16 min read

The perfect poly nuc ...

Expensive, versatile and really useful, at least they are if they are well-designed and manufactured. Some of the current models are good, but none are close to perfect.
Overwintered poly nuc in mid/late April
Overwintered poly nuc in mid/late April

... does not exist.

There are some good poly nucs, a few that are reasonable and a couple of shockers.

I own or have used about five or six different designs. I now almost exclusively use just two - sold by Maisemore's or Thorne's - both of which are good, but neither of which are close to 'perfect'.

Maisemore's sell two different - though at least partially compatible - National poly nucs. I've got both, and the one I show in the images below (painted green) is the better model.

In the vague hope that someone who designs and manufacturers poly nucs reads this (unlikely I know, but "if you're gonna dream, dream big") I thought I'd note the features I would like to see in my 'perfect' poly nuc.

More realistically, and equally importantly, if you are contemplating buying one or more poly nucs this season - and they are very useful - then these notes might help you decide what features are important for your beekeeping, and therefore help you spend your hard-earned profits {{1}} from honey sales wisely.

The features I list - and justify - below are those I feel are important or desirable for my beekeeping, so it's possible they might not suit you.

However, I don't think there is anything particularly weird about the way I keep bees, so I suspect the poly nuc I describe would probably work OK for most beekeepers.

If it existed 😞.

Like lots of beekeeping equipment, purchasing poly nucs involves a significant outlay. Most are £50-80, or more with feeders and ekes. You should expect them to last decades and to get decades of use from them ... if they work as you need.

Uses for poly nucs

The three main uses I have for poly nucs are for swarm control, for getting queens mated, and for overwintering.

Now and then they're also used for keeping high-quality but ageing queens laying a bit longer. Or, trying to ... one of my best old queens has just failed to make it through the winter. Nothing to do with the nuc she was in, but everything to do with a hard life and the passage of time.

Remember, nucs are too small to be effective bait hives and nucs with separate floors (see below) are a poor choice when teetering at the top of a ladder when trying to capture a bivouacked swarm.

For capturing swarms, a butchered Paynes 8 frame poly nuc is a much better option; big enough, light enough and relatively inexpensive.

My queen rearing starts sometime in May (in most years), so I have nucs in use for at least 11 months of the year. That assumes I sell off or promote my overwintered nucs to full hives in April, and that swarm control hasn't started much before queen rearing (or vice versa).

Stacks of bee hives
A range of poly nucs stacked up for the winter

My nucs get lots of use and I have at least one available per full-sized hive.

Nucs are probably one of the most useful and versatile pieces of equipment and new beekeepers should consider buying one (or more) early in their second season.

Swarm control

It's worth noting from the outset that using a nuc for swarm control probably makes the least demands - in terms of 'features' - of the box. All you are doing is housing the original queen somewhere safe, with sufficient bees and stores to keep her going, until the main colony is requeened.

The nuc simply needs to hold the requisite number of frames (more on that in a minute), to have a smallish entrance, so the smallish colony can defend itself, and to be weatherproof.

That's not too much to ask, is it?

Unless, of course, you also want to treat the queenright nucleus colony with oxalic acid ... and more on that shortly as well.

National, Langstroth, Smiths, Warré, Layens?

Unless otherwise stated, I'm going to be talking about poly nucs that accommodate National frames. For US readers, you should be aware that these have long lugs making them, a) a bit easier to handle, and b) a bit easier to break.

My 'perfect' poly nuc takes the frames I use for my bees. Like most UK beekeepers, I started with Nationals and - because of the initial outlay, innate meanness, inevitable inertia and the need to periodically sell bees - have stuck with them.

That doesn't mean that the features I'd like to see in my perfect poly nuc are dependent on National frames, or for that matter, any frame size. They're not. If the box is the correct dimensions for the frames being used - and some are not - I think the features I list would be useful in any nuc, irrespective of the frame size.


By compatibility, I mean the ability to stack boxes together in a bee-tight manner. Usually it's also taken to mean the compatibility of one box with a different box ... it would be a daft if the boxes were not self-compatible.

Historically, a National nucleus hive is exactly half the width of a National hive. You could therefore place two National nucs under the same roof, over a brood box, and there are some elegant queen rearing methods that take advantage of this 'two into one do go' format.

Cedar beehive brood boxes
National cedar brood box and nuc body

But ... prefacing that paragraph with historically should have been a sufficient hint to indicate that I'm referring to boxes made from cedar, not polystyrene.

