I think most people would like to see them by dandelion bloom or earlier. The cheaper they are priced the later they would take them. If you don't get them early enough to make a strong honey producing colony they might as well wait till the following year instead of trying to overwinter a colony that didn't make you any return on your investment.
Here in NY up near Albany we tend to get the first crocuses blooming around April first, often blooming through the snow. I think a good nuc time might be the first week in May or so, but of course that varies with the weather.
In No. Central Kansas, Elm and Maple will start around the end of the month along with most of the early bulbs. Give or take a week or so. Dandelions are usually around the middle to late March with henbit and spring fruit trees throughout April.
My personal experience in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri is if I can get nucs as close to April 1 as possible, I can feed them to help them build up and draw out comb. By season's end I've been able to build them up to two deep boxes of brood, and harvest 20-50 pounds of surplus honey off them. That also leaves them a shallow of honey for overwintering, in addition to what they sock away in the upper brood box.
May 1st and I'd only have to feed a short time if at all.
Seems like I could start feeding April 1st as stevenG suggests but if the bees are on natural forage down south, what is to be gained by bringing them north early and feeding them for an extra month up north?
At this stage in my expansion, the nucs I purchase get foundation (or now, foundationless) frames. The advantage, if you want a honey crop the first season, is to get them built up into two deep brood boxes with all drawn comb. Then when the main flow starts, they're raring to go, and you get a surplus. Maybe. And if so, that surplus pays the cost of the nuc and the feed. If not, at least they are very strong going into winter.
Now, you might want to try it for your area, and see how it works. It might not.
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