Keys to buying a nuc
A nuc is a small colony consisting of a laying queen, several frames of brood in all stages and some food resources. Although the typical nuc has 5 frames, there are occasionally nucs being sold that can vary from 4 to 7 frames. Most nucs come in a temporary “box” that is used to transport the bees to the beekeeper’s location. The bees are then transferred to the beekeeper’s hives. Occasionally the beekeeper may be asked to bring their equipment and the bees are loaded directly into their hives. A healthy nuc will expand quickly as the brood emerges and it should be monitored to assure there is adequate space for it to grow.
The state of Tennessee requires the apiary/producer selling the nuc(s) to have an inspection by an authorized inspector. In fact, Tennessee state law requires that any bees being sold in the state or coming into the state must be inspected. The purpose of the inspection is to evaluate the health of the bees and to confirm the apiary is free of diseases that could be spread. Tennessee provides stickers that are placed on the nuc(s) to confirm to the buyer they are getting healthy bees.
Although not required, it is helpful to have the queen “marked”.
This makes her much easier to find during an inspection. Also, if during a later inspection you see an unmarked queen, you know the marked queen has been superseded by the bees. There is a national color code using the phrase “Will You Raise Good Bees”. White, yellow, red, green and blue. The color changes each year on a 5-year rotation. The color for 2023 was red and for 2024 is green.
There are a few issues that should make the buyer concerned:
1. In an established nuc, the queen should NEVER be in a cage “to protect her while shipping”. Not true. It indicates this queen was just added to the colony. The bees in the nuc are not hers and she may not be a mated or laying queen. Walk away.
2. If the marked queen does not have the appropriate color, you may be told they “ran out” of the right color or they don’t follow the code. This can be a sign this may be an older queen.
3. Be wary of nucs that are being picked up from an out of state seller in a public location such as a shopping center parking lot or an interstate exit, particularly early in the season. Middle Tennessee nucs are normally available in mid-May depending on the weather. Ask to see the Tennessee inspection sticker or proof that the bees were inspected. Some areas of concern can be pests (small hive beetles), viruses and old or contaminated comb. If they are unable or unwilling to provide it – be careful. If you do take the nuc, check it closely for signs of disease before adding it to an established apiary.
4. Not all nucs are of equal quality. Get a clear idea of exactly what you are buying. Are all the frames “drawn out”? A nuc from a reputable supplier will not have more than one frame of undrawn foundation, if any. A quality nuc should be full of bees “busting at the seams”. If not, you may not have received your money’s worth.
A nuc is an excellent way to start or supplement your apiary. It gives you a jump start on hive growth and assures you of queen acceptance.