Ultimate Guide to Buying a Nucleus Colony (nuc) of Bees
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?
Nucs or a nucleus colony is a small colony of bees with 4-6 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 the temperature and humidity of the colony, which is vital for brood rearing. It also is easy to transport and care for as a beginner backyard beekeeper. Normally within weeks, the colony will be transferred into a larger 8 or 10 frame Langstroth style hive with 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, there are exceptions. Rescuing or catching a swarm of bees may be an attractive, cheaper option for more experienced beekeepers, but it’s not recommended for early-stage beekeepers.
2. Temperament: While you build your confidence as a Beekeeper you want to be interacting with ‘gentle bees’ suitable for a beginner. Swarms can have varied temperaments. Potentially, they could be feral honey bees which may be aggressive and have a greater tendency to swarm again. By investing in a Nucleus Hive from a reputable local Beekeeper, they will likely have introduced a newly mated queen with proven genetics and desirable characteristics.
3. Swarms occur for a lot of different reasons - seasonal changes, congestion, old queens, light honey flow and heavy pollen supply, genetics etc. While a swarm will likely be cheaper or even free, you have no insight into the background of the bees.
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.
5. Queens Age and Performance: Generally it's recommended to requeen a swarm to have more certainty around genetics, queen age and performance. 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 can be sourced from more experienced Beekeeper. Unlike packaged bees or queen bees, they normally need to be picked up and cannot be sent via a Courier or Australia Post. So finding someone within an hour or two from your home will certainly help.
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 an established hive is that get the opportunity to interact with a more experienced Beekeeper and you can directly ask them questions about the colony and its origin. It’s wise to have a discussion around the age of the queen, the temperament of the bees, the likely frequency of swarming, the weight of the Nuc and how much honey these bees typically produce.
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 an expensive mistake. Nobody likes being taken advantage of or ending up being sold unusually aggressive bees, a diseased hive, or even one riddled with wax moth or hive beetle. Find someone you trust, with a good track record and has a genuine interest in helping new Beekeepers get off to a good start.
Nathan Stewart is our Founding Beekeeper, based in Doreen VIC Australia
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 your order your bees and the date you pick them up are often two separate times. Beekeepers normally have very limited numbers of colonies available each year, despite the growing demand for Urban and Backyard Beekeeping. Essentially demand will outweigh supply. It’s important to get in early to secure your order. In Victoria, Australia, typically we recommend ordering your bees between January - end of August with a view to picking them up ideally from October - December of the same year.
In Victoria, Australia you will ideally want your bees to arrive in Spring so they have time to strengthen the colony over the remainder of Spring and Summer before they are impacted by the cooler months.
Beekeeping is very seasonal and weather dependant. Having some patience and doing a small amount of advance 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?
Queen breeders in Australia typically sell three races of honey bee - the Italian, Caucasian and Carnolian bee. While the Queen may be genetically pure, we have little control over the genetics she mates with naturally, which results in worker bees that are hybrids or cross-breeds.
All three races are still all honey bees, but 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.
However, even within races, there can be tremendous genetic variation and determining what is a ‘typical honey bee race’ is often subjective.
We don’t suggest worrying too much about selecting the ‘ideal race’ as most Beekeepers keep a combination of all three, however, at BeehivesforeSale we do stick to Italians for our Beginner Backyard or Urban Beekeepers.
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 a 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 your delivery of your Nuc (perhaps around November). However, they often do catch up quickly thereafter.
When starting out, you can’t go far wrong with Italian bees. Their gentle nature and productivity provide a great way for new beekeepers to become comfortable around bees.
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-gray to dark brown in color. 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?
Typically a Nucleus Colony will cost between AUD$350-$500.
What’s included for your money?
1 x Queen
Plenty of Eggs, Larvae and Brood and about 3kg of Honey
2500 Worker Bees
1 x Queen
Plenty of Eggs, Larvae and Brood and about 3kg of Honey
2500 Worker Bees
- 5 Frame Nucleus Hive (Wooden) - Approx $80
- 5 Frames with Wax Foundation - Approx $50
- 1 x Mated Italian Queen - Approx $50
- 2-4 Kg of Honey - Approx $80
- Beekeepers Time to split the Colony, buy/breed Queens, tend to the needs of the colony while it develops, closing and safely packing the hive ready for delivery - Approx $100-$200