Small hives for mating queens in.
"Mini - nucs", "mini nucs" or "mininucs" are common short forms of "miniature nuclei" that is a term given to small hives with non - standard frames. Their main purpose is for queen mating and they were commonly referred to by earlier writers as "baby nuclei". They have certainly been in use in a number of forms since the latter part of the 19th century, since when there have been many frame sizes and designs. Some variations include half or third width super frames, sections or completely different sizes, either with or without side or bottom bars. Some have been made as single stand - alone units, others as part of a larger box, such as a partitioned off super.
It seems that virtually everyone who has attempted queen rearing has "designed" their own mating hive! I have seen many different sizes and types of mini - nucs, very often made from wood or plywood at little or no cost. In general they all work, even though some are a bit cumbersome and difficult to use.
Soon after I started beekeeping I was given a "Muller Mating Hive" that was a quartered square box that was much smaller than a super. This was the only one I have ever seen and I have failed in my attempts to find further information. It was certainly small, the frames being about 2 inches square. I never used it and wonder if it was too small to be successful.
There are now a number of mini - nucs that are made commercially in polystyrene or plastic, with new ones coming on the market on a regular basis. Some are much better than others and are far more versatile. Some have a fixed configuration with no facility for expansion, others have a similar concept to a standard hive where extra frames or boxes can be added.
It is my view that new purchasers should investigate the market well and speak to other users before purchasing in any quantity. They are all different sizes with compatibility non existent. I would certainly advise selecting on what suits you best, rather than price. At the time of writing (August 2015) the most expensive ones cost less than a good commercially bought queen. In normal summers I can get 3-4 queens mated in one mini - nuc, and with care each should last at least 20 years, so it is false economy to buy the cheapest, as it may prove to be the dearest and most frustrating in the end.
Polystyrene mini - nucs are attractive to slugs, so I try to keep mine off the ground. I find about waist height is comfortable to work at and something like a discarded bench or table is often used. They are very light and will blow over in the wind, so weigh them down with a brick. I have seen them fixed to a fence or post with a bungee cord too. Polystyrene will degenerate in the open, so paint them in the same way as advised for other polystyrene hives.
The attraction of mini - nucs is that a small number of bees are required, rather than a larger number as in a nucleus on standard frames, so being economical. It is my view that mini - nucs are much more suitable for the beekeeper that is producing a relatively large number of queens, not the ordinary amateur beekeeper with a handful of colonies. Their management is critical and there is a lot of learning needed to avoid or reduce some of the problems associated with them.
Mini - nucs can be used for the early stages of teaching beekeeping or perhaps for demonstrating to non - beekeepers as bees in them are usually docile.