If you are new to beekeeping and have yet to get bees you are probably wondering whether you should get a package of bees or a nucleus hive (nuc) to start with – what is the difference?
A nucleus hive is a complete hive with, comb, eggs, open brood, capped brood, newly emerged nurse bees, foraging field bees, and a mature queen who is already busy laying eggs.
A “package” contains 2-3 pounds of field bees (shaken from a lot of different production hives) and a very young queen in her own cage, which has probably laid only a few hundred eggs – enough to prove that she can. No comb, eggs, brood, none of that. Oh yeah, a package contains a can of syrup to keep the bees fed for a few days. A package is very like an artificial swarm.
Cost – nucs are about twice as expensive as a package.
Queens – When you get a nuc it comes with a queen which is already a part of the hive, and is already laying eggs. With a package you have to “install” the queen and there is always a chance that she won’t be accepted by the hive.
Comb – a nuc comes with about 5 frames of drawn comb where a package has none to start with – unless you have some to give it. This means that a package has no where to put stores, and the queen has no where to lay. However a package will usually draw a few frames of comb very quickly because they’ve been confined and drinking syrup.
Build up – A nuc is a complete hive and should start building population as soon as you get it. A package has no brood yet, and the population will actually decline for about 4-6 weeks until the first eggs that are laid emerge as adults. So a nuc has about that much of a head start on the season when compared to a package.
Honey production – If you have drawn comb to work with and get your bees early enough either a nuc or package has potential to build up and perhaps produce a honey crop. If you don’t have comb – and as a beginner you probably don’t – then probably neither one (IMO) is going to produce excess honey in the first year – at least not in our area. With luck either one should be able to do so in its second year.
Either a nuc or package should build up enough during it’s first year to a sufficient size to over winter and get a good start next year. You might even be able to split during your first season and successfully go into your first winter with twice as many hives – I did.