Installing Bee Nucs – various methods discussed

Installing 5-frame bee nucs and moving the frames and bees from a nuc box into your full sized hive equipment is a fairly straightforward process. However, there is room for error that can cause your nuc to potentially stall and get off to a slow start.  In this article, we will step through the process.

Prerequisites

Before installing see Before Bees Arrive for hive setup information and Transporting Bee Nucs for safely getting them home.

Description / Background

Bee nucs are small fully functional colonies with everything they need to survive located on just the 5 frames in the nuc.   You will see worker bees, drones, nurse bees and of course a queen.  The queen will be walking free amongst the bees on frames.  On the frames will be a combination of brood in various stages (eggs, larvae, open brood and capped brood), pollen, honey and probably some open frame space for expansion.  We build the nucs up from splits in our main apiary in Minooka IL, and confirm the new young queens are laying a good brood pattern before making the nucs available for pickup.   This process typically takes a month or more (depending on the weather) and during this time the colony is arranging the frame contents accordingly.  

It is important to realize that the frame positions in the nuc are not random – the bees built them out in a specific order.   Undrawn comb will typically be on the outside frames and is there to allow the growth of the nuc – not having free space can cause them to swarm.  As you install the bee nuc and transfer the frames over to your equipment make sure to keep them in the same order to keep the colony building out at maximum speed and efficiency.   Breaking up the brood nest with extra frames in-between can cause a slowdown due to the bees not being able to warm the brood nest appropriately and having to rearrange their previous efforts.

[picture of nuc / frames]

Bee Nuc Installation

Before installing, put on your protective gear and have your hive tool and smoker ready.  You may need your hive tool to remove frames from the nuc.  Since the nuc is this colonies current home, you should use a little smoke at the vents/under the lid to calm them as they may defend the nuc. 

  • When installing a nuc into new hive equipment you would want to start by removing the 5 center frames from the bottom hive box.   As seen in the Before Bees Arrive post, we recommend starting with just one deep box. 
  • If installing into previously used equipment with drawn comb then take the best looking drawn comb frames and position them just to the outside of the 5 center positions.  If you have any honey frames place one at each end against the walls of the box.
  • We recommend feeding sugar syrup through a frame feeder (or other style feeder), put the feeder at one end of the hive and fill it. 

Once everything is ready, give them some smoke and simply open the nuc box and move the nuc frames over one by one, keeping them in the same order in the new hive.   Perform a careful inspection on each frame looking for the queen (she will be marked – we mark all the nuc queens, see queen marking pens for a color by year reference chart) and try not to drop any bees off the frames – remember your queen is loose in the nuc so she could easily be lost if you allow bees to fall into the grass.

After the install of the bee nuc frames to the new hive box go back and inspect the remaining bees in the nuc box.   You may find that you need to transfer some remaining bees over by shaking or brushing them into the hive.   If you have a cardboard nuc box you may need to unfold the frame rests at each end of the box and shake the bees out from these areas as they sometimes like to hide in those crevices.  During this final bee transfer keep an eye out for your queen if you have not located her yet.  Put your pollen patty on top of the frames (keep the wax paper on), then put on the inner cover and outer cover.

[picture of installed nuc with pollen patty]

If you fail to find your queen AND you have transferred all the bees over to your hive box then you should make a note on this colony to do a queen review soon.  Close everything up and check back in about 5 to 7 days.   On your next queen inspection if you see eggs or the queen herself then you are good to go.

If you see signs of queen cells then that would be an indication that then original nuc queen did not make it and was most likely killed in transport.   This event happens occasionally and there is no good way for us to prevent it.   If you believe this has happened give us a call and we will troubleshoot with you to see the best resolution.  We have tried all sorts of things like caging queens to protect them in transport using various candy or cork release methods but there seemed to be more issues getting the queen introduced back to the colony such as she flies away, dies in the cage, etc.    The method we are using right now with the queen loose in the nuc box has the best chance of survival and transfer to your hive equipment. 

Once the bee nuc install is complete and the box is empty, move the nuc box away from the hive to eliminate the chance of the colony moving back to their former home!  You can clean it out and use it for future bee needs such as queen rearing or swarm catching.

[picture of queen cells]

Summary

That’s it!  Your bee nuc is installed and your colony is on its way to build up and fill out the frames!  We recommend checking the nuc in a week to make sure the queen is still laying and all looks good and to refill feeders.  After this inspections every 10-14 days works well and things to look for are specified in the [Inspections] article.

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