Nucs, or Nucleus Colonies, are small honey bee colonies created from larger colonies. The term refers both to the smaller size box and the colony of honeybees within it. The name is derived from the fact that a nuc hive is centered around a queen - the nucleus of the honey bee colony.
The nuc box, also called a nuc, is a smaller version of a normal beehive, designed to hold fewer frames. The nuc box is smaller because it is intented to contain a smaller number of honeybees, and a smaller space makes it easier for the bees to control the temperature and humidity of the colony, which is vital for brood rearing. When using a Langstroth hive, a nuc is created by pulling two to five frames from an existing colony. These frames and the nurse bees clinging to them form the basis for the nuc colony.
A nuc may or may not be given a queen at the time it is created. If the nuc does not contain a queen or queen-cell, but does contain eggs, the workers will create a new queen from one of the eggs. If the nuc is to be given a new queen, the queen will be introduced to the colony in her queen cage either at the time the nuc is split from the main colony, or after a period of queenlessness that increases the likelihood that the new queen will be accepted. Nucs are often used to prevent swarming in a larger colony, by removing frames with queen-cells from a larger colony and using them to provide the basis for a new colony. The removal of queen cells and reduction in population in the donor colony diminish the urge to swarm. This procedure may also be called a walk-away split.
Care and feeding
A nuc is extremely vulnerable, as it possesses in some cases less than a tenth of the workers in a normal colony. Nucs are almost always fed using a boardman feeder or frame feeder. Feeding allows the worker bees to remain in the nuc, acting as nurse bees for developing brood. Because of their small population, Nucs are vulnerable to robbing, in which a stronger hive steals all the nectar, honey, or syrup from a weaker hive. The bees from a robbing hive will kill any bees that defend the nuc. Robbing can lead to starvation in days.
A nucleus colony can be used to prevent overcrowding in a larger, healthy colony by splitting some of the population off to a new colony. A nuc can also be used to care for spare queens. The loss of a queen in a large colony can set the colony back by up to a month. A nucleus colony can be combined with the larger colony to re-queen it with a much smaller break in brood rearing. A nuc can also grow into a full sized colony, given proper time, favorable weather, and appropriate resources.
The terms 'nuc' and 'split' are not strictly interchangeable. While a nuc may have a number of different uses, a split more often refers to dividing a colony for the purposes of growing the removed bees back to a full sized colony.
A nuc is not normally intended for overwintering, as nuc colonies do not possess a large enough winter cluster to survive winter in harsher climates. Beekeepers often combine nucs together in the fall to produce a single, strong colony. This results in the loss of all but one queen, but provides a colony capable of surviving winter. In warm climates, nucs can overwinter. Nucs can also survive winter indoors, or in an observation hive.
Mating nucs are a special type of nuc that may be even smaller than nucs that use standard size frames. These tiny nucs are sometimes called mini-mating nucs. Mating nucs are used in a queen mating yard. A capped queen cell is put into a mating nuc together with a sufficient number of attendant worker bees. When the virgin queen emerges and matures (a process that takes around five to seven days from the point at which she emerges), she flies out and mates with up to 20 drones before returning to the mating nuc. When mating is successful a nice brood pattern can be seen on the frames of the mating nuc. Successfully mated queens are caged and shipped to be used as production queens by beekeepers. Queen breeders raise thousands of queens in this fashion.