Inevitably, because of the strength and rigidity of polystyrene, coupled with a need for good insulation, poly boxes have much thicker walls. Consequently, they are not compatible with cedar boxes.

For other reasons - see 'rebates' below - there is also little or no compatibility with full size poly hives, even from the same manufacturer.

It would be nice if different poly nucs were compatible with each other ... but they're not.

There may be exceptions to these rather sweeping statements but, largely, I think it's irrelevant.

A poly nuc is primarily used on its own.

Would a 'standard' poly nuc be desirable?

Perhaps ... to everyone except the manufacturers.

Don't hold your breath.


By which I mean the number of frames.

Five ... or six.

For reasons that will become clear shortly, I have a preference for six-framers. Whatever, the internal dimensions of the poly nuc brood box should be sufficient to accommodate five (or six) frames plus a dummy board.

It's important to have space to separate and remove the frames without rolling the bees. Likewise, I want to be able to squeeze fit a queen cell between adjacent frames without damaging it.

Five frame nucleus hive
Five frame Everynuc, with space to spare

The Thorne's Everynuc - a five frame poly nuc - has the correct amount of additional space in my view.

But, the internal length of the Thorne's Everynuc is wrong. This is a Langstroth-sized hive that has been adapted to take National frames by adding an internal feeder.

Because of the longer lugs on a National frame , the bee space at the non-feeder end of the Everynuc is completely wrong. The bees will do build brace comb here given the chance. It's fixable, but is not really acceptable on an £80 hive.

I can see the appeal of designing a box to take more than one frame size. However, playing fast and loose with the bee space inevitably leads to frustration and extra work.

Hive ready for transport
Ready for travel; Everynuc with dummy board, foam block and retaining bar

If you intend to transport Langstroth-size boxes adapted to take National frames (by inclusion of an integral feeder at one end) you might also need to add a 'stop' to prevent the frames sliding back and forth.


I think this is the correct term ... the stepped interface between components - floor/brood box or brood box/feeder/roof - that ensures everything fits together and doesn't slide about. I'm happy enough to have them on a nuc, but abhor them on full-sized hives where compatibility is important.

All my poly nucs have rebates. All have different profiles. Their presence ensures the boxes are self-compatible, but don't fit anything else.

Poly nucleus hive detail
Rebates ... is that the correct word?
Unless otherwise stated, the images show the Maisemore's (green) and Everynuc (blue) nucs that I mainly use.

OK, now I've dealt with the generalities, what about the specifics?


The floor should be separate. I want the flexibility to stack two brood boxes together; for queen rearing using the 'modified Vorstman' method or for uniting two nucs together. It should also have a central open mesh area as possible, whilst retaining structural rigidity. Both the Everynuc and Maisemore's floors are pretty good examples.

The Everynuc mesh is glued in place and can become unstuck. A glue gun fixes it, but the screws Maisemore's use are a better solution.

The open mesh allows hive debris - and mites - to fall through. However, I also want a way to monitor the mites that fall through, so I consider a removable Varroa tray or board is also important.

Polystyrene Varroa trays get easily stained and need to be painted before use. However, I see no reason why it needs to be poly ... I use a sheet of white Correx in all my full-sized hives and would be happy to have a nuc floor with side rails/runners/slots for a Correx board.

Those of you who have read my previous post on natural mite drop will know that it is not really a reliable way of determining infestation levels. However, the Varroa tray fulfils an equally important role in sealing the open mesh floor closed when vaporising oxalic acid.

There's a 'window of opportunity' of 4 or 5 days duration to treat mites in a broodless colony when using the nucleus method of swarm control.

Varroa treatment of nucleus colony
The window of opportunity ... don't miss it!

You need to make up the nuc containing the queen together with a frame of emerging brood. This will all have emerged in ~3 days, well before any larvae from new eggs laid by the queen have been capped (9 days after making up the nuc). In the interval between the brood all emerging and the new brood being capped all the mites will be phoretic ... an ideal opportunity to treat with oxalic acid, should it be needed.

Feet and 'skirts'

The 'feet' on the poly hive should be large enough, and spaced appropriately, to fit on a hive stand also housing other hives of the same frame size. Since National cedar boxes - and some poly Nationals - have a footprint of 46 cm (18"), the poly nuc feet should be spaced no further apart than this. Some are too close together.

I prefer hives (and nucs) that sit flush on the hive stand so that bees landing on the stand don't have the option to crawl underneath via the gap between the stand and the front of the hive. I don't know whether the term 'skirt' is correct for this feature - perhaps it should be - but the Everynuc floor is better in this regard (and in the spacing of the feet and the provision of an integral handhold under the landing board ... and, while I'm at it, in the size of the landing board).


