Bee Package vs Nucleus Colony (Nuc)

Having your bees is something many of us can do. Not only will they pollinate many of your food crops, but they will also provide you with delicious honey too.

Before getting your first bees there are several important decisions you have to make. 

One of these is to decide where to get your bees from. Do you want to buy a bee package or a nucleus colony? (nuc for short).

As a new beekeeper, this can be a daunting task, so in this post, I will compare the nuc and a bee package, when to use each one and the advantages and disadvantages of both.

What Is A Nuc?

A nucleus colony, or nuc, is a small colony of bees with a queen, housed in a small box, usually with five frames inside. 

On at least four of those frames, there will be brood, pollen, approximately 2000 to 3000 bees, and a laying queen bee

No sugar syrup is provided, as the bees have stored their food as honey on the frames in the nuc.

Nucleus colonies are usually picked up by the new beekeeper from the seller, and sellers are often found locally.

Vertical view of beekeeping nuc showing top of frames and bees

Advantages Of A Nuc

The advantages of a nuc are:

  • The bees are already established. They have drawn out the comb, stored honey and pollen and brood has been laid.
  • There is a laying queen in the hive. She has been accepted by the colony and is a proven egg layer.
  • They are easy to install. You can readily lift the frames from the nuc and put them directly into your super or brood box.
  • They are ready to accept their new home. The bees are more likely to stay in their new box when transferred because they already have brood and honey and a laying queen.
  • The bees will usually settle into their new home because they already come from your area geographically.
  • The colony is less stressed because it doesn’t have to travel very far to its new home.

Disadvantages Of A Nuc

The disadvantages of a nucleus colony are:

  • They are more expensive to buy than a package of bees. 
  • They are harder for you to find. Because it is more work to raise a nucleus colony than a bee package there aren’t as many of them available. Therefore you might not find a supplier close to home.
  • The frame size in the nuc might not match those in your hive or the type of hive you own. For example, a Kenyan top bar hive has sides that slope inwards and the frames from a nuc would not fit.

What Is A Bee Package?

A bee package consists of more bees than a nuc, approximately 8000 to 12000. They are ordered by the pound in America.

A mated queen comes with them, often housed in a cage for her protection during the trip to your home.

A feeder of sugar syrup sustains the bees while they are in transit.

Unlike the nuc, no frames come with the package. They are housed in a lightweight box with mesh to give the bees plenty of ventilation.

A bee package can be shipped a long way, across the country.

Two bee packages with bees inside

Advantages Of A Bee Package

The advantages of a bee package are:

  • They can fit into any style of beehive that you own because they have not become established on any frames.
  • They are more readily available. It’s not as much work to raise bee packages so they can be produced in large numbers and therefore are easier to obtain.
  • Because they are easier to obtain, you are more likely to find a reputable supplier near you.
  • You can watch the colony develop from the beginning. This can be a great education for a new beekeeper.

Disadvantages Of A Bee Package

The disadvantages of a bee package are:

  • The queen is not from the same hive as the package of bees, so i’s not known for sure if the bees will accept her and may kill her.
  • The bees are likely to be stressed if they have been packaged and shipped a long way. Stress can have a negative impact on their health.
  • If the bees have traveled a long way, they are not likely to be used to your climate,  food availability, and pests. This can reduce their chances of success.
  • The bees may get injured during transit, especially if the package has to go a long way.

When To Use A Nuc?

A nuc would be used if you want to have a colony that is already established and is ready to go into a larger hive. 

You already know the queen has been accepted and has started laying eggs and there is some honey being stored.

A nucleus colony is best ordered in advance from a reputable local supplier. If you are a member of a bee club or association, it’s a good idea to ask for recommendations from some of the experienced members.  

Once you know of a good supplier, contact them before spring to find out when you should order one. 

When Do I Use A Bee Package?

If you want to start a colony from the very beginning, then you would buy a bee package. A package of bees and the queen can be installed into whatever sort of hive you own as they don’t come on frames.

Once again you would be better off ordering them in advance from a reputable dealer to make sure you can acquire one. Ask members of your local bee club. Once you have found a good supplier, contact them before Spring to see when you need to order one. 


There are reasons for and against buying a nucleus colony or a package of bees. Which one you choose depends on your situation and whether you want an established hive or one you can watch grow.

Whichever one you choose, make sure you order them well ahead of Spring to avoid missing out. 

Starting your adventure in beekeeping is very exciting, so make sure you do your research before obtaining your first bees. It will be a positive experience!

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