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It’s that time of year again! Many beekeepers, new and experienced, will start to look ways to purchase their bees this year. But should you purchase a nuc or packaged bees? I’ll try to answer that question with “Buying Bees: Nuc vs. Packaged”.
You can find them for sale all over Craigslist, Facebook and the like, if you’re having trouble finding bees for sale, look under beekeeping clubs on Facebook, there should be listings there.
However, the question will quickly become whether you should purchase your bees in a package or in a nuc, short for nucleus. Let’s look at the differences.
First of all, you will notice that packaged bees are less expensive. Here in Ohio, I’ve seen them running $95-105 per package. A nucleus will cost more, somewhere between $150-$175 per nuc. (Can you see the tremendous money-making opportunity here???!!) But please don’t let the price difference sway you to go with the less expensive option until you understand the differences!
Many new beekeepers purchase their first bees in “packages”, I did as well. These “packaged” bees include a random mix of bees. They will probably not have a proper proportioning of worker bees and drones. This is important to consider, because in a healthy hive, there are 75% worker bees (the females) and 25% drones (the males, who you need far less of). These “packages” of bees are not hand-packed or sorted. Rather there is a large vat of bees and they are just “dumped” into the box until there are #3 or so in there.
There will also be a queen bee in a little separate box, whom the other bees have never met or accepted. This is critical to consider! Why? Because beekeeping is all about pheromones! If the worker bees do not like this queen, for whatever reason, they will kill her. NO joke, happens all the time and happened to me several times before someone explained this to me. I spent far too much time and money running around, trying to buy another queen. The workers didn’t like her either! I went through 3 queens one summer in ONE hive!
When you buy a package of bees, then, you will receive a virgin queen. This means that the queen will need to make her mating flight, which poses some risk. If she makes it back after a number of days, she will then begin to lay eggs. It will take another 21 days for workers and 24 days for drones to hatch. All of this cuts into the few summer months that the bees are able to forage and build up winter stores.
It’s not likely to happen, and if they make it to winter, they likely won’t survive until Spring.
People then blame themselves and go buy more packages the next Spring. It doesn’t have to be this way, consider the nuc.
It is more expensive, about $150-175, however, but you will be almost guaranteed to have a successful hive that year.
The reason is that this “nuc” contains 5 frames of bees, along with a mated queen who is laying already, plenty of brood, pollen and a little honey. A nuc is made by splitting an already functioning hive.
“Functioning” is the key word here. The queen has already been accepted, they are a family and in fact a “hive”.
Fabulous and worth the extra money!
A nuc beats the heck out of a box of bees who have never met. With a nuc, you don’t need to worry about the queen being accepted, because she already has been. A nuc is more of turn-key way of getting a hive going, however, packaged bees come with quite a bit of risk.
Something else to consider is that nucs are often comprised of local bees, who are adapted to the weather in your area, and have often been over-wintered. Packaged bees come from Georgia and other warm areas, who haven’t been exposed to Ohio winters, and will likely not survive.
Should you purchase a nuc or packaged bees? If you want to have a great first year of beekeeping, or just a good year regardless of how long you’ve been keeping bees, go with a nuc.