Buying Honey Bees Online – Difference Between Nucleus and Package

Hello everyone and welcome to the Novice Rancher. If you’re reading this you’ve probably already made the decision to join the beekeeping community and start your very own apiary. Buying honey bees online might seem like a crazy concept, but its actually easier than you think.

In this post I want to discuss the difference between buying a Nucleus and a Package of bees. I’ll also touch on when you should order them, and what to expect when you receive them in the mail.

When to Order Honey Bees

You’ll want to make sure you receive your bees in the spring in order to give them optimal time for development before winter. In order for that to happen, you’ll typically have to order your bees well in advance. What I mean by that is, most companies will begin taking orders for the following year in late summer through winter.

Talk to your local beekeepers to determine the preferred time to establish a hive in your area, as you don’t want to find yourself holding a shipment of bees in below freezing temperatures. This will help determine what date to select for delivery when ordering them.

If and when you decide to purchase your bees, consider the source in which you’re ordering them from as well. You want to make sure you’re purchasing your bees from a reputable individual or company. Local beekeepers would be a great place to start, as their bees have already grown accustomed to the local environment and seasons.

Once you place your order, typically the year prior to receiving, its important to understand those dates aren’t set in stone. Every time I’ve ordered bees the shipping date was pushed back due to bad weather or winter being drawn out.

After placing your order you’ll have ample time to set up your hives and ensure your ready for their arrival. You want it to be a smooth transition from receiving to installation of your package. Let’s discuss the two options you have when starting your colony.

What is a Nucleus

A nucleus, also known as a nuc, is a small colony of bees created from a larger colony. The nuc will be a smaller version of what ever hive you intend to establish, whether it be a top bar or Langstroth. Purchasing a nuc over a package definitely has its advantages, but the price can be significantly higher in some cases.

A nuc generally consist of a few thousand bees, one queen, two to three frames of brood, and the remainder of the frames consisting of honey and pollen. Essentially a smaller scaled hive of what you intend to have.

Most nucs consist of 5 frames, however the amount of frames could vary depending on where your getting them. For the purpose of this discussion, I’ll be referring back to the standard 5 frame nucs.

These nucs will either be given a new queen, in which she will be placed in a cage until she’s accepted by the newly established colony, or the workers will create a new queen from one of the previously laid eggs.

Knowing that the queen has such a profound impact on the colony and its survival, most beekeepers/companies will maintain the hive for a short time to ensure the queen can meet the demand of the colony before being sold.

Once you receive your nuc, you simply remove 5 of the existing frames from your hive box, and replace them with the frames from the nuc. After transferring the frames, your work is essentially done. You’ll have to conduct your hive inspections as recommended, but as for the setup, your work is done.

What is a Package

This is the most common way bees are purchased as its typically a bit cheaper. When you order a package of bees, you’ll receive a screened in box consisting of roughly 10,000 bees, a queen in a cage, and a can of sugar syrup for them to feed on while they await their new home.

There are a few disadvantages to receiving a package instead of a nuc, but the earlier you receive it the better you’ll be suited to fix any concerns. For instance, the queen will be newly mated and there is no guarantee of how well she will perform. With that being said most beekeepers and companies sell queens separately if you need a replacement.

Another downfall to the package is that they run the risk of being impacted by the weather, such as freezing in the cold or overheating in the sun. However, the manufacturer should be aware of any concern and may delay your shipment accordingly.

Personally, I’ve ordered the standard 3lb packages multiple times with no issues and its less of an impact financially. When you establish your first hive from a package its a bit more rewarding. You’ll essentially take an artificial swarm and re home it. Plus you get to see every step, from the release of the queen from her cage, to the girls filling the newly drawn honeycomb with honey.

Keep in mind that installing a package of bees is a little different from the nuc though, as it takes more time and should be monitored a bit closer. I’ll cover installing a package in another post.

The Arrival of Your Bees

When you know your bees have shipped, do the mail man a favor and let him or her know you have bees coming. Keep in mind not everyone is thrilled with the idea of receiving thousands of bees in screened in box! The post office that I have mine shipped to don’t seem to mind, as they receive multiple packages a year from different beekeepers in the community.

Once your bees have arrived at the post office you want to pick them up as soon as possible. You want your bees being kept in a cool shaded area until they are installed, by picking them up at the earliest opportunity you ensure they won’t be left out on the shipping docks in the sun or rain.

Trust me, the first time you pick up your package from the post office your going to question your driving ability as your bees bounce around in the seat next to you. As a precaution, I usually leave my son at home in case I need to make a mad dash.

Do What’s Best For You

At the end of the day you really can’t go wrong with either option, you just have to do what’s best for you at the time. If you want a quick start and your willing to spend up on the nuc, then by all means go that route. If you’d prefer trying your hand at installing a package of bees and enjoying the entire experience, give the package a shot.

Whichever you decide, keep in mind your helping preserve the most important pollinator in the world as its population quickly plummets. Take your time, educate yourself, and make sure your well-prepared. If you do your due diligence you’ll be rewarded with a self-sustaining hive and a plethora of honey!

Best of luck!






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