Inside: More beekeeping won’t save the bees because it just means we have more mouths to feed in a world with an ever-decreasing supply of flowers. To really help save the bees, skip beekeeping and start planting.
Table of contents
Whenever someone says they want to help “save the bees” by becoming a beekeeper, I feel discouraged. That statement usually means they are about to buy a box of unrelated honey bees shipped from the south with a factory queen and all the optional extras, including mites and viruses.
Hard work and sound judgment may turn that jumble into a viable colony, but will it help save the bees in the grand scheme of things? I doubt it. Adding more and more colonies into an already stressed environment doesn’t solve any problem.
When I think of saving bees, my thoughts embrace all 20,000+ species, not just honey bees. But in any case, I don’t believe bees need saving. What needs to be saved is their environment and their food supply. In a proper environment, bees can take care of themselves.
Nutrition is key for bee health
No matter what kind of beekeeping magic you perform, no matter how skilled your technique, it will be for naught if we don’t provide bees with a healthful environment that includes a balanced and plentiful diet. For that reason, every beekeeper should also be a grower, filling fields and flowerpots with life-giving blossoms.
As consumers, we worry about the health of our charges. A pet owner scours the fine print on a bag of dog food or a container of goldfish flakes. A livestock owner obsesses over the ingredients in the layer ration or hog builder. And owners of children scrutinize packages of oatmeal and cornflakes. The bottom line in all cases is nutrition.
Proper nutrition is necessary for healthy bodies, rapid growth, mental development, and sufficient immune response. We know that intuitively, yet we send our bees out into a nutritionally deficient world and wonder why they get sick. We wonder why they can’t combat disease, defend themselves against pests, or survive the winter.
The days of ten supers are past
I recently heard a group of beekeepers talking about the good old days when you could stack ten honey supers on a hive and have them filled within two weeks. “Bees aren’t what they used to be,” they concluded. “Today they’re inbred and weak.”
But I don’t believe honey bee genetics has changed radically in the past few decades; what has changed is the bees’ environment. A degraded environment containing a poor food supply is the reason all bees are in trouble, not just those that get varroa mites or CCD or nosema.
For example, the beekeepers who stacked supers ten high were able to do so because crops like clover and alfalfa were allowed to bloom. But today, those fields are cut at about 10% bloom in order to maximize the protein content for livestock, and all the nectar is lost.
It’s the environment that changed
But that’s just one change among many. Weeds used to be allowed to grow at the perimeter of fields and in windbreaks and along drainages. Now, these areas are kept “clean” with herbicides. And while those clean areas represent a decrease in honey bee forage, they are a death knell to native species who use those plants for nesting materials, shelter, pollen, and nectar. And the areas below are used for tunnels, mud collection, drinking water, shade, and safe havens. We take that all away with one squirt of our chemicals.
Vast acreages of mono-cropped farmland provide inferior forage for all bees, including honey bees. Worse, many native bees cannot fly far enough to traverse those fields, and some can’t fly the width of an interstate highway or the breadth of a Home Depot parking lot. Whereas a honey bee can span several miles, many natives are lucky to travel a few hundred yards.
Invasive weeds flower, but do they help?
Other acreages, those not covered in field crops or concrete, are smothered beneath invasive species. I’ve heard the argument that invasive species bloom, too, and make good bee forage. But here’s the catch: an invasive species becomes a type of mono-crop replacing multiple species. Like most mono-crops, it blooms all at once, and when it is done there is no more forage. Instead of having a succession of flowers to feed bees throughout the season, you have just one super-size meal followed by weeks of nothing.
If you subtract all the places that are no longer habitable for wild bees such as cities, farms, suburbs, lawns, industrial complexes, and roads, and you delete all the areas covered with invasive crops or treated with chemicals that destroy both their homes and their food supply, you can see why the fate of native bees is so uncertain. While it is hard to notice the damage done to the natives, we can certainly see the toll taken on honey bees.
