When To Move Bees From A Nuc To A Hive (Read This First!)

when to move bees from a nuc to a hive

The step after bees have moved into a nuc or nucleus hive is to move the colony into a full-sized hive. 

This can be a nerve-wracking task, and the timing is important!

But how long can the bees stay in the nuc, and when is the best time to relocate them to the new hive? 

Keep reading to find out 🙂

When Should A Nuc Be Moved To A Hive?

Bees should be moved from a nuc to a hive when the bees are ready. This will depend on the size of the swarm and when the swarm moved into the nuc. Generally, bees should be moved to a hive after 2 or 3 weeks. In some cases, the bees can be overwintered in the nuc and hived in spring.

A nuc is typically used to capture new swarms or temporarily house a small swarm after a bee removal.

A nucleus hive is always considered a temporary accommodation for the bee colony (because of its small size). The bees should be moved into a full-sized hive to give them room to expand and become productive.

The timing of the relocation to a hive is important!

You may find the bees will abscond if they don’t approve of your actions. Moving the bees at the wrong time can also cause the colony to struggle to maintain optimal conditions in the new larger hive for raising brood.

Another form of nucleus hive is used to transport a purchased swarm from the supplier to the beekeeper. Although this is not a true nucleus hive, the term is nevertheless still used to describe the transport box.

Nucs can also be used to split a colony and prevent swarming artificially. This is typically done in the early spring, and the new colony will stay in the nuc for the same duration as a captured swarm. 

But hive splitting is a beekeeping topic we can address at another time 🙂

How Long Can Bees Stay In A Nuc?

nucleus hive box

The duration a bee colony can remain in a nuc depends on the type of nuc box and the purpose of the bees being housed in the nuc. Newly purchased bees should be transferred from the nuc rapidly. Swarms that were captured in a nuc can remain inside longer.

Let me explain…

If the bees are a purchased swarm that has traveled some distance to get to you, you should transfer them to a hive as soon as possible. They must be in their new home within 4 or 5 days of arriving at your premises. Delaying this re-homing will result in the bees dying and the increased risk of absconding when they are relocated.

After giving the bees a short time to calm down after the trip, some companies who sell nucs even encourage you to transfer the nuc straight away. 

When a captured swarm moves into a nuc being used as a catch box, this is a totally different situation. Bees that have swarmed are typically smaller swarms, and their scouts have inspected the nuc and found it suitable as a home.

Bee swarms are vulnerable when they first move into a nuc, as they do not have the numbers to defend the hive and the reserves to sustain themselves. A smaller space such as the one provided by the nuc makes the hive easier to defend and maintain the internal hive environment to allow the queen to begin laying eggs and the workers to raise brood.

If the swarm has moved into the nuc in the spring or early summer, there should be an abundance of food in the vicinity. This abundance of resources allows the bees to build comb quickly and allow the queen to start laying eggs within a few days.

In this case, the colony will expand quickly and will soon outgrow the space of a nuc box. These bees should be moved to a hive within 2 or 3 weeks of moving into the nuc box. 

A sure sign that the queen bee has started laying in the nuc is when the workers start bringing back pollen. It indicates the bees are starting to make bee bread to feed to the larvae that will soon be hatching.

If the swarm moved into the nuc late in the summer, it is too late in the season for the bees to build enough resources before winter. This scenario sometimes happens when a hive in the area is destroyed, and the bees are looking for a new home.

I have kept such late swarming bees in a nuc box all through the winter, but they require more attention than other bees that have had time to prepare for the dearth season. 

These bees will not survive if transferred to a larger hive for winter!

They cannot defend the hive and keep the internal environment warm enough to ensure the colony’s survival. In cases like this the bees must be fed throughout the winter with sugar water and pollen substitute to ensure they come out of winter strong and become a productive colony in spring.

Bees that are overwintered in the nuc can be moved into a hive 2 or 3 weeks into the spring when you see the bees bringing pollen into the nuc.

