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Sourcing bees: Nuc/package/split - what's the difference?

An expected question for the beginner beekeeper, how do I source bees and how should I start my colony?

A nuc (nucleus), package and split would be the most common methods for starting a colony and all have their independent pros and cons.

  1. Nuc
    This is usually sourced from a local bee supplier and arrives in a core flute (plastic) box including 5 brood frames (Langstroth full depth frames), a few thousand bees, a mated queen, brood and honey/pollen. It’s basically a mini colony that the new beekeeper can simply transfer from the nuc into their Flow brood box.

  2. Package
    Starting with a package of bees I believe is most common in the USA. The breeder offers pick-up or delivery of a box of bees including a queen with no comb or brood. The package of bees is shaken into the brood box and the colony needs to be nurtured to success e.g. feeding sugar syrup if required to boost them for comb production.

  3. Split
    It’s a bee colony’s natural progressive step in life to multiply. Particularly in spring when supply (forage) meets demand (growing bee colony) and this manifests as swarming. Before the colony reaches the point of swarming and there are queen cells present the hive can be split. There are other methods of splitting such as introducing an outsourced queen with an equal split of brood box resources or a ‘walk away’ split. The new beekeeper basically needs to source a beekeeper and hive that are willing and able to share their goods with them.

I would suggest researching or finding reviews/feedback on the bee supplier you’re looking at to ensure they’re a trusted and reliable source. It’s important that the bees/comb are free from diseases such as AFB (some small hive beetle is normal and ok) and the bees/queen are raised well with adequate food and have food stores with them. If you receive a nuc with only 3 drawn frames, for example, I would be questioning this with the supplier. Also keep in mind that the local going rate for a nuc/package bees includes a mated queen.

Do our seasoned beekeepers have anything to add to this, or can suggest anything in particular to look out for?

And if you’re new, do you have any questions?

More information and tutorials on how to source bees can be found here- How do I get bees?

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Hi @Bianca. Maybe it is just a wording ,but it may confuse some new starters.

    • Nuc needs some food reserves and it is customary to add a frame or two of food to a nuc.
    • While technically it is possible to make a nuc that comprises 5 brood frames, how many suppliers are going to do this to make sure it is so on a day of sale?
    • 5 brood frames is a bomb ready to explode into ~15 frames of bees in few days. It could be a desirable thing, but new starters may also benefit from a possibility to observe colony growth and learn to handle it while it is small. There is also a high risk of swarming if beekeeper is not ready to transfer it to a large box immediately for some reason.
    • Also, a nuc is just that - a nucleus colony. It could be less than 5 frames in total.

I think Bianca was just generalising for the sake of keeping the post simple and reduce confusion. A 5 frame nuc is more often than not the standard sized nuc available for sale.

@TimG @Bianca, I am a newbie and paid for a nuc from a local beekeeper here in Canberra. It contained 5 frames, a young queen and brood. I installed the nuc into my hive just after Xmas 2020. I know this probably is the wrong place to ask this question, but I can’t seem to get an answer from a local Canberra beekeeper as to whether I should be putting on another super (brood box) or the flow honey super this late in the season. Thanks in advance

@ABB A 5 frame nuc that’s ready to explode into 15 frames of bees in a matter of days probably wouldn’t exist. You’d need 5 frames that look like that beautiful frame @Doug1 recently showed for that to happen. The supplier would need to take honey & pollen into consideration, which would use up a lot of space on some of the frames.

Four frame nucs do alright provided there’s a good coverage of bees with plenty of sealed & emerging bees in a couple of the frames.

Hi Karen, have you checked that your brood box is FULL of bees and all frames are fully utilised? It just seems very soon to be adding a super. If they are really cranking along and needing space I don’t see a problem with adding a super. I would probably prefer to use a traditional super as I would doubt that you will get enough honey stored to harvest this season and a traditional super will be easier to manage for your bees winter resources. I don’t know what the conditions are like in Canberra during winter though so hopefully someone from your part of the country will chime in with some experience and knowledge.

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@Tim, I am wondering if the brood box is full, we just had a thunder storm here (after a 29C day), and just went down and checked on the hive and there a 3 small clumps of bees bearding outside the hive under the landing. Why are bees out in the rain was my first thought? When I checked the frames a week and a half ago, the bees had built up comb on the 3 empty foundationless frames I put in after I installed the nuc but they hadn’t filled them. So I am now wondering what to do. How much of an effort is it to manage 2 brood boxes as a newbie in a cooler climate?

I can only assume that it sounds like you have a relatively strong colony. Without seeing it I can only assume though. I would think that the bees were outside the hive due to the humidity associated with the storm and the heat today. I’m not a fan of running 2 brood boxes but I don’t need to here in my climate. Your climate would be considerably cooler in winter and I’m sure a lot of beeks there would run the 2 boxes. The way I would manage it would be to put a traditional super on now with a QX. If they fill the super by winter remove the QX and allow them the honey for winter. Then in spring get the queen back in the bottom either by sighting her down below or shaking all the bees down and replacing the QX. Your flow super could then be used either by placing on top of your traditional super or once any brood that may be in your traditional super has emerged remove the traditional and swap for your flow super.
If however you don’t have any significant population or honey stores in your super by winter simply remove it to reduce space for the girls to keep warm.
Before adding any boxes though I would check the progress and population again.

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I think so too. But ambiguity of the description may form rather unreasonable expectations in some who are completely new to beekeeping.

My understanding is that it is common in Canberra to use double brood or at least a deep and a medium (WSP or other other Aussie equivalent). As a general rule in beekeeping, it is good management to fill the brood space needed by a colony before adding a super (including the Flow super). Just for clarity, a super is any box above the queen excluder, or a box which be used for harvesting honey but not for brood. So the answer to your question is that you should add the second brood box if that is what most of your local beekeepers do.

As to the timing part, it is late in the season, but your setup photo suggests that you have a pretty crowded hive. I would add the extra box if all of the following are true:

  1. Every frame has fully drawn comb, and
  2. The comb is at least 80% full of food (pollen or honey) or brood, and
  3. Every frame is completely covered with bees

If all of these are true, you know that the bees need more space, and they have enough bees to use and defend (from pests) the space. If they haven’t used the space much within a month or two, you can always take the box off as winter approaches, so that they have less space to heat and defend when the colony numbers drop naturally.

Hope that helps. :blush:

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Hi Karen, I have a question. Is the hole in the crown board open? If so, that would allow space for an increase in population to occupy. Plus it would give you an indication that a super needs to be added.

Cheers

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A “nucleolus” probably would be only one frame, given that a nucleolus is a tiny organelle inside a nucleus… :rofl:

OK, I realize that English probably isn’t your first language, and i apologize for having some fun :blush: , but in the service of clarity, a nuc is actually really called a nucleus hive, and it is commonly 4 of 5 frames of brood and honey, occasionally sold by rascals with an undrawn frame of foundation. :wink:

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@Dawn_SD, this is very helpful, thanks :slight_smile:

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@TimG, I really appreciate the advise :slight_smile: You don’t happen to know any Canberra beekeepers on this forum? Thanks

@JeffH Thanks Jeff, no the hole is still closed. I will consider your advise :slight_smile:

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Thank you @Dawn_SD. Yes, I went too far trying to explain that colonies could be a bit smaller :joy: Corrected.

You haven’t heard me speaking yet. That is when real fun begins :rofl:
No, English is not my first language, nor had I studied it properly. Just trying to get away with what I managed to pick up on the go.

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Biology jokes.

What if it’s a really prominent nucleolus or if there are multiple nucleoli in that cell??

Possible malignancy :nerd_face: