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  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • April 2017
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The bees are coming! — Honey bees and the beekeeper

If you ordered honey bees for this season, April is typically the month they are delivered here in Wisconsin. Honey bees can be ordered two very different ways: packages or nucleus colonies (NUCs). What’s the difference, you ask? Let me explain…

Packaged bees or packages are simply a weighted amount of worker bees, typically 2 or 3 pounds along with a queen in a queen cage. These bees are placed in a screen box with the queen cage hanging in the box. You might ask why the queen is in a box, separate from the worker bees. Since the worker bees associate themselves to the pheromone scent of the queen, when they are packaged they are packaged with a new queen. This poses a threat to the worker bees as they think the new queen is trying to kill their queen. The cage is to protect the newly installed queen in the package until her pheromone scent is associated with the workers. This usually occurs within 3 days. A 3-pound package is approximately 8,000 worker bees plus the queen. There are no frames, comb or brood with a package. Installation is unique in the fact that you have to pour or knock out the worker bees from the screen box they come in, into your hive. You must also release the queen, which if not careful, she can fly away. We hope the queen will be a good layer, but she has yet to prove herself. She should be a newly mated queen.

NUC is an acronym for nucleus. What is a NUC? Wikipedia says it best, “NUCs, or nucleus colonies, are small honey bee colonies created from larger colonies. The term refers both to the smaller size box and the colony of honeybees within it. The name is derived from the fact that a NUC hive is centered on a queen, the nucleus of the honey bee colony.” Typically, this would be the preferred method for new beekeepers to start a colony. The queen is already a proven layer as evidence of the brood within the frames of the NUC. Installation is simple by taking the frames from the NUC box and placing them in your hive. The queen and the worker bees are associated with each other. The colony is already a work in progress. The NUC will contain about 3-4 pounds of bees, plus there are different stages of brood. New bees are being born all the time! Honey Bee Ware NUCs are 4-frames with drawn comb on those frames, at least two of the frames contain brood, and the other frames contain pollen and honey.

Experienced beekeepers typically purchase the packaged bees, but we have seen a trend in people moving to the NUCs. Since Wisconsin’s honey season is so short, starting with a NUC makes sense. Production is already 2 weeks to a month ahead of a package. If you’re a beekeeper and wanting the honey, you need as much production from your bees as possible. When your worker bees don’t have to build comb to start collecting pollen and nectar you will reap the benefits of honey much quicker!

Until next time, “bee” happy! 


Wayne Gerdts

Wayne Gerdts is a 3rd generation local beekeeper in Wisconsin. He has ran a commercial beekeeping business with 3,000 colonies. Currently, he owns Honey Bee Ware, which is a beekeeper equipment and supply store in Greenville, WI and running 60 colonies of bees. Wayne is very passionate about the honey bee and its honey. Follow him on: or Visit the Honey Bee Ware online store at:

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