It’s that time of year again! Many beekeepers, new and experienced, will start to look for ways to purchase their bees this year. But should you purchase a nuc or packaged bees? I’ll try to answer that question in “Honey Bees: Buying Your First Bees”.
You can find bees 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 nucleus colony.
Let’s look at the differences between a package of bees as opposed to a nucleus colony.
Types of Honey Bee Hives
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 colony.
(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.
Downfalls of the Packaged Honey Bees
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 at random until there are #3 or so in the box.
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!
Because beekeeping is all about pheromones!
If the worker bees do not like the pheromones that this queen possesses, 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 more queens!
The workers didn’t like her either!
I went through 3 queens one summer in ONE hive!
Also, when you buy a package of honey bees, you will receive a virgin queen.
This means that the queen will need to make her mating flights, which poses some risk. The queen will leave the hive several times to mate with as many as 15 drones.
How long this takes depends upon the queen herself, as well as the weather.
Once 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.
Most of the time, packaged bees simply don’t have enough time during the warm months to accomplish the queen’s acceptance and her mating flight, in order to produce enough baby bees and honey to make it through winter.
So, more often than not, the packaged bees die.
People then blame themselves and go buy more packages the next Spring.
It doesn’t have to be this way, consider the nuc.
Buy Honey Bees in a Nucleus
The nucleus colony 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 has already been accepted by the hive, is laying already, and has plenty of brood, pollen with a little honey.
They are like a “turn-key” operation!
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 “bee hive”.
THIS is what sets the nucleus apart from the packaged honey bees!
Nucs or packaged bees?
Fabulous and worth the extra money!
A nucleus beats the heck out of a box of honey 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 a turn-key way of getting a hive going, however, packaged bees come with much more 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.
So, what’s the verdict?
Should you purchase a nucleus colony or packaged honey 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.