What is the best way to get started as a beekeeper? The first step in your journey may be to choose a source of bees! When buying bees, you will be faced with the decision of purchasing package bees vs nucs. Both choices have advantages and disadvantages.
Thousands of packages of honeybees are sold each year. The most popular size is a 3# (weight) package of bees with a young mated queen. They are transported inside a small wire/wooden box with a can of sugar syrup to feed them on their journey.
Package Bees are the most economical and readily available source of bees. Generally available early in the Spring season, package bees are often preferred for beekeepers who want to get started early in the season.
Nucs (also know as nucleus colonies) are small starter bee colonies. A nuc usually consists of 5 frames of bees (including drawn comb, honey and brood) and a mated queen. Not all nucs are created equal and when purchasing you should be clear on the size of the colony (# of frames) you are purchasing.
Which is better – packages vs nucs ?
Which is better for the new beekeeper? Packages vs nucs? Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to this question and the best answer will depend on the genetics of the bees involved, the climate/geographic location and the management style of the beekeeper.
Packages vs Nuc (the nitty-gritty)
Package Bees are more economical, less prone to spread pests or diseases (because no honeycomb is involved), and are more readily available. They are slower to build up a working population and have to go through the queen acceptance procedure.
Nucs – Nuc colonies are more expensive than packages of bees. They include a drawn honeycomb, some brood, and bees to cover the frames. Their mated queen will already be laying and accepted. This gives them a jump start initially over package bees. However, the presence of a drawn comb also brings with it the opportunity for pests and disease.
Both package bees and nucs are a great way to get started in beekeeping. Bee Well Honey Farm has been providing bees to area beekeepers for more than 20 years. Always purchase your bees from a reputable dealer and this will help ensure that you get off to the best start possible.
Package Bees the first summer
Across the Carolinas, many beekeepers buy package bees each year to fill up boxes from lost winter colonies or to expand their bee yard. Package Bees are also the starting point for many new beekeepers. Though some people recommend purchasing a nuc (nucleus hive) to give your colony a headstart, many beekeepers prefer package bees and actually say that packages can out perform nucs during the season.
If you are installing your package on new foundation, your bees have a lot of work to do before they will be self sustainable. As the beekeeper, it is your responsibility to tend to the maintenance issues that will keep your packages on a good growth trend to full functioning colony.
Are you keeping the feeders full ?
Feed your bees well. If you have a lot of blooming nectar producing plants in the area, your package bees may actually slow consumption of sugar syrup or quit all together. Sugar syrup left in the feeder too long can grow cloudy or even mold. When the natural nectar dries up as the summer grows hot and dry, colonies that had been ignoring your feeder may suddenly consume the syrup at an alarming rate. Bee Well Honey recommends feeding your colony until the bees have “drawn out” on all 10 frames in the hive body and at least a shallow supper. We want the shallow supper to be full of honey before the end of fall. Don’t neglect proper feeding during this first summer. Always, remove the feeder when adding honey collection suppers for yourself.
Check your Queen periodically
Bee Well Honey always reminds you to check your queen status a few weeks after installing a package of bees. We want to see the queen present and a good brood pattern. What is a good brood pattern ? A nice area of capped brood with few empty cells in the area, brood of similar ages grouped together, not an overabundance of drone brood and drone brood should be on the perimeter of the nest area not in the middle.
If you have trouble finding your queen, don’t panic. Keeping a marked queen in your hive does make it easier to locate her on a frame with thousands of bees. You don’t have to look for the queen everytime you inspect your colony. In fact, you may be disturbing the bees unnecessarily and causing them stress. Instead look for signs of the queen, if you see a good brood pattern with fresh larva and eggs chances are your queen is just fine. Check for her presence at least once a month throughout the summer. If your colony swarms (yes packages CAN swarm their first year) you want to make sure the colony is successful in requeening itself.
Mites & Pests
By mid summer the varroa mite population will be climbing. Research and decide on a varroa management plan for your hives. There are several different methods for evaluation and treatment. Doing nothing for mite control is not an option for most of us. Mites can weaken your colony even if they do not cause the collapse of your hive completely. You will need to implement your plan in mid Summer to allow for healthy winter bees to emerge in the Fall.
We want our Spring Bee Packages to have a good laying queen, a plentiful population of healthy bees and a full food super come October. Do you best and remember that beekeeping isn’t always easy and sometimes the beekeeper who does his/her best will still experience hive failures. Don’t give up, beekeeping is a learning process that takes time and patience.
Happy Bee Keeping – Bee Well Honey
Kerry Owen has the red freightliner loaded down with package bees for our sold out bee day tomorrow ! Hundreds of excited beekeepers will be at the Pickens store bright and early Saturday morning to pick up bees that they have preordered. Each box of bees contains a mated queen, approximately 3# (10,000) bees and a can of sugar syrup for the journey. (You take snacks when you travel right ?) Bees need constant energy and this can of sugar will provide that until the new owners get them home and in a hive.
Kerry is very serious about providing good package bees for our customers. He does not have them shipped but actually goes and picks up the bees himself. These Italian Hygenic bees will fill up hives all across the upstate. Some beekeepers will experiment with new lines by replacing the Italian queen with one of the Carniolan Queens we have in stock. We stock all the bees supplies you might need.
Bee Day is always an exciting time and we are opening one hour early tomorrow to allow excited beekeepers to get those bees soon. We hope that everyone has their equipment ready and some sugar water already mixed as feeding new packages is very important.
We have several more bees days planned for the next few weeks and still have a few available for sale. Visit our Bees for sale page or call (864) 898-5122 to place your order. Spring is a great time to get started in bees and we will be glad to help you on your beekeeping journey.
Now, if you see a lot of excitement at Bee Well Honey early in the morning…. you will know why !
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 !