The entrance should be part of the floor. It should be small, less than 5 cm2. My colonies in the bee shed all use an entrances that are 2.5 cm in diameter (4.9 cm2) and these are strong colonies.

Hive entrances
Little and large; Everynuc (left) and Maisemore's hive entrances and landing boards

Even a well-populated nuc has far fewer bees than a full hive. An 'unbalanced' nuc, recently made up, may not be able to defend itself if the entrance is too large.

The major failing of the Everynuc is the stupidly large entrance.

What were they thinking of?

An entrance that is an integral part of the floor means that the undertaker bees have less lifting and carrying to do to clear the corpses. It might mean that the beekeeper has to be a little more vigilant during prolonged cold spells in the winter, but this is a price I'd be willing to pay for the ability to split the nuc into a 2 x 3 format as described below.

Landing boards

I don't think a landing board is needed ... but I like them.

In this instance, the Everynuc has got things largely correct, with a modest landing board. In contrast, the landing board on some of the Maisemore's nucs is too large and is blighted with 'advertising' (see the next topic) {{2}}.

Brood box

I prefer a smooth-sided brood box. No handholds, no recesses, no fancy moulding and definitely no advertising in relief letters/logo on the sides.

Both Maisemore's and Thorne's sell poly nuc brood boxes that are like this.

I'm not fundamentally opposed to advertising {{3}}, but I really resent the additional work involved in painting it.

Paint poly hives with a solvent-based metal paint such as Hammerite Garage Door paint. This melts the surface of the poly slightly and bonds very tightly. I think the finish is better, and more robust, than the pre-painted Abelo poly hives.

I am fundamentally opposed to hand holds and recesses ... the inclusion of these reduces the thickness of the poly walls. Not only are they unnecessary (just lift the nuc by the floor), but they also reduce the insulation ... that seems to me to be entirely counterproductive. Why invest £75+ in a box that is less well insulated than it could have been had it been better designed?

The brood box should be the correct depth for the frames so that the correct bee space is maintained when you stack two brood boxes together. Any box designed for Langstroth frames - which are deeper than National frames - will not provide the correct bee space when stacked.

Finally, stainless steel frame runners are much better than the simple raised poly lip that Maisemore's use. Paradise hives use a rigid plastic ledge which is commendably robust, but has too much contact with the frame lugs. The presence of frame runners makes moving frames in the box easier, and stops the bees propolising everything together overwinter.

How thick should the brood box walls be? At least 3 and preferably 4 cm in my opinion. The more, the merrier ... within reason.


A sheet of clear, thin polycarbonate is perfectly satisfactory in my opinion. If there are better options I'd like to hear of them.

You can clean these using a window paint scraper on a flat surface.


The roof needs to be at least as thick as the walls of the brood box.

The original Paynes poly nuc (and possibly the current offering) was notable for the large melted patch on frosty mornings, where the escaping warmth from the colony was all too obvious.

Not good.

Again, as with the brood box, a smooth finish is preferable for ease of painting.

The Maisemore's roofs have recesses for the feet of another nuc stacked on top. This is perhaps useful in storage, but I'm not aware of my other nucs that lack these recesses wandering off, so is it really necessary? What am I missing?

My nucs in storage are either stacked in the shed out of the wind, or stacked up outside strapped together and/or weighted down.

The only thing I'm aware these recesses do is collect rainwater ...

I'm undecided about whether the roof should have space underneath for a shallow feeder. I have some like this, but have never actually used it ... and I generally think that any dead space over the crownboard is undesirable. The Everynuc roofs are thick, fit flush to the crownboard and work very well.

Divide and conquer

Before I get to the 'extras' (feeder and ekes) I want to briefly discuss the ability to divide the brood box into two.

I think that a nuc with full-sized frames is generally a better option for queen mating and quality control for most beekeepers.

Yes, they require more 'resources' (bees, stores and comb) when setting them up, but - compared to mini-nucs - they offer significant advantages:

  • it is much less effort to populate them (no shaking through a brood box for cupfuls of nurse bees {{4}} )
  • they are much better able to look after themselves, with less chance of being robbed, starving or absconding
  • it is easy to judge the quality - or at least the laying ability - of the new queen as she has full-size frames to work with, instead of a few square inches of comb

You can 'dummy down' a 3 frame nuc - one of stores, one of emerging bees and adhering bees, a frame of drawn comb, a 'shake' of extra bees and a mature queen cell - into a 5 or 6 frame nuc ... or you can fit two of those into the same footprint (with half the financial outlay) using a divider.

