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), etc. 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.

Packages can be installed into any type of hive, while nucs are limited to deep Langstroth boxes.

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

We want customers to succeed at beekeeping. This year’s nucs will come from our over-wintered colonies. We divide the colonies, add a new queen and feed them while they grow onto 5 frames. 

With nucs, there is less risk as a new beekeeper for the colony to 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.

Frame from hive nucleus

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

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. 

Which is Better?

We think nucleus colonies are better for new beekeepers. If you have some experience, a package may work really well for you. Both are options to start a viable hive.

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).

Posted in Bee Biology, Beekeeping, the Honey Company and tagged , , , .

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