Nucs vs. Packages

For those beekeepers thinking about trying a nuc versus a package of bees, we’ve compiled a list of pros and cons of each. This comparison was originally written by the Club president to the members, to provide a guide, not a recommendation, of one style versus the other. In the end, you will need to decide for yourself how you want to approach your first (and subsequent) year of beekeeping.

Nucs
Pros:
— they come with drawn frames and a laying queen. You know that the queen (assuming she survives the trip, which is the usual case) has mated and will build up your hive. The bees have already made comb for the queen to lay in, so they’re ahead in the architecture.
— nucs are easier to install. Lift the frame out of the nuc box, put it into your hive. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

— nucs hit the ground running. It’s a mini-colony after all. With a bloom, or your feed, they’ll perk along quite nicely pretty much without your help.

Cons:
— you are stuck with the equipment that the supplier gives you — usually deep frames. If you’re doing a top bar hive, or all-medium setup, you’ll have to fuss around to get your packages installed. You may get plastic frames when you want only wood, or battered wooden frames when you want only plastic.
— You’ll probably get pests — small hive beetles, and varroa mites. We’ve seen that more and more frequently in the nucs we’ve received. It’s not anyone’s fault — it’s just the nature of the beast.

— It can be tough to find the queen, so that you know she’s alive and survived transportation. Unless you find her, you won’t know if you’re queenright for about a week.

— The nuc box isn’t free, and needs to go back to the supplier. Not a huge headache for one individual, but it’s a logistical hassle (to put it politely) for the club.

Packages
Pros:
— packages are far easier for us (and you) to transport. The bees are all locked up, the equipment is roughly the size of a boot box, the bees shouldn’t get out on you.
— While there is a chance that varroa or beetles stowaway in a package, the chances are smaller that they escape detection, plus the forced break in the brood cycle is a great way to deal a blow to mite growth.
— They usually arrive a week or two earlier — and beekeepers are always antsy to get working their bees!

— The bees are making fresh wax, from your local environment, this same year. No fears that you’ll have honeycomb pre-saturated with antibiotics, pesticides, or other contaminants.

Cons:
— they need more help getting started. Without drawn frame, the bees need to start drawing out comb right away, so the queen can lay. This will likely mean that you need to feed, feed, feed from the outset.
— Some people feel that there’s a greater chance that packages will abscond — or just up and take off on you. With no brood in the hive to tend, there’s one less link to keep them in place.

— you won’t be 100% sure that you have a laying queen until she starts laying, so it might take a week before you have that knowledge.

Pro and/or Con (you decide):
— without question, packages absolutely need more of your hands-on participation from day one. You need to work on your bees, feed your bees, make sure the queen is released… in short, you need to really pay close attention to the hive in the first few weeks. You need to be a beekeeper.

This is scary, daunting, unknown territory for someone who doesn’t know which end of the hive tool to use. Nucs don’t require as much TLC; you can install, feed, and let go.

More and more, mentoring beekeepers see this as a definite “pro”. By forcing yourself to be a beekeeper during these first few weeks, you become a much better, and more confident, beekeeper faster.

Which is better for the bees?

For your first year, aim for establishing a strong hive that will overwinter well, don’t plan on a fall honey crop. Nucs can grow so fast that they swarm in the very awkward time during the fall.Packages can do the same, but I suspect it’s less likely.

That said, if you tend your bees diligently, a package and a nuc can build up to overwinter just fine. Bees in packages and bees in nucs can thrive after installation equally well, as long as you tend them properly.
Which is better for you?
From what I’m seeing, nucs and packages now run about the same amount of money, so costs savings is no longer a factor. (Packages used to be significantly cheaper.) If you’re not using deep boxes, get a package. If you want the drawn frames from the start, go nucs. After that, weigh the pros and cons for your own personal goals, and go from there.