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.