Bee Package Vs. Nucleus – Which Is Best For Newbie Beekeepers?

A bee package and a nucleus side-by-side.

New beekeepers have various ways to get bees for their hives, but no approach is perfect. Two popular options involve shelling out for a package or nuc of bees.

Which is best for your bee yard? This info-packed comparison guide helps beginners decide.

In a hurry? Read this…

A bee nucleus (nuc) is a mini-colony with a pre-established queen, workers, brood, and food stores. It offers a higher success rate and smoother transition to a thriving hive. Nucs cost more and increase the risk of pests and disease.

A package of bees gets you roughly three pounds of bees with a separate queen, but no comb, brood, or food sources. It’s a cost-effective option that’s easier to source. Beekeepers should factor in a slower establishment period and a higher risk of absconding.

What do the experienced beekeepers recommend?

We polled 227 beekeepers with over two years of experience in the field. They were asked if new beekeepers should buy a bee nucleus or package of bees. 76% recommended a nuc.

An infographic showing the percentage of experienced beekeepers who prefer a bee nuc over a package.
Source: Bee Professor online poll posted in Facebook groups and via email.

Bee nucleus

A bee nucleus, or “nuc,” is a small, fully functioning hive used to start a new bee colony. It typically contains 4-6 frames housing a queen bee, brood (developing bees), food stores (honey and pollen), and worker bees.

Beekeepers create a nuc by splitting off a portion of an existing, healthy colony. This approach offers a higher chance of success as the hive is growing and the workers have accepted the queen.

A top down photo of a bee nucleus.
A closeup shot of a bee nucleus.

Overwintered nucs contain bees that have survived through winter. Though usually more costly, they’re worth the investment as the bees have proven resilience.

The main disadvantages of nucs include the higher initial investment and the risk of inheriting diseases or parasites from the donor colony. Finding nucs compatible with non-Langstroth hive types can also be challenging.

Nucs cost more and may carry unwanted extras.

Despite these drawbacks, nucs offer a solid foundation for new beekeepers. A new beekeeper’s chance of success is much better using nucs.


  • Arrives as a fully functioning mini-colony with a queen, workers, brood, and food stores.
  • An established queen and social structure increases the likelihood of success.
  • Introducing the bees to their new home is quick and easy.
  • Nucs often come from local beekeepers, making the colony more resilient to local climate and threats.
  • Nucs contain all stages of honey bees, including eggs, larvae, brood, and adults.


  • More expensive than package bees due to the developed state of the nucleus.
  • Risk of inheriting diseases or parasites from the donor colony.
  • Frames may not fit all hive designs like the Top Bar.
  • Less available and may typically arrive later than packages.
  • State laws may prevent cross state transportation
  • May only be sold in deep boxes with deep frames.

Bee packages

A bee package contains roughly three pounds of honey bees, translating to a colony count of 6000-9000. A fertilized queen also comes with the package.

The bees are shaken into an empty hive along with a caged queen. Worker bees chew through a candy plug to release her.

A beekeeper shaking a package of honey bees into their new hive.
Shaking a package into their new home.

Packages are popular for their affordability and ease of sourcing from suppliers. Since there’s no comb, they pose less risk of disease and parasite transmission than a nuc.

Packages can be introduced to any hive type, including Langstroth, Top Bar, or Warre hives.

Some experienced beekeepers recommend newcomers buy packages as they’re more hands-on. You get a steeper, faster learning curve in building a thriving colony.

The queen comes in a separate container, usually accompanied by a few worker bees. The workers may reject her, and the lack of existing colony pheromones increases the risk of the colony absconding.

Top down photo of a caged queen bee before being released into the hive.
A caged queen is part of a bee package.

Packages often mix bees with different genetic compositions, potentially slowing hive progress initially. Also, since the package doesn’t include comb, brood, or food stores, the bees must start building their new home from scratch.


  • Less expensive than a nucleus.
  • Much lighter mite load.
  • Less chance of disease transfer.
  • Easier to find a supplier.
  • Introduce packages to any hive design.
  • More educational to observe the process from the start.


  • Worker bees may not accept the queen.
  • Some bees usually die during transport.
  • A lack of familiar pheromones increases the chance of absconding.
  • Limited queen breeding operations are significantly reducing the gene pool.
  • Bees must build the hive infrastructure, delaying honey production and colony growth.

Comparison summary

Description4-6 frames of worker bees, honey, brood, and laying queenAround 3 pounds of bees including a queen
Status of queenIncludes laying queenQueen not established
Best forAny levelAny level but some experience is recommended
QualityBees are genetically relatedMay be a mix of colonies
PriceMore expensiveLess expensive

Similar Posts