Bee Package or a Bee Nuc? Which one is better for the new beekeeper?

This is a big decision for new beekeepers! Let’s start out with the basics of a bee package and a bee nuc.

A 3 lb bee package is the most common way beekeepers nationwide purchase honey bees.

The bee package is basically an artificial swarm. These packages can range from 2 lb, 3 lb, or 4 lb. We highly recommend purchasing the 3 lb package as it gives the best start for a new hive. It is critical to have 3 lbs of bees in order for your hive to develop quickly. 2 lbs of bees should only be purchased by experienced beekeepers.  A 4 lb package of bees sounds wonderful but the issue is the can feeder can only feed a colony the size of a 3 lbs colony.  The end result of purchasing a  4 lb package is you will see a higher than average “die off” because the bees cannot all drink the sugar water due to over population within the bee package.

How are package bees placed in the cage? Package bees are shaken into a boxed cage from one or more frames of strong hives until the desired weight of bees is attained. A newly mated queen is then placed in a queen cage and hung down by a plastic strip that is stapled on the outside for the beekeeper to easily pull out when the cage is opened.

One thing positive about bee packages is that they can be shipped through USPS and UPS. The bees generally do well in shipping up to 7 days. Always make sure your bee package is insured for shipping!  UPS offers next day delivery so you will get your bees FAST!  UPS does not allow feeder cans in the bee package, so you will want to put them in the hive ASAP and make sure the colony has sugar water available to rehydrate.  In fact, you will want to feed both packages and nucs up to 6 weeks after receiving your bees.

A few negative aspects of packages are: 1. A newly mated queen cannot be guaranteed on how well she was mated. 2. The bees can potentially freeze in shipment in the early Spring months, so do not order your bee shipment too early. 3. Bees can also overheat if shipped to late in the Spring.  If you are not sure when the best date to ship your bees, please feel free to call us at 706-886-1322 and we will assist you with the best ship date for your area.

Bee Nucs are normally 2 or 3 frames of brood and 1 to 2 frames of honey/pollen. Usually nucs will contain 5 frames in total. There are 4 frame nucs but we don’t recommend them due to the value proposition as it would be better to just purchase a package of bees.

Here are some things to ask any bee retailer when purchasing a nuc:

1.  Do I get new frames with new comb? If the grower states you will get used frames, just pass that opportunity and look elsewhere. Why do you want first season comb? Simply, you will have a high quality comb without any chemicals that has built up on the frames. Old comb will be dark brown to black and new comb is white to medium brown. Old frames = future contamination in your hive.

2.  Will I get a newly mated queen? How old will the queen be when I pick up my nuc? The desired age of a new queen is six weeks. This allows the queen to be mated and to lay for approximately four weeks, establishing brood pattern and temperament.

3.  Will I get an established queen? We don’t recommend an older queen because you may be getting a queen that is close to the end of her lifespan.

4. How old will the nuc be when I pick it up? The nuc should be at least 4 weeks old. Over wintered bee nucs are also desirable. Overwintered nucs are normally sold for a premium.

5. Do I get a shipping/take home box? This is always good to get since it is reusable and you can use this box to catch swarms. Large bee retailers will use shipping boxes because they process large amounts of nucs.

6. When will my bees be put in the shipping/take home box? Bees should be enclosed in the morning or in the evening so you have the maximum amount of bees in your nuc.  If the nuc is enclosed at noon the foraging bees will be left behind.

Mountain Sweet Honey Company looks forward to serving you and your beekeeping needs!