So you want to install a package of honey bees?

What is a BEE NUC and what is a BEE PACKAGE?

A bee nuc (nuc is short for nucleus) is a small colony made up of bees taken from a larger colony. It’s normally sold in a box with five frames standing side by side. A couple of those frames usually already have honey stores.

A bee package is typically sold in wooden frame boxes with screens on two sides. They are sold by the pound, and it takes approximately 3,500 bees to make a pound. A three-pound package, therefore, contains about 10,000 bees.

Inside a bee package is a can full of a sugar syrup mixture. The bees feed from this during transport. Bee packages can be mailed to you via USPS.  Each package also contains its own small wooden box covered on one side by a screen. This tiny box holds the queen and a few worker bees to tend her.

The Differences

Bees in a package can come from different hives. The bees in a nuc are generally from the same colony. Bee packages also tend to be less expensive than nucs. However, with a package, you’ll need to build the colony by transitioning the bees into your existing hives. This requires a greater education in beekeeping. For that reason, using nucs is typically less stressful than using packages.

Which one should you get?

Beginners would do well to begin with a 5-frame nuc rather than a 3-pound package of bees.   If you are a beginner, starting with an already established colony is going to increase your success rate immediately.  Beekeeping has a huge learning curve. Starting with a 3-pound package introduces a whole new set of elements that you have to learn before you start keeping bees.

Not only are you new at this but now your package bees are starting from scratch too. They have no foundation, no comb, no brood, no nectar and no pollen. And although you have a mated queen in a cage, she’s technically not laying because she has nowhere to lay yet. A nuc already comes with all of those elements.

So you’ve got your honey bee package, now what?

A few things before talking about installing your bees.   

  • Make sure your bee yard is all set up and your equipment is ready to go.
  • Make sure you have prepared 1:1 sugar water.
  • Pick up your bees with your bee suit and gloves handy. Most likely thousands of bees will be flying around.
  • Install your bees on the same day as pickup, if at all possible. However, a couple day delay will not harm your bees.
  • Secure your bees before transport. Recommend placing a mesh bag around the bees and use duct tape to ensure the cover can’t come off during transport.  In the event you had an accident you don’t want bees to be flying around in a vehicle to make matters worse.

Installing a Package into the Hive

  • Place an entrance reducer on hive opening.
  • Remove 5-6 Frames from hive box where you will be installing the new bees.
  • Remove the cover over the hole in the top of the cage and place it to the side.
  • Spray the package with sugar water.
  • One shake to cause the bees to fall to the bottom of the cage.
  • Remove the syrup can from the package and queen cage, cover opening with the cover you just removed.
  • Check the queen cage to make sure your queen is alive and well.   
  • Remove the cork, cap, and/or metal cover from the end of the queen cage.  Do not remove the candy.
  • You will find white candy separating the queen from the hole.
  • Poke a hole in the candy (use a paperclip or small nail).   Make sure you don’t harm the queen.
  • Place the queen in a safe location out of the sun.  We often put her in our jacket or shirt pocket if it is cool.
  • Place the queen cage between two middle frames at the top of the frames.  We like to use a paperclip to hold the queen cage in place so she doesn’t fall to the bottom of the box. (The Candy side should up)
  • The bees must become acquainted with the queen before she is released (bees will eat through the candy in order to release her once she is accepted). This can take several days.
  • Remove cover from package.
  • Shake bees into the gap in brood box.
  • Replace the previously removed frames – Gently. The bees will move out of the way.
  • Place the mostly empty container in front of hive and the remaining bees will work themselves into the hive.
  • Feed the bees with a 1 x 1 sugar syrup.
  • Put on the inside cover and place the telescoping cover on top with extra weights if you use them.
  • Remember to come back in 2-3 days to make sure the queen is out of the cage. If she is still in the cage, release her.
  • If it is very cold when you get your bees you can use the No Shake Method as discussed in the video.

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