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Buying and Selling a Honeybee Nuc - the questions to ask

I'm writing this because I've heard about several instances of misunderstandings that have occurred with nuc purchases—from buyers not understanding the terms of sale to sellers selling nucs that don't match expectations. Most experienced beekeepers have heard a story or two about difficult nuc purchases. So what does getting it right look like? In my opinion:

A successful transaction with met expectations comes from having clear and unambiguous terms that both parties understand and can agree to. Good communication should start from the moment the advert for the nuc is placed and extend consistently to a defined point.

I currently don't offer nucs for sale, though this may change in future. I nearly sold a couple of nucs in 2023 but held back as I was nervous about it. After discussing my concerns about selling nucleus colonies (nucs) with a bee inspector and a larger-scale beekeeper experienced in regular sales, I thought that it might be useful to put myself in the shoes of both buyer and seller, listing the questions I would ask. I've also thought about some prerequisites and have listed points for consideration. Fair warning - this is designed to be a comprehensive read. Some of the below will seem blindingly obvious to those with experience. Some of it might not be as obvious to beginners. Click on these buttons to jump to the most relevant section for your circumstances:

seller - have you got button

Seller -questions to ask button

Buyer - have you got button

Buyer - the questions to ask button

Sellers - Have you got:

  • A clear advertisement for the nuc/nucs with no ambiguity around the total cost. Get other opinions on your advert if you're not sure it's as clear as it could be.

  • Confidence. Are you confident that you are maintaining healthy bees and are happy to offer them for sale. This might sound like a blindingly obvious question - it is! -and it's a valid one. If you are slightly nervous about selling nucs, consider reaching out to your local bee inspector. If they have availability, they might be willing to come and inspect your bees prior to you selling them. They might even be willing to write a formal note or an email for you to give to the buyer which says that the colony of bees being sold are free of disease. Do what you need to do to give yourself as much reassurance as you intend to give your buyer.

  • Any restrictions placed on you and your apiary by NBU inspectors which prohibit you from moving bees. If you do have restrictions in place, don't sell the bees, and follow the advice of your bee inspector re: selling your bees after the restriction has been removed.

  • 5 or 6 frame nuc/nucs which contain an expected* quantity of healthy and calm bees, brood in all stages, a queen (marked - usually the preferred option for a beginner), and at least one full frame of food stores (pollen and nectar). If it were me selling the nuc, I'd also be making sure to include fresher frames with freshly drawn combs - no dark combs or ancient frames. *I have heard that some beekeepers sell nucs to beginners which are rammed full of bees with a bias for capped brood, whereas others don't include quite as many adult bees. The latter option is done so that the overall nuc space doesn't fill up too quickly once the others emerge - delaying the swarming instinct so that the recipient beekeeper has a bit of time before they put the bees in to the full size hive. If dealing with a beginner, find out how soon they will be able to place the nuc in to a full size hive (which is built and ready!) once they're in receipt of the bees. You could also add a recommendation to your terms and conditions detailing how soon the bees should be moved in to a larger hive whilst stating the risk of bees swarming if they're not provided with adequate space to accommodate their growth.

  • A sale agreement (most beekeepers and bee businesses who sell nucs regularly have made their own version) stating your terms and conditions which the buyer can read and sign. Details of any post purchase support with hints and tips, guarantees, any absence of guarantees, data protection procedures, and refund policies should be in this document. If you do make yourself one of these documents and exchange a hard copy with your buyer, get the buyer to sign two copies as then you can both keep a copy for your records.

  • Clipped Queens or a willingness to clip queens. This can help beginners manage swarming in their first year of keeping bees.

  • Records of any varroa treatments that have been applied to the colony being sold. The buyer might ask to know what has been applied, how, and when.

  • Availability of time to assist the buyer with their bees if help is needed post purchase. This is the time when having a written agreement can be helpful as you can be specific about what you will do for the buyer. Manage expectations and only promise what you can deliver.

  • A willingness to mentor a new beekeeper. Do you have it? Will you offer a longer term support service as part of the sale? A handful of beginners may assume that they can now ask you anything at any time about the bees they've bought from you. How are you going to manage that? Think about how you will communicate what you will do and what you won't do.

  • Weatherproof nuc boxes for the bees. You then need to think about whether the weatherproof nuc hive box is part of the sale or if you'd like it back. Whatever you're offering, make it clear to the buyer.

  • A willingness to let prospective purchasers inspect the bees before purchase. This may be more applicable if you're selling nucs in larger quantities to experienced beekeepers but beginners may appreciate a guided introduction to them before they become the new owners.

  • A willingness to send the nucs via post, or not! Consider whether you will post nucs and/or offer a collection only service. Are you going to provide hive straps for the buyer if they do come to collect? If not, let the buyer know that they will need to bring something to secure the hive box if they are collecting the nuc from you.

  • An awareness of why nuc sales are recorded for bee inspectors, and a willingness to record any bee sales you make. This will be especially important if a notifiable disease is found in or near to your apiary/apiaries and/or the apiary of your buyer as bee inspectors will be able to track the spread, and tackle it. Make sure you look after all the paperwork.

  • An accessible pick up location! Is your apiary easy to find and access with regular transport? If it's in amongst rugged fields and the buyer is due to collect the bees either early morning or late at night, anticipate needing to provide help with directions. Alternatively, agree on a mutually convenient pick-up location beforehand.

