Also known as "nuc hives" and "nuc boxes"
Nucleus hives, "nuc hives" or "nuc boxes", as they are often known as by beekeepers, generally have a smaller number of frames than a standard bee hive, or sometimes the frames themselves are smaller in size than those normally used.
A nucleus is a colony of honey bees that is smaller than a fully established colony, they are often referred to in beekeeping texts, but there are subtle differences, depending on the use that it is intended that the nucleus be put to.
The words "nucleus" or "nuc" in beekeeping terms could refer to the box, the colony within the box or the whole. On other occasions "nucleus" might be used to indicate a fragment or subdivision of a colony.
Nuclei are a very useful beekeeping tool, with a number of important uses for inexperienced and experienced beekeepers alike.
In my opinion, wooden nuc boxes are very expensive to buy compared to a standard hive. There are a number of polystyrene alternatives, but although they have some good points, I am not a great fan of them.
Bearing in mind that nuc boxes are not normally exposed to the elements throughout the year in the same way as a standard hive is, they can be made lighter and perhaps to a lower standard. They can be made very cheaply by someone with reasonable carpentry skills. There is no standard as there is (or was) with full sized hives, so many designs have been made by different manufacturers and individuals over the years.
Sizes usually vary between 3-6 frames - smaller than 3 and they aren't much use, larger than 6 and you might as well have a full hive. I have seen and used many over the years, some good, others poor, but as with everything in beekeeping, what suits me, doesn't always suit others.
I have designed my own (button top left) and in doing so I have designed out the problems I consider there are in others. There are some important features of mine:-
I have made 15 nuc boxes with floors and they are always in use during the summer. I much prefer them to polystyrene nuc boxes. I have made mine out of recycled materials, plywood for the sides, floors, crown boards and roof tops, solid timber for everything else. The roof cover is aluminium printers litho plates. The cost is zero. A keen eye will often find suitable material.
Providing bee space is observed, nuc boxes can be made how you like. If you regularly move them, they can be made out of fairly thin material to keep the weight down. Timber slats can be used to make them stronger if needed. Mine are subject to very heavy use and are constantly bumped on the ground to remove bees, so I have made them strong.
If you haven't got a nuc hive you can improvise in a couple of ways:-
Although I find nuc boxes very useful items of kit, it is probably because I manage more colonies than the average beekeeper, so they are easier for me and part of my beekeeping operation. I can see that for the ordinary beekeeper who is unable to make a nuc box and has to buy one it is a cost that can be avoided.