Now taking orders for 2023 nucleus colonies!

For 2023, Pioneer Valley Apiaries is offering both overwintered nucleus colonies and spring-made nucleus colonies with ‘Rockstar Queens’. Both are great and guaranteed to please! $235 each. Pay by check and get $10 off per nucleus colony! Queens in spring-made nucleus colonies are provided by Zac Lamas at Rockstar Queens. When you order, I will note your preference between overwintered or spring-made colonies, but the later you order, the greater the chance that the type you ultimately receive may differ. Read on for more info and to purchase!

A nucleus colony (or ‘nuc’ for short—like “nuke”) is essentially a downsized hive. Where a hive typically centers around honey production, nucs typically center around the 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.

Overwintered nucleus colonies are Pioneer Valley Apiaries’ specialty! Overwintered nucleus colonies are nucs with bees and—most crucially—a queen that have already survived a winter. The focus is almost entirely on the queen because it is her job—and her job alone—to lay the eggs. She is the mother of every other bee in the colony. She is the source of the colony’s genetics. The other bees may last only a few weeks, but she persists to keep the colony going. If the colony does great, the queen gets the credit. If the colony does poorly, the queen is blamed.

Getting colonies to survive the winter is a beekeeper’s biggest challenge, so nucs with queens that have done it before (i.e., overwintered nucs) can have a great advantage over non-overwintered nucs. Simply put, overwintered nucs provide extra assurance that—with proper care—they will survive the winter. The bees have done it before, and they can do it again!

A spring-made nuc is a nuc that does not contain an overwintered queen (i.e., the nuc is not overwintered). It’s queen is newer than that. She is raised and mated in the spring shortly before her nuc is put together.

Spring-made nucs can have advantages over overwintered ones. One is that new queens are generally more productive since egg laying is thought to gradually worsen with age. Many large commercial operations will requeen all of their colonies every year in order to keep the queens as new and productive as possible.

Another advantage new spring queens have is that they are less likely to swarm, especially in the spring. In a typical swarming scenario, half the bees in a colony leave a hive en masse with the queen to find a new home. Inside the hive, a replacement queen is already in the works. A new queen will emerge from one of many queen cells erected in the hive and kill the other queen cells. If other new queens have emerged as well, they will fight when they encounter each other until one remains.

Swarming is how honeybee colonies naturally proliferate—one colony divides into two. In a natural setting, this is good. For many beekeepers, though, swarming is a headache. Swarming means half of the hive’s productiveness flies away with a queen that the beekeeper was likely very invested in.

Usually, a colony will start making queen cells in anticipation of swarming (i.e., “swarm cells”) when it has grown so much that it no longer has enough space in the hive. Sometimes, though, colonies will erect swarm cells even when this isn’t the case. It’s thought that overwintered colonies have a natural impulse to swarm in the spring simply if they are big and strong enough to do so. And once swarm cells start going up in a hive, it can be very hard for a beekeeper to squash the impulse. Colonies with a new spring queen, however, would have no such impulse, as their situation is effectively identical to that of a recently swarmed hive: they’ve lost much of their former colony and now have a fresh, new queen.

A Rockstar Queen is a queen raised by Zac Lamas of Rockstar Queens!

If you’re deep into beekeeping and all things honeybee-related, you might have heard of Zac in your reading or through one of his bee talks. Zac earned a PHD researching honeybees at the University of Maryland. His work is wide-ranging, covering things like varroa mite feeding behavior, disease transmission, in-lab queen rearing, and microcolonies consisting of just 100 bees. He’s an accomplished bee expert with still more exciting research in the works.

Zac also breeds and sell queens in Maryland through his business Rockstar Queens. His enormous passion for bees is reflected in the quality of his queens. And the quality of his queens are reflected in the name! They’re rockstars. That’s the quality Zac shoots for in his queens.

Much of the genetics of Zac’s queens—like mine—come from Michael Palmer’s Vermont operation, French Hill Apiaries (Zac and I worked there together), where famously hardy queens are bred. In Maryland, Zac similarly breeds his queens for certain desirable traits—mite and disease resistance, good-egg laying, docility, etc. They are open-mated and produced using best practices.

They are both great! I guarantee the quality of every nuc. No matter which kind you receive, I promise you are going to like your bees and the queen. And if you find an issue with your queen in its first season with you, I will help you address it and, if needed, replace it. That’s my guarantee!

But please note that when you place your order, you will not be choosing the type of nuc you purchase. While you will be able to state your preference, and I will account for it as best as I can, you may ultimately receive a different type of nuc at pick up. Order preferences will be fulfilled on a first-order-first-served basis. So if you have a strong preference for the type of nuc you want, I strongly recommend you place your order as soon as possible!

Because I cannot know how many nucs of one type or the other will be available until I start making them in the spring, I’m implementing this system to keep orders manageable and to minimize administrative work for when nuc-making time arrives. This way, I won’t have to go back through orders to contact customers about canceling or amending theirs when I run out of one type of nuc or the other. I can keep working outside and stay focused on getting nucs made. If I run out of the type of nuc you want, then you will get the other one. And I promise you will be happy with it! That’s why I’m keeping prices low and am guaranteeing the quality.

No. My bees’ health is my biggest priority. So for me, that means treating my bees for varroa mites.
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.
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. Zac Lamas’s Rockstar Queens are Carniolan, but he is every bit as selective with traits in his queen breeding. Genetically, both Zac’s and my stock are closely related to Michael Palmer’s of French Hill Apiaries, which are made to withstand the long and harsh winters of Vermont’s northern Champlain Valley.

Nucleus colonies are generally expected to be available for pick up in April or May. Unanticipated circumstances (like weather) may force pick up dates into June, but it is highly unlikely. 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 to 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

 $235 per nucleus colony. Get $10 off per nuc if you pay with a check!

Nucleus colonies will consist of five deep-size frames.

When ordering, you will be able to state your preference for the type of nuc you would like (overwintered or with new Rockstar Queen), but you may ultimately receive a different type of nuc at pick up. Nuc preferences will be fulfilled on a first-order-first-served basis, so if you have a strong preference for a type of nuc, I recommend you place an order as soon as possible. This system is necessary to minimize administrative work in the spring when nucs need to be made and orders fulfilled. Read ‘Which is better?’ above for more information on this.

I want you to be happy no matter the type of nuc you ultimately get. That’s why I have not raised prices and am keeping them lower than other local nuc sources. That’s also why I guarantee the quality of every nuc. If you find an issue with your queen in its first season with you, I will help you address it and, if needed, replace it.

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.