One of the many debated topics among beekeepers is the issue of starting new hives with package bees or nucs. A package of bees is usually a 3# screen and wire cage containing about 10,000 bees and a mated queen (in a cage) with a can of syrup for the journey. A nuc (pronounced nuke) is short for nucleus colony. A nuc should contain 4 or 5 frames of complete honeycomb including bees, brood, honey, pollen and a mated and accepted queen. Both methods have advantage and disadvantages.
Package bees is probably the most common way to grow your apiary. Thousands of bee packages are sold each year in the US. Quality varies greatly so it is important to find a supplier that delivers healthy bees. Then the job of taking care of them is up to you the beekeeper.
Disadvantages of Packages:
the bees in the box are not usually related and have not yet accepted the queen included
the bees do not have any brood or stores in honeycomb
Advantages of Packages:
you will have no sealed brood for about 10 days (this can be a varroa mite break)
available earlier in the season
cost less than nucs
easier to deal with in the beginning, smaller cluster of bees, less propolis and sticky frames, all comb built will be new
Nucs are usually 4 or 5 frames of bees, complete honeycomb, stores, brood and an accepted queen. They are generally available a little later in the season and have a head start on packages purchased at the same time of year.
Disadvantages of Nucs:
Not all nucs are created equal and involve more variables than packages. When comparing costs you should have a complete understanding of how many frames you are getting and how full of bees those frames will be. Are the frames and comb old or new ? Is the comb completely drawn out or partial or just foundation ? Plastic or wax ?
Nucs can be hard to find when you want to purchase and are not always available early due to winter/spring weather. If the Spring is especially cold and nucs are slow to develop you may end up with nothing if you miss the package delivery dates.
Nucs with drawn comb and brood can more easily carry along pests such as (hive beetles, wax moths etc) and diseases.
Nucs are more expensive
Advantages of Nucs:
A good nuc colony has a head start over a package as it has brood, stores and drawn comb.
A queen that has been accepted by the bees and has already been laying.
Both methods are great ways to get involved in beekeeping for newbies or those wanting to expand their apiaries. We are taking orders for package bee now and the earliest dates will sell out. Place your order now !