Installing Nuc Boxes (Full of Honey Bees)


We installed our honey bees four days ago on July 18th, 2010. We picked up our nuc boxes from the a Newfoundland Bee Company on the west coast of Newfoundland the day before at $200 a pop. (Check out my Honey Bees Are On The Way post for a definition of a nuc box and an explanation of the installation process.) I installed the first box of bees and Jenny video taped it. Jenny installed the second box of bees later and I took pictures. I can’t upload the video due to some technical difficulties which I’m working to fix. Until then, here are some of the pictures:

This is the first hive after we installed the bees.

The emptied nuc box on the ground still had a few bees in it that eventually flew back into the hive.

The upside-down Mason jar is full of a honey-sugar mixture. (Nov. 15/10 update: Don’t use honey unless it’s from your own bees. Grocery store honey often contains spores for various Foul Brood diseases which you definitely do not want in your hives.) The bees will feed on it for a couple weeks while they get oriented to their new surroundings. It also helps them build comb quicker. (Dec. 02/10 update: The bees are actually fed all summer long.)

And here’s Jenny a few hours later opening the second nuc box.

We smoked the bees a bit, but our smoker technique needs some work.

These bees were more agitated than the others, buzzing louder and flying around more, but most of them were docile and didn’t pay much attention to us.

And here’s a closer shot of the just-opened nuc box full of bees. I’m guessing that’s about 10,000 bees.

Jenny pulls out a frame full of bees.

We can’t tell the difference between a frame full of brood, honey or pollen yet. We didn’t look too closely to find out. We just wanted to get the bees in as quickly as we could. We knew it was best to place a frame full of brood and a frame of honey close to the middle of the new hive, leaving an empty frame between each of the newly-installed frames because the bees are more compelled to fill in empty spaces than to work outwards. We took a guess at which frames were full of brood and honey.

Jenny places the second frame into the hive.

Frame of brood in the middle, then an empty frame, then this frame of honey and so on.

UPDATE (Feb. 17/11): I probably wouldn’t split the brood up like this again. Drone brood can go on the sides, but regular worker brood should stay together at least for the first couple weeks.

Jenny pulls out another heavy frame:


Jenny installs the last frame from the nuc box.

It’s not heavy because it only has the beginning of some drawn comb on one side.

Now it’s my turn to dump the stragglers into the hive. That’s right, I tipped the box on its side, banged the box so the bees fell down to one side, then tipped it upside down and banged it again and the clump of bees fell into the hive. They didn’t seem to mind.

At this point we didn’t have all the parts for hive #2, so we had to put something together with scrap lumber and an old window pane.

It doesn’t look like much, but the bees don’t care, and having the glass top (with cardboard on top to block out the light) means we can look through the glass and watch the bees do their thing without bothering them.

Exhibit A:

DECEMBER 02, 2010: I was just reading over this post again and I noticed Hive #2 initially didn’t have an inner cover. That means it didn’t have an upper entrance, no place for heat to escape, no ventilation. I wonder if that had something to do with that hive being slower to start up. The bees probably cooked for the first week until the inner cover arrived.

AUGUST 31, 2015: I just filed this post under “Practical Tips” only because transferring the frames from a nuc into a hive is something most new beekeepers will do — even though it’s an obvious and simple process. Just pick up the frames from the nuc box and move them to the hive box. (Don’t split up the brood right away.) Add some kind of feeder to the hive box (these days, I’d use a frame feeder) and forgot about it for a week.

PHOTOS NOTE (AUGUST 2015): The photos in this post may not display properly because they were uploaded through Google’s Picasa online photo album service, a service I no longer use because certain updates created more work for me instead of streamlining the process. I will eventually replace the photos with ones hosted on the Mud Songs server. This note will disappear when (or if) that happens.

3 thoughts on “Installing Nuc Boxes (Full of Honey Bees)

  1. The good folk at the NL Bee Company just confirmed my order for two more nucs in 2011.

    Now we wait to see if our first two hives survive the winter.

    If for some reason they die of starvation, at least we’ll have two hives with fully drawn comb in them. In which case, I think all we’d have to do is order some bees and a queen (what some people call a package of bees), not a nuc box with frames, just the bees. Then it’s just a matter of dumping the bees in the old hives. They would probably take to the hives easily because they wouldn’t have to do any work to build up the comb. Plenty of room for the queen to start laying. Plenty of room for honey stores.

    Still, the best case scenario is for our bees to survive the winter. I’d love to see them come back to life in the spring.

  2. Do the NL bee Company do packaged bees?

    I figured they only did nucs. I have to call them to confirm my bees for next year too.

  3. Do the NL bee Company do packaged bees?

    I don’t know, but I assume it wouldn’t be difficult for them. They could use the same cardboard boxes they use for their nucs, put the queen in a queen cage, add a little moist granulated sugar to keep the bees alive for their day of transport, and dump 4 or 5 frames of bees in the box. That would probably work.

    Or maybe they have regular cages that are often used for packages. They look like this:

    I’d build the cage for them if that’s what it took.

    But my bees are going to survive the winter.

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