The Hive Life – Why Choose a NUC Over a Package of Bees?

by J. David Weidner

Before you know it, winter will be over and beekeepers across New Jersey will begin thinking about purchasing honeybees to begin their journey into beekeeping or as a means of replacing colonies that did not make it through the winter.  If you are a new beekeeper, I strongly suggest that you read as much information as possible about the art and participate in a beekeeping course.  Many are offered across the state or via local beekeeping organizations.  If you haven’t already done so, join the New Jersey Beekeepers Association.

You have become familiar with all of the parts of your new hive, but you are missing one key component – bees!  Where do you purchase them and how do you begin to establish your new honeybee colony?  The New Jersey Beekeepers Association is one great source of information and they commonly have listings of honeybee suppliers across the state.  There are two options for procuring honeybees.

Queen bee surrounded by workers. Photo courtesy Bayer

Package bees are typically available sooner in the Spring season.  Essentially you will receive approximately 3lbs of honeybees, a caged queen bee and a can of syrup.  These bees are then placed inside your hive but have no real resources available to them because of the time of the year and the fact they have no honeycomb that is built in which to store pollen and nectar and no honeycomb in which the queen can lay eggs.  Additionally, the caged queen must be released by the bees inside the hive by chewing through a sugar plug.  This may take about a week for the bees to accomplish and in the meantime, the other honeybees are busy orienting to their new hive location and building honeycomb.  Feeding this new colony is essential to ensure they have enough food resources to build honeycomb and encourage the queen to lay eggs.  In our early years of purchasing package bees from out of state, we often found that up to 33%  of the queens in new packages were either poorly mated or were considered worthless drone layers and had to be replaced.  This is something that the new beekeeper often has difficulty in identifying.

Hence, we believe that nucleus colonies (NUCs) are the best product for a new beekeeper to invest in, especially a NUC that has been produced with a locally bred New Jersey queen bee or overwintered from New Jersey stock.  Due to the lack of drones to breed with, early-season NUCs are commonly provided with queens from other areas of the country.  Our philosophy is to use queen bees that are best suited for survival in New Jersey’s environment and to use queens that produce healthy and calm offspring.  One of the key advantages of purchasing a Garden State Apiaries nucleus colony (NUC) is that the NUC is already established and we have taken great care to ensure that the queen is laying eggs, brood is healthy and several frames of honeycomb has already been drawn out.  Yes, the NUC takes time to establish and the weather is a key factor in the ability of honeybees to forage.  Rain and freezing temperatures often delay our NUC production and most years of NUCs are available to go home with our clients around the first week or two of June.

Upon receiving our NUC and successfully transporting it to your home apiary, you will merely need to smoke the bees lightly, open the top of the NUC and transfer 5 frames of honeybees into their new beehive.  Most importantly, make certain that the queen has been transferred on one of the frames and allow any remaining bees to follow her pheromones, orient to their new yard location and enter the hive.

Our philosophy is to provide our clients with excellent New Jersey honeybees; produced, inspected and cared for using best apiary management practices to help ensure success in your backyard apiary!

For more information visit