So you want to bee a bee keeper.

Just came from the beeyard and I’m getting excited for spring activity, but as I’ve said before, it’s very early in the season here. HOWEVER, it’s not to early for you to be ordering your bees if you plan to buy bees this spring. (I’ve already placed orders for mine.) Because of the increasing interest in honeybees, many places run out and you may find it difficult to obtain bees if you dont order early. That said, should you purchase a nuc (short for nucleus hive) or a package? It’s a common question for Newbees and I hope to provide enough information here to help you make a decision.

So just what is the difference? A package of bees is made by shaking bees from frames of existing hives into a box built with a mesh screen and a can of sugar water. Then a queen in a protective cage is added. Rarely are packages shippped, though there are exceptions, but you should plan on picking your package up from the supplier. After returning home with the package, you install the bees and the queen into a new hive containing frames and foundation. Over the next couple of days the bees free the queen from her cage by chewing through a candy plug. The queen is not immediately introduced to the bees because they may kill her. By the time they have spent a couple days freeing her from the cage they have had time to recognize her pheromone and wont kill after she is freed. The queen will begin laying eggs as soon as comb has been drawn and within about three weeks new bees will begin to emerge and the colony will begin to grow.

A nuc is basically a starter hive. You will find there are fewer available and they cost significantly more than a package. This small hive comes with a few frames (four or five) of established bees and a laying queen. As a new beekeeper you will transfer the frames and bees into an empty hive (with frames) where the colony will continue to grow. Because the queen is already laying and the hive is established, it is a little further along in its development.

So which is better? Packages are readily available in April. Nucs arent available until later in the spring. (Again this is for the central oregon area) My experience has been that the packages are just about caught up with the nucs by the time the nucs become available. For various reasons, the bees in a package will sometimes kill the queen. This has yet to happen to me, but it would certainly be frustrating and confusing for a new beekeeper. The advantage of a nuc is that it already contains an accepted queen that is busy laying eggs and includes (in comb already drawn) eggs, larvae, brood and even a little stored food.

I have purchased both nucs and packages and had success with both. If you were to ask me to suggest which way is best, I would likely tell a new beekeeper to go with the package. Afterall, your excited to get started and getting a package allows you to grow your experience right along with the hive. You will also have the opportunity to watch the hive develope – from drawing out comb, training your eye to see eggs, larvae, and to differentiate between capped brood and drone brood, while learning to spot the queen. Plus you are putting off some of the management issues that come along with a mature hive. The choice is yours and either way will work. This is simply my own preference unless I have a specific goal in mind that requires a nuc.

There are a number of places to get your bees, but for a new beekeeper I would suggest Glorybee in Eugene because they put on a short class about beekeeping followed by a live demonstration of how to install your packages when you get home. If you want bees for this season, you will want to order soon.


7 thoughts on “So you want to bee a bee keeper.

  1. LaGuagui

    I honestly have no interest in bees or bee keeping but this is seriously facinating stuff!
    Brilliant read. 🙂

    1. Tyler Roberts Post author

      To gpicone: Yes, the bees face many issues and are still in decline. California (I’m in Oregon) has trouble getting enough bees to pollinate almond, avacado and other crops. Since I’m not near, or associated with any type of commercial crop, I’m away from the pesticide part of it. But there are some major issues regarding all the corn being grown for fuel and the chemicals used on the GMO corn, and thats just one example. It’s very difficult to pinpoint a single source as the problem because there are many issues facing the bees. Mites are a huge issue. To this point mites have typically been controlled by placing an insecticide inside the hive that the bees can tolerate. This has led to a situation similiar to antibiotics. Treating hives that wouldn’t normally make it on their own means you keep alive weak strains of bees. At the same time you are raising up generations of mites that become resistant to the chemicals used in the treatments. The end result is weaker hives are often kept alive and the mites get stronger. Its not a good combination. However, without treatment, loses typically run 60 to 90 percent annually. I’m just a small hobby beekeeper and my numbers fell right in that range – I lost 3 of 4 hives this fall/winter. Change is coming about, however slowly. In the last decade or so a number of breeders/beekeepers have begun breeding bees that display traits of mite resistance. There is no silver bullet here, but things are improving. The movement is still largely contained within the ranks of hobby beekeepers because the commercial guys cant afford not to treat. My own approach is completely treatment free, meaning if the bees cant deal with the mites, they die. The one hive I have left will be split this spring and I will raise at least one more hive from the hive that survived a very heavy mite infestation this last season. Certainly I will be purchasing new packages of bees this spring, but after those hives are established I will replace the queens with other queens bred from mite resistant stock. It’s a tad spendy, but I hope to reach the point where enough of my bees survive each year that I dont have to purchase more bees, instead, I will create more hives from the bees that exhibit mite resistance.

      Thats kind of a long winded answer to your question, and I’ve really just scratched the surface. I began my blog with the idea of allowing people to follow along throughout a season of beekeeping in the hope of educating people about keeping bees and the issues the bees face. I hope you will follow along as the season progresses and even bring some others. I want to be clear I am not an expert by any means, but I’ve been involved long enough to pass along the basics to people who are interested in both keeping bees and those who simply want to know more about them. I very much appreciate your interest.

  2. Notes To Ponder

    My Dad kept bees. We had a fruit orchard in Penticton, B.C.I can still smell the wax and puffs of smoke when he had to suit up and disperse a swarm. One of our favourite things was to extract honey. He converted an old wringer washing machine tub into what we called the “honey machine” The frames slid into slots he’d built, and we took turns at the handle, watching the honey magically drip from a spout.


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