How to prepare a honey bee nucleus for sale

If you are planning to sell a nucleus of honey bees to another Meridian member or elsewhere, you should conform to the following criteria set by the National Bee Unit.

• As it develops, the nucleus (nuc) should be checked regularly for signs of disease. Any person involved in the production and distribution of nuclei should be competent in recognising bee diseases and pests and should have attended recognised bee pests and diseases training courses. Courses are offered by Meridian (and most other Beekeepers’ Associations), county associations like Hampshire and nationally by the BBKA and others.

• Beekeepers raising nucs must immediately report any statutory diseases or pests found in their stocks. This is a legal requirement; Bee Diseases and Pest Control Order 2006. If any statutory disease is suspected, no stock (including nucs for sale) can be moved until they have been inspected by a National Bee Unit (NBU) Bee Inspector.

• The person selling the nuc must keep records of the sale. The record should include; the purchaser’s name, address and contact details. Date of sale and last inspection before sale. This information will need to be provided to the NBU if a statutory pest or disease is found on your premises.

• It’s good practice to provide a comprehensive care and development instruction sheet with all nuclei sold. A template instruction sheet is provided here for your convenience but you will need to add details of any treatments you have applied and the dates these were administered in line with legislation. The instruction sheet should also cover a brief conflict statement in case there is a dispute with the purchaser.

There is more information about buying and selling nucs on Beebase.

Nucleus composition

A nucleus is a well-balanced colony on between three and six combs. It should have bees at all stages of development, food, brood and a young, mated laying queen. The total number of combs should be declared in advance by the seller.

The type and size of the frames should be discussed in advance by the buyer and seller to ensure compatibility. The nucleus colony should be in a position to expand as soon as purchased without risk of starvation.

Combs and frames

The frames should be securely nailed/pinned and be in sound order. They need not be new but should have been thoroughly cleaned before they were used to make up the nuc. Combs should be fully built out, not foundation. The outer combs can be food only, especially on the outside faces. Combs should be free of brace comb and the nuclei should be easy to remove from its container to ensure bees are not crushed in the process.


The nuclei should be headed by an established young, mated, laying queen. She may be marked with the recognised colour for the year. If unclipped, her wings may be clipped at the request of the purchaser and with the agreement of the supplier.

The queen may be transported caged (for safety and proof of delivery) for release at the destination by the beekeeper. In such cases, full instructions should be provided to assist this process and to avoid losses. If requested, the supplier should be able to provide purchasers with records of the source of the queen.


The nuclei should have at least three frames containing brood. Brood at all stages and eggs should occupy at least half the total comb area. At least 30% of the total comb area should be sealed worker brood. No more than 15% of comb should be drone brood. There must be no active queen cells at any stage of development.


It must be accepted that the food requirements of a nucleus can vary considerably. A three frame nuc will require the equivalent of one full frame of honey and half a frame of pollen as stores. A six frame nucleus will require the equivalent of two frames of honey and half a frame of brood as a minimum.

Adult bees.

There should be a good balance of adult bees at different stages of development and three to four frames should be well covered. The bees should have a good temperament when handled competently in suitable conditions. There may be a varying number of drones present, depending on the time of year.


The brood should be healthy with no sign of disease at any stage. A small number of cells showing chalk brood is acceptable as this infection is so common in the UK. In adult bees, there should be no obvious signs of disease.

For example, Acarine which can cause the distinctive ‘K’ wings or crawling bees or Deformed Wing Virus (pictured) which causes damaged wings and is associated with a heavy varroa infestation. Nosema can cause dysentery which is observed at the nuc entrance or on the combs or tops of frames. No wax moth should be visible.

It is acceptable for nucs to vary slightly from the description above due to prevailing conditions and weather at the time of sale. The supplier should discuss the composition of the nuc in advance with the purchaser.

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