Some nucs - like the Paradise hives sold by ModernBeekeeping- can be divided into two with a thin vertical division board to generate two 3-frame nucs.

To complement this, the hive needs two entrances. These should be at opposite ends of the nuc. If they were at the same end, a queen returning to the 'wrong' entrance after a mating flight could come to grief.

Poly nuc diagram
Double-ended floor and the option to divide the brood box

The floor described above, with a small integral entrance, offset to one side, and a short landing board, would work well with a divider.

Problems with a central divider

The inclusion of the ability to divide the nucleus hive longitudinally creates a few problems:

  1. The divider adds width to the hive, perhaps ~4 mm. In addition, each 'half' needs sufficient extra space that the frames can be removed and returned without rolling or crushing bees. A 6-frame nuc with space for a dummy board should easily be dividable into 2 x 3 frame nucs (no dummy boards).
  2. The brood box needs a vertical slot in the end walls to accommodate the divider or raised ridges between which the divider fits. Of the two, a slot is better as it is less likely to mess with the bee space, or foul frames being returned to the box.
  3. The design of the Correx or poly Varroa tray needs careful thought. The hive no longer has a front or back, so perhaps a simple slot at either end - underneath the OMF - with longitudinal side 'runners', could be used?
  4. Care is needed using this sort of 2 x 3 setup to ensure that the queen does not cross from one side to another. Not only must the divider be bee-tight, but the crownboard must also sit flush on the divider.
  5. If the nuc is to be used in 1 x 6 format one of the entrances needs to be sealed off. Considering the plethora of additional plugs, blocks and ventilators provided with the Abelo poly hives this should not be beyond the wit of man.

None of these issues are insurmountable.


The obvious 'extra' is a feeder that fits over the broodbox. The feeder needs to be as well-insulated as the rest of the nuc. Since it's useful to have the option of feeding either syrup or fondant, the Maisemore's feeder is a good design. This is a Miller-type feeder with removable dams.

Poly nuc feeder
Maisemore's poly nuc feeder with dam in situ (left) and removed (right)

With the dam in place, the bees can be fed syrup. To feed fondant the dam is removed. Since the entrance to the feeder is central it makes no assumptions of the location of the cluster ... and you could even feed fondant and syrup simultaneously, though I'm not sure why you would want to.

A feeder overhead is preferable to the integral feeder in the Everynuc which can be a distance from the cluster and cooler in winter.

The other 'extra' I find useful is an eke to convert the hive from standard frames to 14 x 12 deep brood frames. I've bought these for my Maisemore's nucs, not because I use 14 x 12's, but for queen rearing using the Hopkins method.

This type of eke is also useful to feed fondant (in the absence of a feeder).

Finally, with suitable modifications (usually involving a drill and/or padsaw) an eke of this type can be used to vaporise oxalic acid from above the colony. If the hive entrance is small enough to be easy to defend it is also going to be too small to accommodate a vaporiser.

Manufacturing restrictions

I know less than nothing about the restrictions or limitations of the moulding process used to manufacture poly nucs. Perhaps all that relief advertising text adorning the lid or landing board aids release of the hive from the mould?

Maybe it is not possible to create slots through which a Correx Varroa board could be fitted?

I do know that mould production is expensive, which explains why the poly nucs currently available generally remain unchanged for years. I bought ~20 Everynucs about a decade ago and they look identical to the model sold today.

Nevertheless, new designs do appear periodically. I've got too many now to consider buying more (probably 😉), but at least I've got a pretty fair idea of what features I would want to see before I opted to 'splash the cash'.

If you are thinking of treating yourself this Spring, I hope these rambling thoughts help you make the right choice ... because, if you make a wise choice, you'll still be using the nuc in 30 years time.

Informative? Useful? Entertaining? ... choose any three.
Please support further articles by becoming a sponsor or funding the caffeine that fuels my late night writing ...

Thank you

{{1}}: Or, as I term them, 'potential future profits'.

{{2}}: No the bees do not need the additional 'grip' it provides ... it's advertising.

{{3}}: Well, perhaps I am?

{{4}}: Inevitably a task that has to be done on a wet afternoon.

To read or contribute to the discussion you need to be a subscriber to The Apiarist. Free and paid tiers are available. All subscribers receive the weekly post from The Apiarist as an email newsletter. You can opt out at any time and your email is not used for anything else.