Packages and Nucs: Which are better?

Every year in late winter, we make management decisions about selling bees in the spring. We decide between selling splits (nucs) from our own bees, buying bees from California to resell (packages), and sometimes install packages and sell them as nucs after they have grown onto 5 frames. We decide based on on bee health, availability, the weather, and more. We want to get the best quality honeybees to our customers. Some years we sell both packages and nucleus colonies. When this happens, we get a lot of questions about which is better.

Here are the pros and cons about each.

Package

A Package of honeybees comes with two or three pounds of bees and a queen in a temporary cage. Worker bees are measured by the pound and funneled into the cage from existing hives. The queen comes in a separate, smaller queen cage. There is a can of sugar syrup to feed bees for a few days.

2-Pound Package

Beekeepers pick up their packages on a set date, then install them in the hive that evening, and can return the cage for recycling. Packages come from California to Utah by truck. Bees need to be in a hive within 24 hours of the pickup date, so they will not die. Beekeepers need to feed sugar syrup to newly hived packages in the spring to prevent them from starving. They do not have any honey stores built up yet. 

2-Pound Package: This size is industry standard, and contains about 6-7,000 worker bees. They are less expensive and are enough to start a hive. 

3-Pound Package: Many beekeepers like 3-pound packages as they have more worker bees to get the colony started. They contain about 10,000 worker bees. They may require more feed, especially if it freezes. 

There are many factors involved in how well a package will do.  Good weather and good management are more important than package size. The number of bees you start with has the least to do with success or failure.

Pros and Cons of Packages

The advantages of purchasing a package are that they can be installed into any type of hive, while nucleus colonies are limited to deep Langstroth boxes. Packages usually cost less, and are more portable and contained in their cage. Packages are less likely to transfer disease than nucleus colonies. They are also less expensive.

The disadvantages are that beekeepers need to install the package in the hive quickly after the pickup date (within about 24 hours) so that bees do not die in their cage. Sometimes it is difficult to release the queen so that she doesn’t fly away. (But we will teach you how to do that successfully in a future lesson.)

Another disadvantage is that colonies from a package start out with nothing. They have to quickly build comb, and collect nectar and pollen for the queen to begin laying eggs. When there is sunny weather, bees can forage and get what they need. However, in our climate, packages often arrive in April before winter weather is finished for the year. This means beekeepers need to feed their new package when bees cannot forage. Knowing when to feed takes some skill and knowledge and sometimes bees can starve.

Nuc (Hive Nucleus)

“Nuc” is short for hive nucleus and rhymes with “Luke.” A nuc is a 5-frame starter colony of honeybees with a queen. The 5 deep frames contain worker bees, drawn comb, pollen, honey, a laying queen, eggs, larvae, and sealed and emerging brood. Nucs do not include the beehive boxes.

**We recommend nucs for beginning beekeepers.


5-Frame Hive Nucleus

Our nucs need to be installed in deep Langstroth hives only as they come on deep frames.

 

Frame from hive nucleus

Nuc Pickups

Here is how our nuc pickups work. Beekeepers pick up their nucs on one of our set pickup dates, usually on Friday evenings in May.

At the pickup, you will transfer the frames of the nuc, one at a time, into your own deep hive. We want you to inspect your new colony during the transfer. You will be able to use your smoker and protective clothing to see eggs, the queen bee, comb, honey stores, etc. New beekeepers often appreciate having an experienced beekeeper there when they make their first hive inspection. You can also  make sure the colony is thriving with a healthy queen before you take it home.

You will transfer the frames in the daylight, when there are fewer bees at home. Then you will drive the hive home after dark, after all the foraging bees are home. There will be some waiting time between transferring and moving bees. You are welcome to stay and ask questions, or to leave and come back. 

Pros and Cons about Nucs

The advantage of nucleus colonies is that they come with resources. They are already established on 5 deep frames and contain worker bees, drawn comb, pollen, honey, a laying queen, eggs, larvae, and sealed and emerging brood.

There is less risk that the colony will die in the spring. The first six weeks of a colony’s life can be tricky to manage, as Utah spring weather patterns are unpredictable, and new beekeepers lack experience feeding bees. With nucs, we care for bees through this initial feeding time, and you limit the risk of colonies starving.

There is more flexibility with the timing for nucleus colonies because they are not trapped in a cage. Instead, they are an active colony that is flying and foraging.

The disadvantages of nucleus colonies are that if a beekeeper is not careful, the nuc can carry diseases from the parent colony to the new hive. To help with that, look for nucleus colonies that are sold on new frames. You can also ask for a health certificate to confirm they are disease-free.

Nucleus colonies are also limited by the frame size/style they are on. Our nucs come on 5 deep frames and can only be installed in a deep Langstroth box.

They are less portable and we need to move them after dusk when they finish flying for the day.

Nucleus colonies are often more expensive than packages.

Which is Better?

While both are good options to start a viable hive, we think nucleus colonies are better for new beekeepers because you can rely on our experience to get through the tricky spring weather. If you have some experience, a package may work really well for you.

For more information about buying your first hive, CLICK HERE.

To purchase a colony of bees, CLICK HERE. We typically take pre-orders from early February until April (or until we sell out of bees).

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