“Thoughts and Ideas”

Nucs for beginners?

By | December 16, 2010

In being a new beekeeper seeking advice, every experienced local beekeeper has touted nucs as being far superior to packages for the beginner.  I made the decision to go foundationless and to use all mediums.  I sought some advice from a remote but cold-winter keeper who’s done both of those things, and his advice was that the advantages of using nucs are really negated by needing to remove those frames of foundation later, as well as the chore of finding a medium nuc.  I went with packages.

Now that I’m a year in, and contemplating my options for the spring, I really believe that beginners should use packages.  My first reason is needing an experienced eye for a nuc purchase.  In acquiring a nuc, a buyer should give the nuc a good inspection, and know how to look for relatively new comb, solid frames, a good brood pattern, and keep an eye out for small hive beetle and mites.  This is the only way a buyer is going to be sure he’s getting a good value for his money.  I just don’t see how a first time beekeeper who’s probably never done an inspection will know how to do this effectively. 

A second issue with nucs is simply locating them and then having to drive to get them.  In the north, real nucs producers are few and far between, so even an experienced beekeeper is left with few options, maybe only two and sometimes only one supplier.  Members of a local bee club can often times be tapped to supply nucs, but because they’re rarely production level, acquiring nucs from this source has to be viewed as non-critical.  Weather and other factors may affect if you get your nucs at all from someone who is not raising at least dozens if not hundreds of nucs for the purpose of selling them.

A package on the other hand is easy to locate from half a dozen suppliers or more.  A package also gives the experience of…well….dealing with a package.  The new beekeeper gets the chance to install the package and introduce a queen.  He also gets to watch the bees develop as a brand new hive from nothing.  This is all good experience completely missed by just buying a nuc.  It’s true that a package is more likely to abscond than a nuc, but if a package absconds, that’s a hard lesson learned,  and if the keeper sticks with bees even after that happens, then he’s in it for the long haul.  Anyone who gives up after the first disappointment in beekeeping was really never cut out for it in the first place.

With all this expressed, I do believe that local bees and local queens here in PA are far better than importing southern packages.  My plans are to expand my hives with splits from successfully over-wintered hives, thus saving money and hopefully having an apiary full of healthy, well-acclimated survivor bees.  But running foundationless mediums means that for now, if I know I need bees, I’ll be ordering packages.

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