To be safe, I have ordered three sets of new bees. I keep one of the two packages that arrive in April and give the other to my neighbor. When the NUC arrives in mid-May I will install it in my second hive. Are you lost in the lingo? Let me explain a bit. Skip ahead if you know this…
Packages are a newly mated and marked queen with a bunch of bees she hasn’t met yet. The queen arrives in a cage with a plug. They are cheaper and available earlier in the year so you can start quicker. The bees are literally dumped into an existing hive and the queen stays in her cage. The plug is replaced with a sugar plug which the bees eat through to free the queen, thereby claiming her as their own.
This is a package, this is a package Jodi is shaking into the hive.
This is a queen cage ready to go in with the bees just shaken into the hive. They also need a good meal of sugar syrup to get them off to a good start.
NUCs (Nucleus) are a small colony of bees with a proven, laying queen. They arrive in a small hive box with five frames of brood in various stages of development and perhaps even some stores of honey. They tend to become available a month or so after the packages and are easily transferred into an existing hive by simply adding the frames. (Being careful the queen moves into the new digs as well.)
The packages come from a local apiary and supply company. These bees have Cariolian queens and are coming from Northern California. The NUC bees wintered in North Carolina though the queen is described as “Northern raised from Canadian Buckfast, Russian, Carniolan and Purvis Golden descent.” The bees have been treated for mites and disease prior to shipment. These are termed “Northern survivor” stock. Fingers crossed!
If one hive falters, I should be able to re-queen with the older brood in the NUC. Last year was the year of swarms. Many hives in the area lost their queens and a large part of the workers for no apparent reason. Usually swarms are due to overcrowding. Keeping in mind the bees know more about all this then we do, I fear there is more going on in their ecosystem than the pressures we are focused on such as pesticides and colony collapse.
My most important concern this year is the weather warming up soon enough to have a good pollen flow early so they can thrive. With any luck, the package bees will be well on their way to growing a colony by the time the NUC arrives in May. It will also give me a month of getting acquainted with one hive before the work doubles with two.