Nucleus colonies orders for the 2020 season are no longer being taken, but read on for information if you’re interested in buying a nucleus colony in future seasons! You can check back this winter when orders will be taken for the 2021 season. 

A nucleus colony (or “nuc”) is essentially a downsized hive. Where a hive typically centers around honey production, nucs center around production of bees and brood. Michael Palmer at French Hill Apiaries in Vermont often refers to nucs as “brood factories.” 

A nuc is also a perfect way to sell an already established and productive honey bee colony due to its small, portable size.

Like a good hive, a nuc contains a laying queen, a healthy population of worker bees, and frames of drawn comb. The comb contains a combination of honey stores, open brood (larvae), capped brood (pupae), and empty space in which the queen can continue to lay. Where as each box in a hive contains eight to ten frames, each box in a nuc typically contains four or five. When sold or bought, a nuc ususally consists of one box with four or five frames.

Once purchased, most people transfer their nuc (the frames and bees thereon) into eight or ten frame hive equipment to start their own beehive.

Nucs available for purchase from Pioneer Valley Apiaries consist of five deep-size frames and are overwintered in the Pioneer Valley! This means the queen you purchase with your nuc was raised (locally!) the year before and successfully survived a local winter with her colony.

Why is this good? Getting bees to survive the winter is a beekeeper’s biggest challenge. The Bee Informed Project’s latest annual survey shows that beekeepers nationwide lost an estimated 37.7% of their colonies last winter—the highest ever recorded by the survey. Backyard beekeepers fared particularly poorly, losing 39.8% of their colonies. Using an overwintered queen gives you extra assurance that, with the proper care, her colony has what it takes to survive another local winter.

Are the nucs available for purchase from Pioneer Valley Apiaries treatment-free?
No. My bees’ health is my biggest priority; so for me, that means treating my bees for varroa mites. The statistics from the Bee Informed Project survey mentioned above demonstrate why I treat and why you should seriously consider it, too.

Among the many factors contributing to honey bee declines, varroa mites are arguably the most serious. Varroa mites are parasites that feed on honey bees, spreading a lot of disease from bee to bee in the process. The vast majority of colonies that fail to overwinter contain large quantities of mite fecesa sure sign that a hive perished from disease linked to varroa mites. It is even common for hives that appear extremely healthy during strong spring and summer nectar flows to quickly crash and die when nectar flows taper off—well before the winterdue to high varroa mite loads. It is a sad and confusing outcome for many beekeepers.

The bottom line is varroa mites are deadly to honeybees. My biggest priority as a beekeeper is to keep and sell healthy bees, and I urge every customer who buys my bees to take steps to maintain that health as best they can. In fact, I believe firmly that anyone who keeps bees should use some method of varroa mite control, whether through chemical treatments, organic treatments, or biotechnical interventions such as drone comb removal. Failing to check and control for varroa mites not only seriously jeopardizes the health of your colony, but also the health of others nearby. Only commercial beekeepers with enough bees and genetics on hand to experiment with raising truly varroa-resistant bees are justified in not using any sort of varroa control in their colonies. Even then, they very likely take some precaution to ensure their colonies do not pose a risk to others nearby.

What variety of honey bee does Pioneer Valley Apiaries raise?
My bees are mixed-breed. I do not focus on raising any specific variety of honey bee.  Instead, I select for specific traits like docility, honey production, overwintering weight, good brood pattern, and general health. With a wider gene pool to select from, the chance of successfully raising bees with a ‘winning combination’ of traits becomes greateror so the theory goesso there is little incentive to limit myself to any specific breed.

Genetically, my stock is largely the same as Michael Palmer’s, which are made to withstand the long and harsh winters of the northern Champlain Valley. The difference is that I have raised and overwintered my stock locally in the Pioneer Valley for years.  And because they are not bred with any variety in mind, the bees you purchase could be any color and look like any variety.

Nucleus colonies are generally expected to be available for pick up in May. However, unanticipated circumstances (like weather) may force pick up dates into June, or even earlier into April. When your nucleus colony (or colonies) is nearly ready for pick up, I will contact you to coordinate a pick up date and time. Pick up times will be limited to hours either early in the morning or later in the evening when temperatures are cooler. This is to ensure your nuc does not overheat and suffocate. When I contact you, I will also provide you with a pick up location in the Northampton/Hadley/Amherst area.

The nuc will be contained in a secure box at pick up, although you may have a bee or two escape the box during transport. If you plan transport your nuc back home inside the cabin of your vehicle, you can bring a mesh laundry bag to place the nuc into so that any escaped bees are contained and do not fly around you while you are driving. You can also dress warmly for the drive and keep the cabin as cool as possible to keep the bees inactive.

If you plan to transfer your nuc into hive equipment, make sure you gather and prepare the equipment prior to nuc pick up. This includes a bottom board, hive bodies and honey supers, frames with foundation, an inner cover, and an outer cover. If you are not able to transfer your nuc into hive equipment soon, you may risk having the nuc swarm, losing the overwintered queen and half the bees in the process. Your bees will not patiently wait until you have the equipment and time to provide the space they need. Get them transferred before they even consider swarming. Notable places to purchase online include MannlakeDadantBetterbee, and Humble Abodes.

Nucleus Colony Order and Purchase Information

 $232 per nucleus colony if paying online.

– $225 per nucleus colony if mailing a check. The check must be received within ten business days of your order.

– No refunds. In the unlikely event that I am unable to fulfill your order, you will be entitled to a full refund for any nucleus colonies I am unable to provide. 

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