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Are you buying nucs this spring?

What to expect

 This document is inspired by information sheets prepared by the B.C. Bee Breeders Association (   

and the Ontario Bee Breeders’ Association (

A ‘nuc’, or nucleus colony of bees is a small starter hive typically 4 or 5 frames that is used to initiate a honey bee colony.  A nuc is the most common way for small-scale and commercial beekeepers to purchase a honey bee colony in Newfoundland and Labrador (NL).

A nuc generally consists of a queen, 2 or more frames of brood, a frame of feed (honey stores), and a frame of foundation (with or without drawn comb) that gives the bees space to cluster. A nuc can vary in the total number of frames (brood, feed and empty or drawn foundation), the age of the queen, the number of bees included in the nuc, and the type of shipping box. However, NL nucs are most often sold with 4 frames in an enclosed, easily transportable, waxed cardboard nuc box.

A typical 4 frame nuc has the following contents:

  • Queen bee
  • 2 frames of brood, ½ to ⅔ capped, with adhering bees
  • 1 frame of feed (honey stores) with adhering bees
  • 1 frame of foundation/empty comb
  • Extra bees to ensure the brood will be kept warm
  • Frames are standard deep Langstroth frames (9 1/8”) with comb drawn on foundation

Note: there is some variation in these contents from one vendor to the next.  For example, some vendors may provide a frame of feed and three frames of brood. So ask questions!   Know what to expect!

1. Are the brood frames capped?

Two frames of mostly capped brood, versus two frames of eggs and larvae will make a huge difference to how fast your nuc takes off. A good nuc, when made up by the producer with approximately ½ to ⅔ of the brood capped, may produce surplus honey in an average year if it is established on drawn comb. If you are establishing the nuc in a hive with undrawn foundation, you cannot expect surplus the first year.  Your focus will be on drawing comb ASAP and maximizing honey stores in preparation for winter.

2. How old is the queen? Is the queen marked? What are the origins of the stock?

A nuc will usually have a queen mated in June or early July (the year of nuc purchase), and may be boosted with brood from other hives.  Ask your nuc and queen producer whether they have a formal breeding program established (what breeding decisions do they make?). You have a right to ask the producer about the origins of their stock, for example, about the lineage of their queens. 

Many nuc producers will mark their queens with the colour of the year, in order to date the queen and allow for easy queen identification during colony inspections.  You can ask to have your queen marked, but you may be charged a small additional amount for this service on top of the nuc purchase price.

3. Has the apiary been tested for pests, pathogens and diseases?

While NL is currently free of varroa mites and several other pests and pathogens that plague beekeepers elsewhere in North American, we do have some pathogens such as Nosema that can cause serious health problems for honey bee colonies. You have a right to ask the nuc and queen producer if their bees have been inspected for pests, pathogens and diseases by a government inspector. You can ask when they were last inspected, about the traffic between their apiaries and other apiaries in the province, and about whether they have had to treat for any disease. Also, you can ask for a copy of their most recent inspection/testing results.

NOTE: Vendors of honey bees are an important, potential pathway by which varroa mites and other pests may be transmitted around NL. By law, all beekeepers must report infections or infestations of American foulbrood, European foulbrood, Nosema, tracheal mite, varroa mite, and greater wax moth to the provincial apiarist, Karen Kennedy.

Summary check list

Here’s a list of questions you may want to ask your producer to be clear on what you will be getting:

  • What is the cost of the nuc?
  • Is the nuc box included in the price?
  • What type of nuc box is it? (cardboard, plastic or wood)
  • Does the queen come marked? If not, will the producer mark the queen, and will this cost extra?
  • How many frames are in the nuc and what size (e.g., standard Langstroth deep frame, 9 1/8”)
  • How many frames are covered in bees?
  • How many frames contain brood?
  • Is the brood of all stages?
  • What % of the frames of brood are covered in brood?
  • What age is the queen?