Guide to Buying Bees (Nucs)
Buying a Nucleus Colony or Hive of Bees
The convenient, reliable and safe way to start your beekeeping journey.
What is a Nucleus Hive or Colony?
A nucleus (nuc) of bees is a starter colony with 5-7 frames of bees, including a queen, workers, brood in all stages, and honey stores. The smaller space makes it easier for the relatively young colony to control temperature and humidity, which is vital for brood rearing. It is also easy to transport and care for as a beginner beekeeper.
At Beehives For Sale, we prepare each nuc colony in such a way that they are ready to be transferred into a larger 8 or 10-frame Langstroth hive as soon as they are picked up. This means the colonies are at an advanced stage and ready for further room to grow.
What are the benefits of getting your bees in a Nuc?
Easy to manage and inspect in your first few weeks as a Beekeeper
Easy to Find
Smaller hive makes temperature control easier for the bees as they develop their young colony
Why do we suggest a Nucleus Hive over a Package of Bees?
1. Packaged bees are more likely to abscond
2. Packaged bees are less established - the bees are starting from scratch!
3. A package of bees may be a recent split or swarm with an unproven queen.
4. With a package of bees, it's harder to detect the health of bees given there is no brood to inspect.
Why do we suggest a Nucleus Hive over a Swarm?
1. Your safety: While a swarm of bees are generally fairly docile as they have no brood to protect, there are times when they can also be quite aggressive. Rescuing or catching a swarm of bees is not recommended for early-stage beekeepers as experience is needed in handling them correctly and not causing harm to those around and to private property.
2. Temperament: While you build your confidence as a beekeeper you want to be interacting with ‘gentle bees’ with good genetics. Swarms have varied temperaments with an unknown history. Very often, they are feral honey bees which may be aggressive and have a greater tendency to swarm again. By investing in a Nucleus Hive from Beehives For Sale, you are selecting colonies with a young newly mated queen with proven genetics and good temperament.
3. Swarms occur for a lot of different reasons - seasonal changes, congestion, old queens, light honey flow and heavy pollen supply, genetics etc. With a swarm, you have no insight into the background of the bees. A colony that has swarmed will have the tendency to do so again once they establish.
4. Disease: Unbeknown you may be catching a swarm that is infected with a disease! Certain diseases may lead to you having to destroy your hive and your newly purchased equipment. This is time-consuming and a costly endeavour.
5. Queens Age and Performance: It's recommended to requeen a swarm to have more certainty around genetics, queen age and performance. Queens are expensive and difficult to source and most beginner beekeepers are not likely to want to do this process in their first few months as a beekeeper.
6. Swarms can abscond, just as quickly as you acquired them. They are not established with brood and honey stores and may have little reason to stay in the box you have enthusiastically put them in.
How to get Bees? - Learn the 5 different ways a Beginner Beekeeper can get bees
Where to buy bees?
A Nucleus Colony (Nuc) or starter colony of bees is best sourced from a bee breeder. At Beehives For Sale, we specialise in breeding colonies and put great care into ensuring you have the best experience as a first-time beekeeper.
Find a Trusted Source
If you are new to beekeeping, finding a reputable source for acquiring your first nucleus colony (nuc) of honey bees is one of the most critical decisions you make in your early stages. One of the advantages of buying a hive from Beehives For Sale is that you have the opportunity to interact with us and ask questions. We supply several bee businesses, bee clubs, hobbyists and professionals across Victoria and have years of knowledge and expertise to help you.
It’s likely you won’t have the experience or skills to recognise any problems inside the hive at this stage of your beekeeping journey and the last thing you want to do is buy a colony from an unknown source. This very often happens with bees as small backyard operators try to take advantage of you. Nobody likes being taken advantage of or end up being sold unusually aggressive bees, a diseased hive, or even one riddled with wax moth or hive beetle. We have a genuine interest in helping new beekeepers get off to a good start.
Chris Kowalski (Owner of Bee Hives For Sale) teaching newcomers at a local bee club
When can I buy my bees? (Seasonal Considerations)
Your motivation to get started is probably at its peak right now, and you may have already bought your hive equipment in anticipation of the arrival of your first colony. Depending on the seasonal conditions of where you live, getting the timing right is probably the next most important factor.