Bees & flowers: co-dependent forever
I believe that if you truly want to save the bees, you can be more effective by tending the environment than by tending a hive. You can do both, of course, but you cannot ignore the real problem. Bees and flowers co-evolved and remain co-dependent. If we want to save the bees—any bees—we must first save the flowers.
Saving bees is a matter of reducing pesticide use and increasing the number of flowering plants. Nothing else will replace those two items—not breeding, not feeding, not genetics, not management. Rumor has it that the number of honey bee colonies in the U.S. is at a twenty-year high. Can we say the same about the flowers on which they depend?
Honey Bee Suite
Thank you for this post, Rusty! I couldn’t agree more with you. When I was a kid, the roadsides back in Indiana where I grew up were filled with milkweed, queen anne’s lace, thistles, bergamont, black eyed susans and a host of other flowers. Not only was it pretty to look at, but the bees, butterflies and birds thrived on all the forage. Today, most of the roadsides are either mown down or sprayed with herbicides.
Adequate forage is the best thing we can do to save the honey bees and along with it a host of other mostly unseen species. I would love to see every highway and road be planted with native plants to create a pollinator corridor.
Well said, Rusty, thank you!
Ha! At my place there’s plenty! I plant meadows of clover, borage, sunflowers and hillsides of native wildflowers every year, plus alfalfa, buckwheat and 100 fruit trees. There’s even a lavender garden! Well-fed bees of all sorts!
When I see an overwhelming portion of backyard beekeepers kill their bees every year due to ignorance and neglect, I can’t see how anyone could think that more beekeeping or more beekeepers in itself will save the honey bee.
You are correct, Rusty. Our bees (and all other pollinators) are starving to death! Sure, the Varroa mite is a severe threat, but, in most cases, if a person really wants to save the bees, he/she should plant flowering pants. Lots of them. Encourage neighbors and highway departments to do likewise. Then, buy local honey from a successful beekeeper. It’s a lot cheaper than investing hundreds of dollars into a hobby that is likely to end in the death of tens of thousands of God’s precious creatures.
I am struggling to phrase my comment correctly and clearly. I do not disagree with the message you are sending, nor with the points you make; but I wish to softly challenge the idea that we should be “discouraged” that more people want to become beekeepers, local association “newbie” classes are full, newspapers carry stories about restaurants with hives on their roofs, my neighbors bring their children to see the hives in my backyard, and so on. The enthusiasm for beekeeping is, in my mind, part of a virtuous circle. It is generated by at least a basic understanding that honeybees (and perhaps all pollinators) are challenged, furthered by media communications of the issue, and prompted by a desire to “do something”. It is an opportunity for you and me and all beekeepers and “pollinator advocates” to speak up about all the things you note in your article. It is not “discouraging”. It is “encouraging”. When we hear such a statement, let’s smile and take full advantage of the comment. Ninety percent of the speakers will never follow through, but we can make sure they walk away with a slightly better understanding of the situation. And maybe we can change the overall one conversation at a time.
Well said Michael, I agree and thank you for stating this so eloquently. Beekeeping can help us become aware and motivate change.
Outstanding comments! WELL SAID! Thank you Michael, for speaking my heart as well.
ok this leads to several questions…
I am starting beekeeping this year to help “save” the bees. I’d love to start with a robust feral colony. Where would you recommend I find said colony? Currently I’m getting 2 nucs at the end of March and have two hives set up and ready to go. I’m not planning on taking any honey from the bees (ever) but I know that to start I will have to feed them sugar and pollen so they can get going.
I also want to plant bee friendly plants. What time of the year should I plant clover? alfalfa? Other plants? Where would I get the right seeds? So far all the clover I’ve planted has died. So I’m not doing something right.
It’s one thing to tell us all the reasons not to get a a “box of unrelated honey bees” and admonish us as to what is the correct coarse of action is *not*, but for people like myself, I need more explicit directions on what to do next.
This sort of reminds me of a ‘cartoon’ that has a complex math equation on a class room black board and then a note that says ‘a miracle occurs here’ and then the solution directly after.
Clearly, we need more than a miracle to help our native bees and honey bees.
Please give me links to seeds, growing instructions and where to find feral bees.
