Dear Mr. Rawles,
A.N. presented some excellent overall information in Beginning Bee Keeping, but a few additions are in order:
A nuc is not just a screened package of bees but rather is a nucleus colony, usually of 5 or fewer frames. It is a working colony complete with drawn comb, brood, pollen stores and honey, often with a new queen. For those thinking about jumping into bees, it is a great hobby, but not an easy one. Most new beekeepers do not last past the third year, often discouraged due to repeated bee losses. There are lots of tricks to this business (hobby) to be able to keep going. Parasitic varroa mites, small hive beetle, two types of foul brood disease and other challenges are not small obstacles. But they can be tackled, and there is plenty of info out there to help you. Get some books and read, read, read!
For splitting or “making increase” with colonies, you must either have an additional new queen, or queen cell, or eggs or newly hatched larva less than 24 hours old in the new or divided colony. With enough healthy bees in the split and eggs or larva, the bees can make a new queen if you don’t have one (depending on the time of year and available drones for mating). But there is a significant break in the colony brood cycle and decrease in hive strength while you wait for the bees to make an emergency queen. If possible make splits with thousands of bees, not hundreds for best results. (1 lb of bees is about 1,700 bees.) The easiest way to make increase is make splits when you see already capped queen cells in the hive, in spring or early summer.
All honeybee colonies have a natural tendence to reproduce and send out swarms. You can use this tendency to build your apiary. Most honey production is in a very short, two week period no matter where you are located. Few areas of the world except Australian have multiple nectar flows. The rest of the year colonies are usually in a net loss situation. Swarming is a greater tendency for the Russian and Carniolan lines of honeybees versus the traditional Italian lines. All bees are different, so study the difference and use to your advantage. With a table saw you can make most bee hive components yourself, but it would be wise to stock up on the more difficult items in advance of TEOTWAWKI, particularly frames and plastic foundation. All the best, – Beeman2