We are often asked this question. Packages might be tempting to purchase because they are cheaper than nucs but they require more maintenance and their chances of success are usually not as high as nucs. Packages can perform and overwinter just as well as or better than nucs.
We advise beginning beekeepers to start out with nucs because most of the hard work of establishing a hive has already been done for you. Beginners should not buy already established or over-wintered hives. There is much to know about the management of these hives. A beginner should start small and grow the first season with starter hives. Your goal the first year is to grow strong hives ready to go into winter. If you do get extra honey the first year it is just a bonus. However, it is ultimately your decision based upon your needs, budget, and beekeeping skill level.
There are pros and cons to each and some are not huge advantages or disadvantages but you should be aware of each:
• Cheaper than nucs.
• Varroa mite and small hive beetle transmission and build-up can be lower than nucs because of lack of brood frames.
• Are available earlier in the season than nucs for those eager to start.
• Can be installed in various hive configurations (Langstroth, top bar, deep/mediums, etc.)
• Transport better than nucs. Nucs get plugged up for transport. Suffocation and heat can be a problem for long transports for nucs. Packages are totally ventilated by a wire cage.
• Varroa breeding cycle is broken.
• The chances of failure are usually higher than nucs.
• Usually comes with unmarked queen and not always the type you want.
• Queen is not always accepted.
• Queen is caged and you can't be sure she is mated.
• Bees need to be fed right away and continually be fed more initially because most are nurse bees with hardly any foragers.
• Packages do not come with drawn comb.
• Packages tend to abscond more. Without the presence of brood to take of, bees will have one less thing tying them to the hive. Having some drawn comb will help to prevent absconding and queen will have something readily available to lay on.
• Should be installed as soon as possible. Packages are caged to prevent bees from escaping. The sooner they are released and placed in their
permanent home the better.
• It is a newly established, mini colony and success rates are usually higher than packages.
• Queen should already be marked.
• You usually have a queen breed selection.
• Queen is mated and already laying.
• Comes with drawn comb & food frames.
• While installation of packages is easy, nuc installation is easier.
• Usually more expensive than packages.
• Available later than packages.
• Usually available choices are either Langstroth deep or mediums and aren’t interchangeable with top bar hives.
• Pick-up times need to be arranged. Can only be picked up early in the morning or late in the evening so you won't lose your foragers.