Last Updated on October 4, 2021
A nucleus hive, or nuc, is a smaller hive box that has a number of uses. In this article, we will answer the questions around how long bees can stay in a nuc and take a look at the dimensions and dynamics of nuc hives.
What Is A Nucleus (Nuc) Box
When you hear beekeepers talking about a nuc, it sounds almost like they are discussing weapons of mass destruction. It is really just short for nucleus, or small beehive.
Nucs can come in various sizes, ranging from three frames to eight frame nucs. In this article, we will focus on the five-frame nuc. This is a particularly useful size for many different applications, which we will go into.
Nucleus Box Formats
If you look at a nuc box, you can basically just take a normal beehive, and make it smaller to fit 5 frames. Everything else stays the same. The nuc box is a deep supa, but the size for 5 frames. The dimensions are just scaled to fit five frames. Hence the lid and bottom board as narrower.
A brood box typically has 10 frames, hence my normal strategy when working with nuc boxes was to split a hive into a nuc, or use a nuc as a catch box to trap a swarm. If the swarm was building fast, I would place another nuc box on top of the nuc, and allow the bees to fill both boxes. Then I would move these down into a deep brood box, and there – a ready-to-go mature hive.
How Long Can Bees Stay In A Nuc?
My experience here is that bees actually thrive in nuc boxes. There is less brood-rearing space, and the nuc box may occasionally throw out a little swarm if you don’t give it more space, but for some reason, bees really do well in a nuc.
Years ago in my town, there was a research project where a team of researchers placed nuc boxes on rooves all over farms in the area. 10 years after this project died, I was getting called in by irate homeowners to say that some students had left boxes of bees on their roof, and for 10 years they had been trying to find people to remove these.
Most of these hives had been in the boxes for 10 years, with no working of the hives at all. The swarms were very strong and the hives were heavily propolised.
The duration a swarm can stay in a nuc box will probably depend on where you are in the world. I doubt a nuc box will overwinter well in a very cold climate, but in any temperate area, nucs thrive.
When To Move Bees From Nuc To Hive
My general rule with a nuc box is visit it at night. If there is a beard of bees halfway up the front of the nuc box, you can safely move this to a deep brood box. When you transfer a nuc box to a full brood box there is always an explosive growth in bees, and this is one of the reasons I like nucs so much.
You get a much better split if you split into nucs, let the bees cook in that little box for a few weeks then move to a full deep box.
Advantages Of A Bee Nuc Vs A Package
I will always choose a nuc over a package given my personal philosophies on genetic diversity, and localizing genetics. A package is a quick easy way to start a hive. Your bees can be considered quite clean when they start, especially if you start them on fresh wax.
However, a nuc is an established ecosystem – there is brood, there is bee bread (fermented pollen) and there is a hive microbial ecosystem. Bee bread is a continuous process. It takes the bees a while to build up the capability to make good bee bread when you establish a new hive from a swarm or a package.
Established hives, which have healthy hive microbiology are just tougher and stronger. This is much like a child growing up. Each time a kid gets exposed to a new microbial invader in its stomach the result is upset tummy and disaster. As time goes on, kids turn into adults and their gut microbiome becomes more complex (bar antibiotic doses which reverse that). This is why with time adults normally demonstrate more gut stability than young kids.
The same applies to bees. A hive which has a stable microbiome of lactic acid bacteria is more resistant to all the scary microbes that can become a pest in hives.
5 Frame Nuc Dimensions
There are a lot of ways to make a 5 frame nuc, and I have actually run a sawmill and factory making these for 10 years of my life. I know what not to do.
Jason Kish is a very decent describer of simple easy ways to build hives with the correct bee space. I wish I could have watched his videos when I started. Would have saved a fortune.
Here is his excellent description on how to make a great nuc box. The dimensions and cutting list are in his blog below the youtube video. Watch the video twice then go and buy the lumber and start the process.
Nuc Box Kits
There are many companies which make excellent kits. As a youngster, I once got given a load of old Mann Lake hive boxes, which is why I can remember the name. These had literally lasted from the ’40s or earlier. I had a look and see that they have a good-looking nuc box here.
If you order online, be careful not to order one of these. The bees will not know what to do with it. If you are crafty you can maybe figure out a way to use these amazing systems to bring your hives into the 4th industrial revolution. You will have created the first Nuc Nuc.
We hope this helps you figure out the best way to nuc our planet. Spread those nucs around, bomb the fields and meadows and the fruits and berries will flow. If you liked this article, please share so your friends are also nuc empowered.
Read more about: How Long Do Beehives Last?
Dr. Garth A. Cambray is a Canadian/South African entrepreneur and beekeeper with 28 years of experience in apiculture and specializes in adding value to honey. His Ph.D. research developed a new advanced continuous fermentation method for making mead that has resulted in a number of companies globally being able to access markets for mead. His company, Makana Meadery, exports honey mead to the USA where it is available to discerning connoisseurs. He has also developed technologies to commercially manufacture organic honey vinegar in Zambia for export globally. He holds a few patents globally in the ethanol industry and believes in technology and knowledge transfer for human development and environmental sustainability. One of his proudest achievements is the fact that the wind farm he started at one of his old apiary sites has essentially made his hometown carbon neutral.