One of the most valuable pieces of beekeeping technology could be the “Nuc” Box (or “nuc hive”). A nuc box is a smaller hive box that will hold up to five frames instead of eight or ten frames as the more conventional Langstroth hives do.
A “nuc” box in it’s most basically used form is used to build up what we call a “nucleus” colony. This means that a beekeeper will transfer bees from a source such as a package they purchased or maybe a swarm they caught into a nuc box to help those bees get a head start to building a new nest inside the nuc box.
Placing small colonies of bees into a nuc box can be of tremendous benefit to both the bees and the beekeeper. Because a new, small colony of bees usually has a lower population of bees than is found in a fully built up bee hive, they benefit from having a smaller space to start building up their numbers and resources.
Honey bees take on different roles inside the hive as they emerge from their cells and grow older. Some of those tasks are nursing new larvae, cleaning and inspecting the wax combs to keep them clean and pest free. They care for the queen and the drones. Let’s also not forget the most recognized tasks of guard duty and foraging for resources as well. All of the tasks are done by thousands of bees in the hive simultaneously.
However, when a new bee colony is just getting started, their numbers are much, much lower and they have fewer bees to divide up the labor effectively in a big space. By starting the new colony in a smaller hive box like a nuc box, the bees have less area to cover. They can more effectively nurse and clean and guard and provide for a smaller hive with the lesser numbers they have than they could in the larger, “full grown”, bee hive boxes.
Once the colony starts to build up resources and the population has begun to increase to fill the nuc box, the bees can be transferred into a larger bee hive to accommodate their rapidly growing numbers and wax combs. So, you can think of the most common use of nuc boxes as a nursery for new bee colonies. That’s only one use of the nuc box though that makes it such a valuable asset. The picture below is a photo from Matt Noble in Missouri Valley, IA, putting a captured swarm into a nuc box.
Another common use of nuc hives is to make what we beekeepers call a “split”. For a variety of reasons, we will take a certain number of bees on frames out of one hive and put them into a nuc hive. Hence we are “splitting” the source hive by reducing the population of bees in it and are essentially starting a new colony in the nuc box.
Splits are often done to reduce the population of a rapidly growing colony in the Spring in the hopes to prevent a swarm from the source hive. It is also a fairly common way for beekeepers to literally double the numbers of hives they have without buying them from another beekeeper or a company that sells bees.
Yet another use of the nuc box is to raise new queen bees in them. It is a good practice for beekeepers to raise their own queens just in case one of the queens in their established hives should become injured, disappear or die. Raising a number of queens is also good when a beekeeper is planning to make hive splits as we discussed earlier.
Dedicated “swarm catcher” beekeepers like Stacy will very likely keep at least one nuc box in their vehicle at all times just in case they get a call to go retrieve a swarm of bees. For many, it’s part of the basic “bee kit” they keep in their car or truck at all times.
Nuc boxes can be wood or even cardboard. Cardboard nuc boxes are a lot lighter than wood boxes and often have some built in amenities such as screens to cover the entrances and extra ventilation slots cut right into the ends. These cardboard nuc boxes are great to use catching swarms or for selling bees. The one downside to cardboard, even waxed cardboard, is you don’t want to let them get too wet.
Nuc boxes even get turned into specialized beekeeper tool boxes because they are made to the same specs as many of the inner parts of a hive. Brushy Mountain Bee Supply offers a unique example of this kind of box.
The point is, nuc boxes are very versatile and can fill many roles for the inventive beekeeper. Another place to learn more about nuc boxes and their various uses is on Michael Bush’s website. Beekeepers all around the globe have been using nuc boxes in various sizes and shapes for a very long time. Even so, somehow the overall appreciation of the nuc box sometimes seems as though it is limited to a smaller number of beekeepers than one might expect.
The tried and true nuc box. One more piece of reliable beekeeping technology that have been among beekeeper’s secrets for years. Now you know about them too.
If you found this article interesting, taker a look at another article talking about the often overlooked inner cover.