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Honeybees making wax on a frame. This is an example of a foundationless frame

What is a Bee Nuc?

You can buy nucs of bees from Harry's Honey. We have been asked what a bee nuc is so this is an explainer. A new beekeeper needs two basic things - some honeybees and a hive to house them in. This seems straightforward but 5 minutes on the internet will probably make these simple requirements seem anything but!


Every hobby or business has its jargon - and a nuc of bees is just beekeeper's shorthand for a nucleus of bees. Buying a nucleus of bees is the way most budding beekeepers get the honeybees to start their first hive. So what is a honeybee nucleus made up of?

Harry standing behind a poly nuc of bees and next to a full size beehive with honey supers

Harry with a polystyrene nuc (left) and a full sized hive with honey supers (right).

Essential to every bee colony is the queen. Without a queen you don't really have a colony at all - certainly not one that will grow. A colony only grows through the efforts of the worker bees. They care for the eggs the queen lays. A nucleus consists of a queen plus enough workers to look after her, her brood and to do all the other jobs in and around the hive. These jobs include gathering all the nectar and pollen needed to feed the honeybee colony.

At its peak, a full sized colony may hold as many as 60,000 honeybees. It is possible to buy a full sized hive. Even though it's not likely to be a massive 60,000 it will still be a lot of bees. A hive of this size takes time to produce and so they are expensive to buy. They are also awkward to transfer from one location to another. As a beginner, a full sized hive can also be a bit daunting. What people really want is a kind of subset of this huge number - one queen plus enough worker bees to make a viable colony. 


A nucleus is more than this though, because it includes some other things to help get the queen/workers off to a good start. A nucleus also contains what is often described as "brood in all stages". Again, this is beekeeper shorthand for eggs, larvae and sealed brood. Sealed brood means that honeybee larvae will soon emerge as new worker bees - raring to go and ready to work within the hive feeding young larvae etc. The other thing that is added to a nucleus is "stores". Stores are frames of pollen and nectar/honey. So, if the weather is bad, there will be food and the colony's growth will not be threatened.

Every hive has moveable frames of honeycomb. A nucleus, being a subset of a bigger thing, simply has fewer. All of the bees and stores are held on 6 frames rather than the 11/12 you would find in a typical full sized hive.


These 6 frames can be housed in plastic or polystyrene "nuc" boxes. Simple plastic (often Correx) boxes are cost effective. They can be reused, to a degree. They are durable enough to catch a swarm in but not for the longer term job of raising a nuc of your own. Polystyrene (or poly) nuc boxes are more expensive but can be used over and over again for making splits or housing swarms. The measurements of these frames and boxes depend on the hive choice. We use British Nationals. This is the hive system used by most "backyard" beekeepers in the UK so it's easy to buy new kit etc.  It's not the only one though. It's a matter of choice for the beekeeper rather than anything that matters to the bees.

So, what is a bee nuc? There are some quality standards you should expect from a supplier but at its simplest, a nuc is a mini bee colony. It's a laying queen plus workers on 6 moveable frames with honeybee brood and some food -  in a box.

Contact us if you have any questions about nucs or the bees that we sell.

Honeybees and honeybee eggs in honeycomb. The eggs are visible as small white grains at the bottom of each cell of honeycomb
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