a thriving, honey producing colony.
There are other ways to purchase a nuc. Full colonies that have overwintered well may be split and newly mated queens introduced. These do take some time to establish into that cohesive unit that we desire, with the population of bees all being at just the right stage of development to build up to a full colony, but they generally get there during the season. A nuc that has been made up fairly early in the season stands a reasonable chance of producing at least a super of honey.
A major consideration when buying a nuc is what type of frames are in the nuc box and are they compatible with the hive that they are to be transferred into. If you plan to start beekeeping with the very popular National hive then buying a nuc that is on National frames is the option you are looking for. Likewise, to make life easy, if you are starting with a Commercial or Langstroth hive then it makes sense to buy a nuc on compatible frames. You will also need enough new frames and a dummy board to fill the brood box of your new hive. Leaving them in the nuc box for sometime after purchase is not an option, a nuc is invariably sold when it is ready and raring to go, and go they might if they are confined to a small space with no room for expansion. You may experience the first swarm of your beekeeping career!
Having feed available should the weather be poor is always beneficial when establishing your nuc into a full colony, they can so very easily starve if there is no nectar available. The food is not only needed to feed the bees and brood but it is what the wax building bees will convert into that all essential wax comb that will allow the colony to expand well. A consistent food source will ensure that the new comb is drawn evenly and an overwintered nuc will perform this task admirably as the balance of developed bees will be perfect to get the job done well.
Watching a nuc expand into a full colony is a real pleasure and as the colony grows so your expertise will develop. Keeping comprehensive notes of what you have done, why you did it and what the results are will help tremendously. Working with the bees, observing and questioning and most of all, enjoying the whole process will make owning your new colony an absolute pleasure.