How to Install a NUC

You’ve taken the classes, bought/built the hive components, and now it’s time to pick up your bees! Nucleus hives (nucs) are a great way to start your first hive. The nuc contains 3 to 5 frames of bees with a proven queen, lots of bees, and frames filled with brood, honey and pollen.

Transferring bees from a nuc to their new hive is usually the first time new beekeepers interact with their bees, and it can be a daunting task. There are many videos and blogs available online, made by folks with varying degrees of aptitude…  I thought I’d post a few links from reputable sources that might help.

The video I like best is from Brushy Mountain. However, it demonstrates installing a nuc that was just brought to the apiary in the middle of the day. You will have picked up your nuc in the evening after the foragers have returned, and set it on the hive stand for at least 24 hours, so the first steps of your process will be a bit different.

Before you pick up you nuc, set up your hive stand and place the screened bottom board on the stand. If you are using a slatted bottom board (I really like these! and, place it on top of the screened bottom board (shallow side up). Your nuc will go on top of the slatted bottom board (or bottom board) when you first bring it to your apiary.

Bottom board on hive stand ready for the nuc.

Bottom board on hive stand ready for the nuc.

It is a good idea to make sure that the location of the entrance to the nuc be the same as the entrance to the hive after the installation (or as close as possible). The first time I brought home a nuc, I had the whole hive set up with brood box, inner cover and top, and I put the nuc on top. When I transferred the bees to their new hive, they were confused and tried to find the entrance at the top of the hive where the nuc entrance had been!

When you pick up your bees, remember that it is easy for the bees to overheat in the closed nuc, so it is best to use a truck if possible. If not, be sure to open the windows and ventilate the car as best you can as you drive to your apiary.

Place the nuc on top of the bottom board as soon as you get it to the apiary. This should be in the evening ideally. Remove the block to the nuc entrance. The bees will be confused and upset, so be sure to suit up and move away if they are annoyed.

The next morning, the bees will orient to the new location and begin foraging. Leave the nuc as is for at least 24 hours. If the weather is cold or windy, the bees can remain in the nuc a day or two until a warm day (60+ degrees) with little to no wind. However, don’t wait too long because the nuc may be crowded and the bees may swarm.

Install the nuc into your hive boxes when most of the foragers are out working – usually between 11AM-2PM. Transfer the frames so that they are in the same order in the new box as they were in the nuc, and facing the entrance in the same way. As you move each frame, make a quick check for swarm cells and note how many frames of brood and resources you have. If you are moving into an 8 frame, and the nuc is packed with bees, it would be a good idea to add the second box to the hive when you install.

It is likely that you will have 2 or 3 frames of brood, and 1 or 2 frames of honey and pollen in the nuc. I like to add one of the empty frames that you will use to fill out the nest box on each side of the frames of brood and then add the resources from the nuc, instead of putting the nuc frames all together with the empty frames on the outside of the box. This gives the queen room in the brood nest and can relieve pressure to swarm.

Remember to spray your brand new frames with sugar water before putting into the hive to entice the bees to start building comb. If you have any beeswax, you can rub or paint  the frames with it before spraying.

The video from Brushy Mountain will explain the rest of the process. Once the bees are installed in the hive, leave them alone for at least a week or two. It is a good idea to feed newly installed bees. Note that the video shows a Boardman feeder – which can encourage robbing. It might be better to use an internal feeder. I use mason jars with small holes in the tops that are placed upside down on the inner cover (

Step By Step:

  • As soon as you get the NUC to your apiary, place in its permanent location with the entrance at the same place as the entrance to the hive will be.
  • Remove the block to the NUC entrance and wait at least 24 hours. The bees will orient to the new location.
  • Move the NUC to the side of the hive location and replace it with the empty nest box.
  • Gently smoke the entrance to the NUC. Remove the top of the nuc and spritz the bees with a light sugar syrup. I prefer spritz to smoke.
  • Beginning with an outer frame, carefully move each frame from the NUC to the nest box, making sure to keep the order and orientation of the frames the same.
    • Quickly check for the queen and note the frame contents, but don’t delay the process too much.
  • Center the frames from the NUC in the nest box and add empty frames to the outer edges, preferably drawn comb, or rubbed with wax and spritzed with sugar water.
    • Alternatively, add an empty frame on each side of the brood area, moving the pollen and honey frames closer to the outside.
    • Consider adding a foundationless frame, a short frame, or a drone frame at the second slot in from one side to encourage drone brood.
  • If the NUC is packed with bees, add a second box on top of the nest box, preferably with some drawn comb frames.
  • Add the inner cover (or Vivaldi cover) and sugar syrup.
  • Add the hive top and reduce the hive  entrance to 1 inch. You can increase to no more than 3 inches in a few weeks.
  • There will be bees left behind in the NUC – especially a cardboard one.
    • If you know the queen is in the hive, prop the NUC at the front entrance so that the remaining bees can crawl into the hive.
    • If you have not seen the queen, you might instead put the NUC upside down on the inner cover covering the hole with a weight on top to keep it from blowing off for a few hours.
  • Leave the bees alone for 2 weeks.

Also check out Randy Oliver’s information on First Year Care for Your Nuc. He lists some great starter books and techniques.

Contributed by Ellen Wright