In the recent introductory discussion on the cost to become a beekeeper, there’s mention of buying bees. However, the choices might be somewhat awkward if you don’t know what they represent. What is a package of bees exactly? Is it delivered to your mailbox like other packages you order off of Ebay? Or, is a nuc a better option? Do each come with a queen, or should I spend an additional $30 on her highness?
Let’s discuss each in detail.
This is what a bee package looks like:
The screened box is filled with about 2lbs of bees from a source hive (or multiple hives). A queen is caged and sleeved into a slit on the top of the box. Then a feeding can is loaded with sugar syrup and inverted to seal the top hole. Now you have a bunch of bees and one queen that all have to get acquainted and can take the occasional sip at the buffet. Some suppliers may add medication to the box to ensure the bees arrive as healthy as they possibly can be.
Here’s a view of a ready-to-ship bee package (on the left) and a stack tacked together for market (on the right):
Packages nowadays are also sent in cylindrical tubes, since its more cost-effective. Tubes are capped at both ends with vents but otherwise carry the same cargo. Here’s a package being installed:
A nuc is similar to a regular hive in that it includes frames filled with bees, food (honey and pollen), a queen and brood at various stages of development. Nucs are often purchased in a narrow box (made of plastic) like this:
Some are sold as 4-frame nucs, others 5-frame nucs, and this may influence the cost; of course, you get more goodies! Most are deep frames, but one can also request medium-sized nucs.
So what’s the difference and what should I choose?
The difference should be obvious now – each provide a colony off bees with a queen, yet have a difference, unique configuration. For the TL;DR-types out there, here’s a quick list of typical pros/cons.
Bee package: PROS
Available early in the year
Bee package: CONS
Usually not for beginner beekeepers.
The hive box you are adding the package to should at least contain some drawn comb; if you don’t know what drawn comb is, a package is not for you.
Stock is usually from a different country (southern hemisphere for beekeeping in BC, Canada). While this breeds diversity, some may find that it doesn’t support the local genetics.
Typically supplied locally by local or commercial beekeepers.
A solid start for a colony with immediate potential for growth.
Usually available later in the season, unless nucs were over-wintered.
Is fixed in the supplied frame dimension; make sure it matches your equipment.
Starting out with a nuc rather than a package is something any new beekeeper should consider, since it inherently provides an established environment for the colony to start in.