Package Bees vs. Nuc Bees and an Update!


In my last post about bee hives, I had said that I would be getting bees for two different hives (a top bar hive & a langstroth hive).  I purchased a package of bees for the top bar and I purchased a nuc box of bees for the langstroth hive.

I sometimes get asked about the different hives I have.  My first hive was the Top Bar Hive.  top bar hiveWhat is a top bar hive?

A top bar hive looks like ^that.  It doesn’t have stack-able boxes. The bees work from one end of the hive to the other.  It does not have frames, rather ‘bars’ that lay across the top. I have a little access window in the back that I can peek in at the bees without having to open them up.  I have found that this is extremely useful and its puts less stress on the bees- and less suiting up and all the work and time that goes into frequent checks.

top bar hive open

Here are a few reasons why I really like the Top Bar Hive:

1. No heavy boxes to lift. Since it is just one long hive, you don’t need to move supers to check the entire hive.

2. If you get a top bar hive with a view window, you can easily check on the hive without ever opening it! I find this very helpful for daily checks on the hive. And, it’s fun for the kids to watch the bees on occasion.

3. It is at hip height. This means I can easily lift bars full of comb and honey and won’t have an aching back afterwards.

Some downsides to the top bar hive:

1. The bees have to start all of the comb from scratch. Meaning, there are no wax frames or plastic frames (not that I would use plastic). It takes a lot of energy and food for the bees to be able to do this fast enough and make enough honey to survive our cold winters.

2. Not as much honey as in other types of hives. Top bar hives are excellent for beeswax production. *I don’t really see this as a downside for me, but it may be for some who are looking for an abundance of honey and not an abundance of beeswax.

3. It can be difficult to find nucs for top bar hives. Which is why we purchased a package.

Okay, so now for my thoughts on my package of bees from Hudson Valley Bee Supply in Kingston, NY. I really love the staff and products at Hudson Valley Bee Supply. They are very helpful and knowledgeable. Their prices were also fair.  I highly recommend them.

When we picked up the package of bees, they looked awesome. The queen looked well and the bees were young.

It was extremely easy to install the package of bees into the top bar hive. What surprised me the most was that the bees were very docile.

Installing a package of bees was a little nerve wracking as you literally dump the bees out into the hive after you shake the bees to the bottom of the box. Its kind of crazy to think about, but really wasn’t that bad.  Really!

I was a little nervous about how these bees would do.  No comb to build onto, no honey, nothing.. just a pile of bees inside of this empty hive.  But, to my surprise they started building comb.  Almost immediately.  It has been about a month and a half so far and I am happy to say that they have built enough comb to fill the hive half way.  That’s about 10 bars so far.  They have tons of brood of all stages, loads of honey already and the queen looks healthy!

I would absolutely buy a package of bees if I decide to get another hive.  Its also the cheaper option too.  Win!


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Onto the Langstroth hive.  These might be the most popular hive around and many would associate beekeeping with this type of hive.  It looks like a box that you stack other wooded boxes onto. Inside, there are frames that the bees build their comb (if you decide to go foundation-less) or bees can build onto foundations.  For my hive, I purchased frames with beeswax foundation.

Since this is my first year with this type of hive, I cant really tell you what I like and what I don’t like…yet. But, I will say that I prefer my top bar hive over the lang.  However, I am thinking that the Langstroth will keep the bees warmer in the winter which if it will make it easier for my bees to survive, then that is what is important.

On to the Nuc.

What is a nuc.  Well, its like a small hive.  Its a box that has every component that an established bee hive would have, just smaller. There are usually 2 regular size frames with comb, honey (maybe),  2 frames with brood, bees and a mated queen.  The nuc frames came with plastic foundation- not my favorite- but that is how they came.    To install these bees, you simply transfer the frames from the nuc box to your hive.  Simple, right?!

It was extremely easy to install these bees into their new home.  Although these bees were more feisty than the bees from my package bees. It was fairly simple to do.

A week later, I did my first hive check to see how the bees were doing, if there were brood, and eggs. I also wanted to check the queen and make sure there was a queen- since I didn’t check the bees very well during installation.  I found eggs and brood and the bees were bringing in pollen.  So I wasn’t concerned.  That was until I saw the queen.  Her wings were slightly tattered looking and she appeared to be less than active.  I also noticed that on the bottom of a frame there were some developed comb on the bottom of a brood frame.  I had suspicions that the hive was not happy with the current queen and they had planned on swarming soon.  I asked a few beekeepers with more experience than I do, and gave me some great advice.  I decided to leave the cells and if they were to develop into a queen cell, then so be it.  I let the hive do what they wanted.  After subsequent hive checks, I only checked for brood.  I wasn’t interested in looking through the entire hive- I just wanted to make sure that they were expanding and growing.

Fast forward to last week. I checked the hive, pulling every frame out.  I found many eggs, many brood at various stages and the tattered looking queen.  The cells on the bottom have now turned into a peanut shaped cell that hangs off the frame.  I suspected that at any day, the hive would swarm.  My worst fear…. What do I do if my bees swarm and take off?! I put the frames back in and refilled the sugar water jars.  I figured that they know what they are doing,  I am just here to feed them and grow flowers for them, in hopes that one day in the next year or two, my family would be able to consume some of their delicious honey.

The next day, I happened to be out by the bee yard.  The sound was unmistakable. I rushed over to find the queen- her disheveled self, lying there on the grass.  Surrounded by bees.  I scooped her up and put her back into the hive.  They settled and I felt victorious that I had saved the day! And saved my hive.

Later that afternoon, it happened again.  This time she flew into a nearby tree, hovering over 30 feet in the air- just enough that is out of reach for me to get to.

Even though I have swarm traps and a hive ready for her- she didn’t come back. And she took half the hive with her.

So, here I am.  I have one thriving hive- and one hive that has half the amount of bees I started out with and no queen.  The eggs that she had laid are all about hatched and the brood are now capped.  There are still 4 queen cells that I am hoping contains the future of this hive.  But, I will save that for another update.

Overall, I have had better success with the package bees.  If I ever have to buy bees again (which, I am sure I will at some point), I am going to get packaged bees. Nuc bees just did not work out as well.

Thanks for reading!  Visit our Facebook page for more about our homestead!


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