Its the time of year again when new beekeepers and hobbyist who have had a loss or want to expand, start thinking about ordering a package or a nuc. More than once I’m asked ‘which should I get’? Honestly I don’t have a good answer. While one may have a distinct advantage over the other in areas that have an earlier nectar flow and little or no flowers available later in the year, In my area our flow tends to be later and in a typical year both may do equally as well. So I’ll leave it up to you to decide which you’d like to try, or perhaps you’d like to try both and decide for yourself. Below are my thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of both to help (or maybe it will make the decision harder):
Package Bees: These are literally just that. It’s a screened box full of bees, typically 2-3 pounds, and a queen. You must provide the hive they will live in and food to get started.
- Less expensive.
- Doesn’t include brood or comb which is where many diseases are found.
- Typically are imported from a warmer climate so could bring in outside diseases.
- Don’t build up as quickly as nucs since they don’t have brood.
- Typically are available earlier in the season so they get a head start on nucs.
- Normally they are only available for a short period of time (April into early May locally)
- May require more feeding than nucs since they start with no resources. Starting earlier in the season may also mean the bees can find less nectar and pollen.
- May be shipped, though shipping though mail or UPS is very stressful and I’d recommend picking them up from someone who had them trucked into your area.
- Often are more available since they are usually produced by large beekeepers in the south and west.
- Far more time critical. When delivered they should be picked up and installed as soon as possible.
Nucs: (Short for nucleus) . This is basically a complete small hive with workers, queen, brood, comb, honey and pollen. It usually consists of 4-5 frames (possibly more if it’s a medium frame nuc). It will need place in a larger hive so it can grow but does have everything needed to get started.
- More expensive, but do come with several frames and possibly a cardboard or wooden nuc box that could be reused later.
- They do include brood and comb and are more likely to carry brood diseases.
- Typically are purchased from local beekeepers so won’t bring in outside disease.
- Build up more quickly than packages since they have brood in all stages of development.
- Often aren’t available as early in the season, later if the queens for the nucs are also produced locally.
- They are available over a much longer period of time (May though July locally). They may be purchased even later but may not have time to build up in time for winter.
- May not require as much feeding as a nuc since they have drawn comb to start with, honey and pollen. Plus starting later means that pollen and nectar may be more available. You will still need to feed if you are not providing drawn comb in most cases.
- They typically aren’t shipped. I’ve seen shipping advertized for nucs, but haven’t heard many positive results on what shape they were in upon delivery.
- Quantity may be limited because they are produced by smaller local beekeepers. Larger beekeepers, typically in the south, do produce nucs, but they aren’t local for most of us.
- They are far less time critical. Pickup and installation into a full size hive can be delayed for some time without harming the hive.