APHA 2021 Guidelines


A nucleus is a well balanced colony between 3-6 British Standard brood combs. It should have bees, food, brood, and a queen as described below. The total number of combs should be stated. For bees on other sizes of frames the buyer and seller should reach agreement. A nucleus should be in a position to expand as soon as purchased, without the risk of starvation. It is not just the number of bees, but the queen and the quantity and age of the brood that is important. The container should have adequate ventilation to allow for transportation.

Combs and Frames

The frames should be securely nailed/pinned and be in sound order. They need not be new but should have been thoroughly cleaned. Combs should be fully built out, i.e. not wax foundation. The outer combs can be food only, especially on the outside faces. There should be no sacrificial drone comb. Combs should be reasonably free of brace comb and the nuclei should be easy to remove from the container to ensure that the bees are not crushed in the


An established young mated laying queen should be present. She may be marked with the 'standard' colour for the year (although it may not be reliable to assume the colour marking will comply with the convention). If unclipped, her wings may be clipped at the request of the purchaser and with the agreement of the supplier. The queen may be transported caged (for safety and proof of delivery) for release at the destination by the beekeeper. In such cases, full instructions should be provided to assist this process to avoid losses. If requested, the supplier should be able to provide purchasers with records of the source of all queens.


At least 3 frames with brood should be present. Brood and eggs in all stages should occupy at least half the total comb area, with no brood cycle break. At least 30% of the total comb area should be sealed brood. No more than 15% of the total comb area should be drone brood. There should be no active queen cells at any stage of development.


It must be accepted that the food requirements of a nucleus can vary considerably. A 3 frame nucleus will require the eqivalent of 1 full comb of honey and a half frame of pollen as stores. A 6 frame nucleus will require 2 to 3 combs of honey and a whole frame of pollen.

Adult Bees

There should be a good balance of adult bees of different ages and 3-4 frames should be well covered. The bees should be good tempered when handled by a competent handler in suitable conditions. There may be a varying number of drones depending on the time of year.


The brood should be healthy and not show any signs of disease in any stage, except that a small number of cells showing chalk brood is acceptable as this infection is so common in UK colonies. In the adult bees there should be no obvious signs of any disease (for example: acarine which can be cause distinctive “K” wings or crawling bees; deformed wing virus which can cause damaged wings and is associated with heavy Varroa infestation; and, Nosema which can cause dysentery). No wax moth should be visible.

Since bees are living things, it is acceptable for the composition of the nucleus to vary slightly from the description above due to the prevailing conditions and weather at the time of sale and the delivery arrangements. The supplier will be happy to discuss this further with the purchaser.