There are a few different ways to purchase a new colony of bees but packages or nucs are two of the most common. In this article I describe what each is, and some of the benefits/drawbacks to each.
What is a Bee Package?
A bee package is a wooden frame box with screen on two sides. It is used to transport bees to a new hive. Packages are sold by the pound. There are roughly 3500 bees per pound so a three pound package contains around 10,000 bees.
Inside the package is a feeding can filled with a syrup mixture. This is used to feed the bees while in transport.
There is also a small wooden box with a screen on one side. This box holds a queen and a few worker bees to attend to her while on the trip. This small wooden box has a cork on one end and is suspended from the top of the package.
In a bee package, the bees are not necessarily related to each other, and are not related to the boxed queen.
What is a Nuc?
A nuc typically consists of 4 established frames. It will contain two frames of honey for feeding and two frames of brood to expand the hive. It will also have a laying queen.
In a nuc, the bees are related to each other and to the queen.
Benefits of a Package
Less Expensive- The top benefit of buying a package of bees is that initially, they are less expensive than a nuke. However, a nuc is more established…so it’s sort of a “time is money” kinda thing that you’ll have to decide on.
Easier to Find– In my experience it is easier to find a package of bees for sale. This form tends to be popular with the larger bee companies. Even our local Family Farm and Home teamed up with one of the larger bee retailers this year and was offering package bees for sale.
Some of the larger retail companies will sell nucs, but it’s more often a smaller operation bee transaction. You may have to search for a local bee keeper in your area willing to sell a nuc.
Learning Experience- A package of bees will give you the opportunity to see a colony start from the “ground” up. They will draw out fresh comb, the queen will lay the first brood and you will be able to witness how a hive is built from nothing at all.
Not Limited by Frame Size- When you purchase a nuc you have to make sure that the frames will fit into your hive box. A package doesn’t include frames so the bees can be deposited in any style of hive.
Benefits of a Nuc
All the Bees are Related- In a nuc, you are essentially buying a family of bees. The bees are all related, they are used to working together and most of all, they are related to their queen. She is accepted and already laying brood.
Head Start- Because a nuc is comprised of already established frames, this will give you about a 2 week head start on honey production. The bees do not have to take the extra time to begin the hive from scratch. This time saver is especially important if you live in a cold climate where the honey season is limited.
Your bees can also take advantage of the spring flow, where in a package of bees the workers have to focus on building comb and often miss the spring abundance.
No Need to Feed- Nucs come with two honey frames used to feed the bees until they can continue expanding. With a package, you must feed the bees until they build comb and begin making honey.
Less Stress- Nucs tend to be a less stressful transition for the bees. They essential are taking a bit of their original home with them in the move. They have developed relationships, accepted their laying queen and already have brood and food available to them.
Nuc installation is usually less stressful as well. A package of bees is often shaken into the empty hive where the nuc frames can be gently places inside without much disruption.
In my opinion, if you can find a nuc for sale, that’s the better way to go. But don’t sacrifice bee keeping this year if a package is all you can find/afford. Both are proven to be successful ways to begin bee keeping.