from Enjoy Beekeeping
Spring is just around the corner. Many beekeepers both new and experienced, are making plans for starting new colonies of bees in 2015. Are you one of the many that currently enjoy this amazing
hobby? If so, you already know the excitement that comes from bringing home your package or nuc from your local apiary, or perhaps awaiting their arrival in the mail. If you are a “new-beek”, you
are in for a real treat as a first time beekeeper.
One of the questions that most new beekeepers ask is, “Which is better for starting a colony of bees? A 2lb or 3lb package of bees, or a nuc?” An even better question for you might be, “What is a nuc?“
Well today you will get the answer to both of these questions so that you will be in a better position to determine which is a better fit for you as a beekeeper. So lets clear things up a bit:
What is a nuc? A “nuc” is short for nucleus colony. This is a colony of bees that is relatively small in comparison to a larger production hive. These bees are just getting started, but they are already doing
everything that a full production colony does. They have some honey, pollen, baby bees in various stages of development and a queen that is an egg laying machine ready to bring that small colony up to a full scale production colony that will contain upwards of 50,000 – 60,000 bees. If conditions are favorable, this can be accomplished in just a few months, and you could enjoy your first honey harvest sooner than you think.
The advantage of starting with a nuc is your bees have a head start. They have drawn comb – which is a huge plus because it takes approximately 8 lbs of sugar or nectar to draw just 1 lb of comb. The down side to nucs, which in my opinion is not really a down side, is you’ll have to wait until mid spring in order to get a one. Obviously they’ll need this time in order to build their house, right? But patience can have its reward with a colony that is off to a strong start. The cons to starting a nuc really boil down to just two things: (1) they cost about $50 – $100 more than a package and (2) you’ll have to wait for a nuc till mid to late spring before they are available.
When you get a package of bees, you get bees with nothing more than the stripes on their backs! So if you get a package of bees the main advantage is, you’ll get them sooner than you would a nuc which is great for those of you who are simply ready to burst because you’ve been waiting all winter long as it is. However, this may possibly be the only advantage of package bees. You see, since they have absolutely nothing, they have to start from scratch – which means YOU will need to feed them sugar unless you are in the middle of the spring honey / nectar flow. And even if you are, it’s still a good idea to plan on feeding just in case of a slow start. Remember bees won’t forage if it’s rainy and cold, so they will be counting on you to feed them via the many types of feeders available on the market.
In the video below, Gene shows you how to install a package of bees:
Another thing to plan on is getting a few more stings than you would if you start with a nuc. Unless of course you are wearing a full bee suit. (I’ve never owned a bee suit unless my shorts and T-shirt count as one!) You literally have to shake the bees out of the package into your hive that you plan on using. For some this is a real rush to say the least. I’ve seen some newbees simply open the package and let the bees figure out where to go inside the bee hive, but this is not recommended by the more experienced bee keepers since they really need to cluster around the queen and unless you literally dump the bees onto the frames where she will be suspended in her temporary cage, things can go wrong. For example, they may not climb out fast enough to cluster around her causing her to lose precious heat on cold nights.
Package bees will at times decide that they do not like their new home. Even though you’ve probably painted it really fancy and it looks like the perfect textbook beehive just like you see in the magazines, they might abscond. Sometimes it’s the smell – bees are very sensitive to smells as you’ll soon discover in your journey of understanding bee behavior. So your hive is subject to their approval. They may leave your beautiful bee mansion to go live in an abandoned car gas tank or a under a neighbor’s birdbath – believe me they’ve done it more than you think. Bee logic is not like ours, so you just have to anticipate the possibility of the unexpected.
So, to recap the pros and cons of package bees: (1) they cost less than a nuc (2) you’ll get them earlier in the spring. The cons are (1) they might not accept the hive you put them in (2) you need to feed (3) they have nothing started yet.
Now that you understand the difference between starting a nuc or a package you’ll need to decide which is the best route to take. But by all means, get started! Don’t let any fears or uncertainty you might feel hold you back from starting this amazing journey. My best advice to you is to seek out a mentor. One thing beekeepers love to do is talk about bees. It’s like an obsession for most, and you’ll soon join the ranks too!
If you are new or feel that you could use more coaching please feel free to attend one of our spring 2015 organic beginners courses we will be hosting at our farm. We keep our class sizes small so that you’ll get the most out of this very informative course. You’ll get a good start in the right direction so that you can be a successful beekeeper. For more information on this subject, check out Enjoy Beekeeping on Facebook, or feel free to e-mail me at enjoybeekeeping [at] gmail or visit my site www.enjoybeekeeping.com. Email me also for more information about attending our classes.