Is it better to buy a nuc or a package of bees? Buying a nuc vs package bees is something to consider, especially if you live in a colder climate like we do.
Here in Montana where we only have a few warm months out of the year, honeybees spend a good portion of the year inside the hive because it is too cold outside to leave the hive.
This means that our honeybees have less time to make honey than honeybees living in a warmer climate. When starting a new hive with a nuc or package bees, there are pros and cons to consider for each method.
Buying a nuc vs package bees isn’t something we even thought of last year, our first year beekeeping. We were so busy learning about the basics of beekeeping that we didn’t spend any time researching the difference between a nuc or a package of bees.
Instead, we took the advice of the local beekeeping club president and put our name on the list to get a package of bees through a regional company.
Then we heard about nucs and started researching the difference and tried it out to decide which we preferred.
Some folks try to expand their hives by catching bee swarms instead of buying nucs or packages of bees.
While we love to catch a honey bee swarm and put out bait hives every year, we aren’t successful every year so don’t rely on it as the sole way to expand our beehives.
What is the difference between a nuc and a package of bees?
A package of bees is typically a screened wood box filled with honey bees and a queen. It does not come with any comb or frames.
Nuc stands for nucleus hive. A nuc typically comes in a cardboard nuc box and acts like a temporary mini bee hive. Inside are several frames of comb filled with honey and brood. Sometimes there will be a tank feeder inside. Inside each nuc box is a mated queen and honey bees.
Our experience with package bees
We bought two packages of honey bees last year. Our bees arrived in May. Each package of bees was inside a small wood box with a wire screen around it and the queen in a little box. There was no comb at all.
They settled in well and thrived with all the hundreds of acres of alfalfa surrounding us. But they had to start from scratch in the hive and spend a lot of energy building out comb and filling it with brood before they started focusing on filling frames full of honey.
We live in a colder climate, so honeybees are not active for over half the year. This means that last year when our two bee packages arrived in May, they had about four months to build new comb, hatch new bees (you can read about and see the life cycle of a honey bee in this post) and produce honey.
Around here, most folks harvest honey from their bee hives in early September. In our short warm season, that does not give the honey bees a lot of time to produce a lot of extra honey for us to harvest.
Our experience with a nuc of honeybees
This winter my husband started reading more about nucs. A nuc in the beekeeping world is basically a small box set up as temporary hive with a couple frames inside, a queen bee and her worker bees.
In the picture below, you can see the larger hole on the bottom front of the box where the bees enter/exit their temporary hive.
Nucs tend to be a little more expensive than a package of bees, but they are well ahead of the game when it comes to production. Which ultimately means the ability to make more honey for us to harvest in our short season!
We found a family run apiary advertising on the local Craigslist in our area. We bought three nucs from them and met them at a truck stop off the highway to pick up our new honeybees.
What a sight it was! (Unfortunately I didn’t think to get a picture, I was so excited about our new bees!)
The back of their pickup truck was filled with small white cardboard boxes each filled with five frames, a queen and her worker bees.
There was a small hole on the front of the box for them to enter/exit and a few small air vent holes. For the ride home, they taped the entrance closed so the bees stayed inside while we were driving.
We picked our bees up just before sunset so decided to wait until morning to put them in their new bee hives.
Installing a nuc in a hive is a different process than hiving a package of bees. All you have to do is carefully remove the frames one at a time from the cardboard box and place them into the bee hive box (this handy tool makes the job much easier than just using a gloved hand!)
My husband let the cardboard nuc boxes sit out by the beehives for the day so all the bees could make their way into their new hives with the queen. Like last year’s package bees, the queen bees are marked with a dot of paint so you can see them.
My husband went out to check on the new beehives a few days after they were put into their new home and they were already filling up the rest of the frames!
He put another super (box filled with empty frames) on top of each of the new hives already. Last year with our package of bees, we didn’t need to do that until mid June and here we’re a month before that!
Nuc vs Package Bees-and the winner is?
If you guessed Nuc, you are correct! If you live in a cold climate with a short warm season, getting a nuc is definitely the way to go.
Around here, the nucs cost about $20 more than package bees but it is well worth it to get a month ahead in production. We’ll easily make up that difference in money and more when we harvest honey in a few months!
Which do you prefer, nucs or package bees?
updated March 2023