Things to Consider When Buying a Nuc
Definition: A nuc is short for a nucleus colony which consists of a queen that is laying, workers, drones and frames of brood and honey. It is a functioning colonie of bees with all the parts. A nuc is normally 5 to 6 weeks ahead of a package in terms of development.
How many frames are you getting? First, look for the number of frames. Nucs can be 3, 4 or 5 deep frames. Five frame nucs are the standard and much less should be paid for smaller colonies.
When is it being delivered? Here in Central Ohio a nuc delivered in late April or early May is good if you want to produce a honey crop and a early nuc should produce honey. Later nucs are okay but should not be as expensive as early nucs, and are less likely to produce honey in their first year.
Look at the bees. They should be covering the frames. The amount of bees is hard to judge if you are new but the more the better. If there are only a scattering of bees on the frames you may want to look for another nuc.
Look at the frames. They should be fully drawn all the way to the edges and corners. If there is one a little off you might let that go but you are buying drawn frames, make sure you get them. Here is an example of a great frame of brood. Look at how tight the pattern is. A few holes like in this pattern is ok but if the queen does not have a solid pattern then move on to the next nuc.
I would not expect to have 3 frames with this amount of brood. The comb on this frame is a little dark but the age is acceptable. If you look at the bottom right hand corner, it is undrawn. If this was the only frame like this I would be okay with it but any larger of an area undrawn is not of the highest quality. White and caramel colored frames are the best and should be no more than one to 2 years old. When the wax on the frames become dark, thick and stiff, these frames are too old and will need to be replaced soon. Look in your nucs before you buy.
Make sure the queen has been associated with the colony for at least 3 weeks. Some nucs are made up, a queen introduced, and sold immediately. That's not the point of buying a nuc. The point of buying a nuc is that you are buying and paying for an established colony. You want a queen that you can see and evaluate her pattern and know that she is of quality. In my experience only 70% to 80% of the commercial queens are successfully introduced so make sure she is laying well with a solid pattern and established.
Queens in General: There is a feeling that overwintered queens are superior and that may be the case because she has proven she can stand a winter in Ohio. But a good spring queen can be just as successful and less likely to swarm. I would take a good spring queen over a worn out overwintered queen any day. In my opinion a good overwintered queen or a good young spring queen should carry equal value. The emphasis is on good.