The date you order your bees and the date you pick them up are often two separate times. It’s important to get in early to secure your order. At Beehives For Sale, we supply bees in late September - late January each year. Orders are queued in the system with most colonies delivered in October. This is a very busy time of the year for us, so please be patient. Bees are livestock.
Beekeeping is very seasonal and weather dependent. Doing a small amount of advanced planning will ultimately serve you well in the long run. During the weeks or months while you wait for the arrival of your bees it is wise to invest prepare your equipment, select a location, ensure you have a good water source, prepare a hive stand and invest some time in learning about beekeeping. Perhaps do a beekeeping course, for example.
What kind of Honey Bees should I keep?
In Australia there are three main races of honey bee - the Italian, Caucasian and Carniolan honey bee. Their characteristics do vary and therefore it’s common for new and beginner beekeepers to ask which is the best race to keep. Generally, we would recommend Italian Queens because they are generally less aggressive and easier to handle than other races
At Beehives for Sale, we breed from queens which have been artificial inseminated. We graft from these queens and saturate our apiaries with high quality drones (male bees) during season to ensure proper mating. Once the virgin queens emerge from their cells and are strong enough to fly, they mate with our drones. This ensures we produce the best quality queens and not feral/mongrel bees which are often sold at a cheaper price point by small beekeepers in Melbourne.
3 Different Races of Honey Bees Compared
The different characteristics among the various races of honey bees are subtle but can have some impact on the success or failure of your hive and your experience as a beekeeper.
Italian Bees - Apis melifera ligustica
Italian Worker Bee
Italian Queen Bee
Italian worker bees are light in colour with yellow or straw-coloured stripes across their abdomen. They are slightly smaller than other races, and are known for being less aggressive and easier to handle. They are also good honey producers. For these reasons, they are often a favourite amongst beginners.
Italian bees will build up their numbers later in Spring, meaning you might be better off waiting a little longer for the delivery of your nuc (perhaps around October). However, they often do catch up quickly thereafter.
When starting out, Italian bees are a great choice. Their gentle nature and productivity provide a great way for new beekeepers to become comfortable around bees (and they're golden in colour!).
Carniolans (“Carnis”) - Apis melifera carnica
Carniolan Worker Bee
Carniolan Queen Bee
The Carniolan, or Carnies as they are often affectionately labelled, are probably the second most popular race of honey bee kept by beginner backyard beekeepers in Australia. Carniolan bees are dark with brown spots or bands on their abdomen. They are docile, productive in honey and easy to work. They have a low tendency to rob other colonies, rapid build-up early in Spring, and are very good builders of wax combs. They do however have a higher tendency for swarming.
Caucasians - Apis melifera caucasica
Caucasian Worker Bee
Caucasian Queen Bee
Caucasian bees are silver-grey to dark brown in colour. Some strains can be gentle but others are slightly more aggressive. They overwinter well and produce high levels of propolis (more than other races), but lower quantities of honeycomb. They have lower tendencies to swarm.
This race originated from the Caucasus region, north of the Black Sea. Because they are from a cold region, they can forage on colder days than other bee races. They have a longer tongue than many other bee types and are therefore able to take advantage of more nectar sources.
The first time you interact with your Bees inside your Nucleus Colony will leave a lasting impression.
How much does a Nucleus Colony (Nuc) of Bees Costs?
A 5 Nucleus Colony will cost between AUD$350-$450.
What’s included for your money?
1 x Queen
Plenty of Eggs, Larvae and Brood and about 5kg of Honey
Approx. 4000 Worker Bees
1 x Queen
Plenty of Eggs, Larvae and Brood and about 3kg of Honey
2500 Worker Bees
- 5 Frame Nucleus Hive (Wooden)
- 5 Frames with Wax Foundation
- 1 x Mated Italian Queen
- Approx. 4000 worker bees
- 4-6 Kg of Honey
- Beekeepers Time to split the Colony, breed Queens, tend to the colony while it develops, closing and safely packing the hive ready for delivery