'Tis the season for nuc transactions- 1st timers/hobbyists looking to buy and folks in the industry hoping to fill the buyers need while efficiently generating another source of revenue from their bees.
Hobbyist / Newbee Point of View- This is great deal. One can get some established bees on drawn comb with a laying queen for approximately the same price as package bees and since they've got a month’s head start on a package, one might even get a honey crop.
While POV above is true, do you really know what you're getting when buying a nuc? There are more variables to take into consideration when buying nucs than buying package bees.
Here's a few, maybe others will have more things to look for.
We'll start with the obvious-
1. Bees- How many? Some ads clearly state how many frames of brood, honey, pollen, drawn empty comb, undrawn comb, etc. will make up the nuc. Other ads simply reference the number of frames, i.e., 5 frame nucs.
2. # of Frames- 5 frame deeps are probably the most common but there are also 4 framers and medium frame nucs.
3. Frame exchange or not?- Some sellers want to trade frames, i.e., your new frames/foundation for their drawn drawn frames in the nucs. Other sellers simply offer the nuc including the frames.
4. Frame Transfer- If the buyer must travel a distance to pick up the nucs, he/she had better plan on either buying the nuc box, transferring into their equipment at the pick-up location, or having prearranged for the seller to have placed them in cardboard nucs.
Now, the not so obvious-
1. Bees- Where are they coming from? Splits straight out of almonds or other pollination? How long have they been together, i.e., functioning as an individual colony. Ideally, about 3-6 weeks to allow for the queen to have built the population up with young bees and the colony to have proven itself. In my mind any less time than that isn't much less risk than package bees with a recently mated, unproven queen.
Who knows, there may even be some sellers out there selling their old queens with the nuc as a way to recoup some of their initial investment in the queen. Probably, O.K. as long as it's disclosed to the buyer. How can you really tell?
2. Queens- Where did she originate? Where was she mated? Is there a chance she could have been mated to africanized stock, was she imported from Hawaii, grafted from a pure breeder queen? What breed is she, e.g., Minnesota Hygienic? Is she really MH or did the keeper purchase some MH stock years ago and now claim all stock is MH and just place some open brood in a nuc and let them raise their own queen of unverified breed.
2. Condition of frames and comb- This one's a biggy... There are many keepers out there realizing the benefits of keeping newer comb in the brood nest, what with all the hype about chemical retention, nosema and other contaminations. Also, after many rounds of brood, the cells eventually become shallower and smaller, to the point of not being attractive to the bees for brood production or anything else for that matter.
To the enterprising seller, it would seem much easier to stomach recouping some salvage value from their old frames and comb by selling them in nucs, rather than destroying them. For the buyer, taking a quick look at a frame will tell you its condition. Black comb with shallow cells is a give away that it's been around a long time. Again, as long as it's disclosed to the buyer there shouldn't be a problem.
3. What other creatures are lurking in the boxes?- If coming from areas with small hive beetles, africanized bees and who knows what else, all of the above are certainly an option. Although probably not an option that one would select.
In my mind, all of the above potential detriments are o.k. as long as they are fully disclosed. Ultimately, what does all of this lead to if everyone is honest? Probably, valuing the nuc based on its make-up.
$50- Old comb (black, 5 frames drawn both sides), questionable queen, recently made up. Minimum 2 frames open brood.
$70- Decent mid aged comb (is there such a thing? 5 frames, drawn both sides), new queen, 3 weeks since make-up, 4 frames drawn comb covered both sides w/ bees. Minimum 2 frames sealed brood.
$85- New comb (1 yr old or less, 5 frames, drawn both sides), new queen of verifiable breed (4-5 weeks since make-up, 5 frames covered both sides with bees. Minimum 3 frames of brood, 2 sealed 1 open.
$110- New comb (1 yr old or less, 5 frames, drawn both sides), new queen of verifiable breed, mated where there's no chance of ahb drones, 5-6 weeks since make-up. Stuffed with bees, nearly ready to swarm.
$????- Overwintered nucs- probably the same categories as above?
Other considerations- small cell, chemical free, originated from non-shb area, other?
Lastly, all of the above are based on some casual observations from having purchased nucs and sold nucs. It is intended to educate buyers and foster discussion.
Prices are given to demonstrate differences in value based on nuc make-up and not intended to suggest what actual pricing should be. Obvisouly, location, demand, overhead, profit margins, etc. will determine actual price.