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Nucs VS Packages

Nucs VS Packages

Part 1: What is the difference between a Nuc and a Package?

In a nutshell, a nuc (or nucleus colony) is just that, a partially developed colony. They usually come in 4 or 5 frame boxes. These boxes can be made of cardboard, wood, plastic or polypropylene. With your nuc, the queen has been established, and is well into laying her brood. You should receive 1 to 2 full frames of brood, (about 8,000 to 10,000 bees) 1 full frame of honey stores, and 1 drawn frame that give the nuc some room to expand before they are placed in a full size brood box.

NucNuc with Bees


A Package of bees is a container (usually a box or a tube) of a weighted amount of bees; usually 2 to 3 pounds) roughly 8,000 to 10,000 bees. These packages contain worker bees and a mated queen, who is kept separate from the workers in a cage. There are no resources for the bees in the package, and must be shaken into their empty brood box as soon as possible upon receiving them.

Bee Packages


Packages or Nucs, which is better?

Not a straightforward answer, let's take a look at nucs and packages side by side.

Packages are easier to produce, and can be ready much earlier in the spring. This is why you will find packages available as early as April, where the first nucs usually aren’t available until early to Mid May, or maybe later depending on the weather. Packages can also be produced in greater numbers. With nucs, you are limited to what you have to make splits with. So, the available nucs tend to be more limited, and different factors such as winter losses can affect the number of nucs available the following spring. 

Packages are shipped through airmail across the country, or even from overseas. Nucs are not shipped in this manner. They are instead transported by land to where they need to go, and will need to be picked up by the purchaser. Nucs are often picked up right at the producer (Dancing Bee Equipment), and this creates a better sense of accountability and quality control for your bees.

If you order  packages from Dancing Bee Equipment they will also need to be picked up at our location, or the location of one of our dealers.  This helps to reduce losses to you, in shipping, as when you pick up your packages they have arrived that day, or the day before and we have taken steps to ensure their survival. 

If you order packages from another supplier, to be shipped directly to you, you are assuming the risk of losses of the bees. This can pose some major problems with losses, as it is difficult to monitor and maintain the proper conditions for the bees. 

Nucs with specifically introduced and bred queens, will vary by supplier, and tend to work well in colder climates with shorter growing seasons, as they will need less time to build up their populations and store their winter foods. 

Packages can be installed in any type of hive, from Top Bar, to Warre, to 8 frame, or Langstroth Deeps or Mediums, Skeps, Log, tree…it really doesn’t matter. This makes the packages more flexible than nucs, which generally come in Langstroth style frames, in either Deep or Medium.

Bee in a hive

However, with the nucs, you already have a good start with the established queen already laying eggs, and increasing the population quicker. The package queen will need to start from scratch laying eggs, and depending on if you have drawn frames or wax foundation, the workers will need some time to establish comb. The packages will need to be fed for several weeks once installed. 

There is some evidence that packages will have a much lighter mite load as well. Mites multiply and breed under the capped brood, and  there is no brood in a package. This can make it easier to monitor and treat your mites right from the beginning. With the nucs already having capped brood, you will need to monitor the mite loads more diligently once installed. 

However, packages are typically shaken from several different production hives, and the queens are introduced from separate queen rearing hives. Only the genetics of the queen can be confirmed, and if the packages are being imported the bees may not be acclimatized to your local climate, depending on where they were produced. With nucs, the colonies are typically made with fairly local bees, and import and local queens. The queens are chosen for the best traits for the area the nucs will be sold to. 

How to decide between Nucs and Packages:

Ultimately the decision is up to you, and determining what your needs are. It is generally felt that nucs are better for beginner and less experienced beekeepers. Those who plan on going the treatment free route (not recommended) may want to start with packages, as nucs that come from colonies that have been treated (as required by law in many locations) may not survive as well if you discontinue those treatments.  You want to do your research, and not automatically go with the cheapest or fastest route to acquire your bees. You want to be sure they will survive and thrive! 

Bee Hive Apiary

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