Packages or NUCs?
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 pound of bees is typically 3,000 - 3,500 bees. The package package includes 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 bees and brood in all stages of development, drawn comb and a queen that is already laying eggs. The most common size is 5 frames. The NUC will include the frames with foundation 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 installed at the same time. This is particularly important if you have an early “honey flow” when the bees start collecting nectar. Keep in mind in Tennessee local NUCs are generally not available before late April or early May depending on the weather. The most important decision in purchasing a NUC is to make sure you are getting the NUC from a reputable beekeeper. Ask for the inspection sticker on any NUC you buy. At Hon Taylor Honeybees our NUCs are inspected by the Tennessee State Apiarist 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 but it is not difficult. Once in their new hive, it will take a few days for the bees to accept the queen and to begin drawing comb. It is really important to feed the bees so they can draw comb and give the queen a place to lay. 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. Some bee suppliers require that you provide a new, unused box for your new NUC. We feel 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 in a few weeks to avoid overcrowding which is the main cause of swarms. This can be done with a larger box or adding a second box. Keep the transport box. It can be used for splits or swarms.
Decide Package or NUCs. If NUCs, will you need deep or medium?
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.