Importance of Nucs on the Bee Farm

Importance of nucs on the bee farm

Table of Contents - Importance of nucs on the bee farm

Nucs, or nucleus colonies, are an important part of any beekeeper’s toolbox. They are small, moveable beehives that are used to start new colonies and play a variety of other roles, particularly for the bee farmer. In this blog post, we will explore the many ways that nucs help bee farmers achieve their goals.

The importance of nucs on the bee farm cannot be overstated, without them, the bee farmer’s job would undoubtedly be much harder. They underpin several key bee farm processes whilst providing a significant potential income stream that further helps financially support the wider operation. So let’s cover some of those important aspects now 🙂

How nucs help with colony increases

Splitting to increase your colony numbers is an important part of growing any beekeeping operation. This is fundamentally about growth and nucs are the most effective way of doing this. Splitting can be done throughout the year and allows you to get them ready for the following season when they can be transferred to full-size hives. If you split early enough in a UK season then moving them to a full-size hive for a summer crop is certainly feasible!

How nucs are used for hiving a swarm

One of the easiest ways to hive or even collect a swarm is to use a nuc. Due to their size, they are easy to keep on hand in the back of your vehicle along with a couple of frames and sheets that make the collecting and hiving a swarm an almost pain-free process. Dropping a swarm into a nuc instead of a cardboard box will simply remove a step in the process by avoiding the need to transfer from box to hive later on, simply transport the nuc to your preferred location and drop it off.

How nucs are used to replace winter losses

Winter introduces numerous challenges for bee farmers and colony losses usually hover around at the top of our concerns but the solution comes down to preparation. By building and setting aside several nucs for your losses you’re effectively safeguarding your operation. Over preparing is usually the way to go here. This is built into your colony increase process as mentioned above so also give a thought about your potential losses and keep some set-aside. Typical losses will vary from location and beekeeper so you’ll start to gauge what you’ll likely need through experience.

How nucs are used for swarm control

From winter challenges to the spring and summer, swarming. Unavoidable of course. The nuc split is a common go-to method and offers a level of flexibility over other swarm control and prevention methods. Arguably it’s the easiest option allowing you to separate the brood, queen, and flying bees in the configuration you prefer and move them around easily within or outside the same apiary.

How nucs help in the sale of bees

Bees are much easier to sell as a nuc (nucleus), they are particularly popular to buy and sell this way in the UK and are largely favoured over packages, a collection of bees sold based on weight and no frames. I believe this is largely down to some key benefits and preferences but perhaps most importantly of which is the balance of worker bees at their various stages of development and with frames and drawn comb present, they can simply hit the ground running. Packages assume the recipient has everything ready and can be a pain to buy things in seperately unless you have a ton of kit laying around.

How nucs help with the build and repair of comb

Yes, I know, bees can repair and build comb in full-size hives too, but there are some distinct advantages to using some of those nucs that you have scattered around. Placing undrawn foundation or damaged comb into the middle of a nuc is a sure-fire way to encourage comb building quickly and nucs are usually easier to feed, removing the risk of introducing sugar syrup into your honey. Liquid feeds will stimulate the comb-building process producing needed comb quickly.

How nucs help with queen rearing

Nucs are just as effective as full-size hives when it comes to rearing queens with the added benefit that the colony is proportionally smaller allowing manipulation, management, and queen finding throughout the rearing process that much easier. Whatever your preferred queen-rearing method, try replacing your full-size hives with nucs.

When we started queen rearing we used the Nicot rearing method in full-size hives, the immediate impact of this was the heavy disruption to these colonies which eradicated any meaningful honey crop later in the year. As a bee farmer trying to get started this was a little frustrating so quickly moved and trialled the same processes within 6 frame nucs, to increase capacity we’d simply double brood and found the entire end-to-end process much more manageable.

How nucs can be used as mating hives

Many people acquire very specific mating nucs to get their new queens mated, and whilst they do have their place they can sometimes be cumbersome, they introduce lots of fiddly new equipment to the apiary, require work and new skills to master, and come at additional costs. Using your standard nucs as mating nucs removes any and all headaches and the mated queen is exactly where she needs to be to get the colony up to speed.

Of course, the negative here is that standard nucs are more expensive than your typical mating nuc but the cost is offset by time put in and the complexity of handling and moving the queens themselves.

How nucs can make breeder queens live longer

When you find that one perfect queen you will do whatever it takes to keep hold of her for as long as possible and moving her to a nuc to live out her days is the perfect way to do that. This is especially so if you’ve purchased an F0 breeder queen for serious money, you’ll want to help remove any risks and make finding her and managing the colony she occupies simpler. Nucs naturally reduce the laying rate of the queen given that there’s only so much space she can lay in which can help extend her life.

How nucs allow you to bank your queens

Queen banking is often seen as a negative beekeeping process and often involves storing and securing multiple queens in a queen right hive until you are ready to use or sell them. The recommendation is that queens are banked for a couple of days but the practice is often drawn out to weeks or even months.  Keeping plenty of spare nucs at hand is a great way to park your queens temporarily without excessive caging, it should be noted that this is a process that may work early on with dealing with a handful but becomes unfeasible when dealing with 10s or 100s at any one time.  At this point, alternative queen banking solutions should be sought.

How nucs are used to check temperament and health

A great benefit of using nucs is that you can check how they are in temperament and health prior to committing them to a full-size hive. If the environmental conditions and forage are perfect and your nuc is aggressive then you may think twice about dealing with these bees when they’re double in size!  Good note-keeping is helpful here as it’s better to gauge temperament over a period of time rather than in the moment when something might be causing them to have an off day.

The importance of nucs on the bee farm

Even when writing myself I’m struck by just how important they are in my operation and whilst the specifics of their use may vary between beekeepers they are still fundamentally used for the same reasons and complete the same end-to-end process.

If you wanted to start up your bee farm but were unsure about where to begin then my suggestion is that you focus on building your nucleus numbers and get used to working with this critical resource. On the way, you can also sell a few, which will help introduce an important income stream and get your business on its way.