Sellers - questions to ask:

  • Are you a beginner beekeeper?

  • (If buyer is a beginner) Have you done a beekeeping course and/or have you gained much practical experience? (If they haven't done anything at all and have nobody local to help and mentor them, think about whether you would be happy to sell bees to them. It's your call)

  • (If buyer is a beginner) Where and how have you acquired your knowledge? It'd be good to know if a lot of their knowledge is theoretical as you can then anticipate getting a lot of practical troubleshooting questions in the coming months (unless the buyer already has a mentor in place). Find out.

  • (If buyer is a beginner going at it alone) Have you got a fellow beekeeper who is going to help you this year, and/or do you belong to a Beekeeping Association who you can turn to for help?

  • Do you consent to me sharing details of this transaction on Beebase? Explain why you're doing it.

  • Would you like a clipped and/or a marked queen? If the purchaser is a beginner and are unsure about how to answer this, explain why it could help them.

  • Are you coming to collect the nuc in person or do you want the bees shipped? If you don't offer shipping and only offer collection then don't ask this.

Buyers - Have you got:

  • Some beekeeping knowledge! And some of that knowledge should ideally have been gained from practical, hands-on experiences which involve opening up beehives and inspecting them under guidance. With the purchase of a nuc, you're about to receive thousands of honeybees in to your care. They will become your responsibility. If you've never opened a beehive, consider whether you're really ready to buy your own bees. If you're in doubt, reach out to your local beekeeping association for advice.

  • An understanding of your beekeeping obligations and responsibilities, especially if you're just starting out. Do you know about diseases and more specifically, the notifiable diseases? Do you know what to do in the event of suspecting a notifiable disease? Do you know the contact details of your local bee inspector?

  • Space within an apiary which is ready to receive your bees?

  • Plenty of time this spring and summer to inspect your bees regularly?

  • Have you got a swarm management plan in mind?

  • The basic PPE kit and tools in readiness to start your beekeeping activities once your bees are home. Do you have a good fitting suit and gloves, hive tool/s, and a smoker?

Basic Beekeeping kit. A suit, a hive tool, some gloves and a smoker.

  • A full size beehive with assembled frames which is all made up and ready to receive bees? The bees in your nucleus colony will grow in number quite rapidly in springtime and they will need more space. If you have a very full nuc of bees, you will need to be prepared to transfer the frames from your nuc box in to your larger beehive in the first day or so after you've got your bees home. If bees run out of space, it'll speed up the swarming instinct.

  • Hive straps to take with you if you're driving to collect your nuc. Or is the seller of the nuc providing them? Best to check. It's also an idea to put your bee suit and gloves in the car in case of emergency on the way home. You probably won't need them, but you're covered if you take them. A personal tip: When I travel with bees in the car, I use hive straps and then I also place the strapped up nuc in to a large zippable mesh laundry bag. Why? To contain the bees in the event of damage to the hive. If I have a car accident on the way home whilst travelling with bees, there's no way that paramedics could get to me safely if the car was full of thousands of bees. Something to think about.

A secured nuc of bees being transported safely in a car

  • (more for beginners) A full size hive that accommodates the frames your nuc of bees are coming to you on ie: National BS deep frames for a National beehive. Or, Langstroth frames for a Langstroth beehive. Let the seller know your hive type in advance - beginners won't want to get this one wrong.

  • Knowledge of Beebase and registration to it.

  • Beekeeper insurance. Speak to your local association to learn more about this. They can arrange insurance for you through the association.

  • A full understanding of the terms of sale offered by the nuc seller you're about to buy your bees from. If you're unsure of anything or need further clarification on anything, whether it be cost, aftercare support, liability etc, don't be afraid - just ask them.

  • A history of severe allergic reactions to bee stings. What, you have!? What are you doing buying bees?

Buyers - questions to ask:

  • Are the bees your bees and do they originate from this location?

  • Have you raised your own queens or have you bought your queens in? If the latter, where has the queen I'm getting come from?

  • How old is the queen in this colony?

  • How many frames do I get in this nuc? 5 or 6 frames are typical.

  • What type of frames will the bees come to me on? You want to make sure that if you're intending to keep Langstroth hives that you're ordering a nuc of bees on Langstroth frames.

  • Can I keep the nuc hive/box the bees are coming to me in? Is it included in the price? Some sellers will want the nucleus hive/box back so it's always good to check.

  • How long have you been beekeeping for?

  • Have you treated these bees with any VMD approved treatments? If yes, when and what treatment/s did you use?

  • What age is the queen and is she marked and/or clipped? If you're a beginner and are getting used to identifying things in the hive, having a marked and clipped queen will help you.

  • Is the price on the advert the total price, or is it just the deposit with a remaining balance due later on?

  • Can you show me the bees before I take them away with me?

  • Can I contact you if I have any problems with the bees when I get them home? What's the preferred way and best time to contact you?

  • Do you offer mentoring support to beginners and will I get it automatically as part of the sale of the nuc?

  • Do you have a sale agreement we can use? If not, can we create one together?

  • Can I have a receipt with the purchase?

Feel free to use anything I've put here to help you either prepare a nuc for sale, or as guidance to help you buy a nucleus colony. If it has helped you at all, it'd be lovely if you could let me know. Thanks for reading :)


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