What Time Of Day Is Best To Transfer Bees From A Nuc?

The best time to perform major work on bee colonies, in my experience, is in the evening, especially if you are working with aggressive species such as the Africanized honey bee.

The bees are all home after a day of foraging, so you won’t leave any homeless, and they calm down after sunset and become more docile.

I prefer to do all my transfers from nucs to hives after sunset and use lights with red filters to agitate the bees less (A red-filtered headlamp like this leaves your hands free – Amazon). White light attracts many bees to the light, and they become more aggressive under white light than red light at night.

An alternative that many beekeepers recommend is to do this in the middle of a warm day when the sun is shining. Like this, most of the bees are out foraging. Remember, you must have placed the nuc in the exact location of your hive for this to work, or the bees can get disorientated. However, it means you have to rely on having warm sunny weather on the exact day you need to transfer the nuc! This is not always possible!

Can You Install A Nuc In Cold Weather?

Bees do not like the cold, and the low temperatures can damage any brood in the comb if they are relocated from a nuc to a hive in cold weather.

The bees maintain the internal temperature of the hive at between 93°F and 95°F (or 34°C and 36°C). This temperature is ideal for the development of eggs and larvae.

A general rule of thumb is never to open a bee hive or nuc in temperatures below 60°F (15°C).

If the colony has brood in the nuc and you open it in cold weather, it could kill the brood. This will set the colony back after the transfer, and the colony may abscond from the new hive in this case.

Should You Move Bees From A Nuc To A Hive When It’s Raining?

If the rain is a light drizzle and the temperature is above 60°F or 15°C, then you can move bees from the nuc to a hive.

Rain any harder than a light drizzle will kill bees exposed to the heavy raindrops, and many of the bees may be lost.

In most cases, I recommend deferring the colony’s transfer to a hive until the weather improves. The bees will be more comfortable in warmer, dryer weather, as will the beekeeper!

How To Move Bees From A Nuc Box To A Hive?

Transferring a bee colony from a nuc to a hive is relatively straightforward. The first step is to prepare the 10-frame hive for the new colony.

  1. Prepare a 10-frame brood box by setting a wax foundation in 5 brood frames and having them ready to fit into the hive. Position the new hive close to the nuc box.
  2. Smoke the bees in the nuc and open the lid. Carefully extract the 5 frames from the nuc, ensuring that the queen is on one of the frames. Transfer as many of the bees as you can on the frames into the new hive. A good practice is to find the queen, capture her and set her aside so she is not injured during the process.
  3. Place all the frames from the nuc in the center of the new hive. Position the new, empty brood frames on either side of the frames from the nuc.
  4. Release the queen into the hive and close the lid of the new hive. 

Leave the new hive in the same position that the nuc was located for a few days to give the colony time to settle in. The hive can then be moved to its final destination in your apiary.

how to move bees from a nuc box to a hive

What To Do After Installing A Nuc

The transition period from the nuc to the hive is traumatic for the bees and a tense time for the beekeeper. The bees may decide they dislike their new home and abscond from the hive.

To limit the possibility of this outcome, you can reduce the hive entrance with a bee gate (also sometimes known as a swarm guard) that provides enough space for worker bees to enter and exit the hive, but not the queen. This will force the queen to remain inside until she is accustomed to the new quarters and begins to lay eggs.

Once you see pollen being carried into the new hive by workers, or after 2 or 3 days, the risk of absconding is minimal, and you can remove the entrance restriction.

If the colony is small, I like to feed the bees some sugar water with an internal hive feeder after the transfer to the hive. The ready energy source encourages them to settle down and stay in the hive.

Conclusion

Transferring bees from a nuc to a hive for the first time for a beekeeper can be as stressful for the beekeeper as it is for the bees 🙂

Understanding the needs of your bees is the key to making the nuc to hive transfer as quick and stress-free for your bees as possible. Transferring bees the right way minimizes losses and the risk of the bees leaving the new hive.

But you’re gonna be fine ! Just don’t squish the queen 🙂

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