This is a question that many newbees ask as they get into beekeeping. Should I buy a package, or should I get a NUC (short for Nucleus colony). Each has its advantage.
A package of bees typically comes in a small wooden box as pictured and is available in two and three pound sizes. A package includes from 8,000-10,000 bees, a mated queen and a can of sugar water for the bees to eat until they are in their new home. The queen is in her own small cage with a few attendants and candy. The queen is not known to this group of bees. The bees eat the candy over a few days which allows the bees to become familiar with her and finally when the candy is gone, she can leave her cage and go into the hive. The two main advantages for the package are cost and they are usually available earlier in the season.
A NUC is a small active hive with drawn comb and a queen that is already laying eggs. The common size is 5 frames. The NUC will include the frames and drawn comb. The NUC has an important advantage. The bees have already established themselves. The queen has been accepted by the colony and she is laying. Honeycomb has been drawn and the bees have started foraging. This gives the NUC a four to five week head start on a package. This is particularly important if you have an early “honey flow” when the bees start collecting nectar. The most important decision in purchasing a NUC is to make sure you are getting the NUC from a reputable beekeeper. At Hon Taylor Honeybees our NUCs are inspected by the state and we stand behind them.
Another consideration for the beginner is the process of installing the bees. For the package, you will need to have a hive box ready with frames and foundation/comb. It can be a little intimidating for the new beekeeper to move the bees from the package box to the hive. Once in their new hive, it will take a few days for the bees to accept the queen and to begin drawing comb. Only then can she begin laying. For the NUC the bees are already in their home and you may not need to do anything until they need to be moved into a larger hive box. Note many beekeepers require that you provide a new, unused box for your bees. A better option is a “transport” box which can be sealed during the ride home. All you will need to do is move the frames from the transport box to your box. Keep in mind that bees multiply and you must be prepared to increase the size of their home to avoid overcrowding which is the main cause of swarms.
Decide Package or NUCs.
Order your Bees Early. (December - January to get them early in the season)
Prepare your equipment before the bees arrive.
Your adventure begins! Keeping bees is a fascinating and rewarding experience.