You don’t have to worry about the box of unrelated honey bees because you opted for nucs. I can’t help with growing instructions for seeds or where to find feral bees since I don’t know where you live. Check local resources for that kind of information.
A very good place to source native seeds for your plantings is a local restoration nursery. This is a good time to get seeds prepared for planting. Many restoration nurseries have mixes suited to your local soil types and climate. Look them up on google. I am in the process of converting an abandoned pasture into an orchard of mixed shrub species and diverse prairie native flowering plants. The bees made me do it!
Hi Diana, the two nucs will probably keep you busy this first year, but to get some local bees you could try attracting a swarm. Hilary at ‘Beekeeping like a girl’ has just written a great post on how to attract swarms: http://beekeepinglikeagirl.com/how-to-lure-a-swarm-of-bees/
As Rusty said, try to get local advice about which flowers are native to your area and will thrive in your climate. When you walk around your local area, which flowers do you see bees visiting? There are lots of tips available online about planting clover, depending on what type of soil you have.
I sometimes feel dismayed at all the attention that honeybees get. But then I remind myself that just about anything that helps honeybees helps all bees. Conversely, honeybees cannot survive unless the landscape also supports native bees. Helping the native bees is a lot easier than becoming a beekeeper, too. These three steps go a long way:
Grow flowering plants.
Don’t use pesticides.
Avoid disturbing the ground.
Don’t mulch everywhere. Leave open ground for ground nesters.
Leave some dead wood up for tunnel nesters.
Look at plants native to your area. Plant those. Your native bees will thank you.
I definitely appreciate your most recent blog entry. No one would raise children or pets if they were grave uncertainty about where they would get their next meal. I think sometimes the fact that we have always observed bees taking care of themselves leads us to believe that we don’t have to take responsibility for the surrounding environment.
I was wondering whether there are any good statistics on how much forage is required to support a certain number of hives. I am in the process of attempting to purchase a 2 acre piece of property where about half of that area will be available for planting fruit trees, flowering plants and just flowers, period. Assuming a reasonable rotation of blooms throughout the spring and into the fall, is there a good way to calculate how many hives that could support. I realize that this also depends on availability of forage in surrounding areas, but assuming there were nothing, could an acre of flowing plants support 2 hives or 4 hives? Thanks in advance for any thought you may have.
You nailed it with this one. I have shared these same thoughts with you here for a long time. I couldn’t agree more.
Thank you for writing this! Can’t wait to share it.
I recommend looking for a local native plant nursery and your local native plant society. They should be able to help you with what to plant for your area and suggest plants that are especially good for pollinators as well. Here is an index of Native Plant Societies throughout the US and Canada: http://www.nanps.org/index.php/resources/native-plant-societies
Very well said
Hello every one
will honey bees from a different hive be allowed by other hive to enter in case of a same and different races
The race doesn’t make much difference. Honey bees generally fend off intruders from other hives if they can, but if the new bee comes bearing gifts (honey or pollen) she often will be allowed in regardless of subspecies or race.
For anyone wanting to plant clover, it has to be sown very shallowly. A very small amount of sand sprinkled over the seeds works. Do not bury it. When soil temperatures have reached 8°C (46,4°F) the you can sow or broadcast it. Try to obtain white field clover and not cattle feeding clover. The field type forms proper sods in the earth, the more modern hay making type can come loose from the soil fairly easily. Too much grass can cause it to not do well on a site.
Good post and some good replies.
Thankfully in the UK people usually start with a swarm or a nuc, I think “packages” are a dreadful idea.
Some farmers here grow a wide margin of native wild flowers along field borders, they are paid to do so, plus we still have set aside, land which is managed, not sprayed.
We also have wildlife groups for counties,ie Dorset, Somerset, Suffolk, rspb and other wildlife groups all managing for wildlife, so in theory bees are benefitting, but with a huge population for such a small island, smaller, and smaller gardens it’s not great. We have a large garden and before we got our bees planted it up with lots of bee plants and shrubs. We went out last weekend to buy lots of hellebores and heathers as the season is so odd, mild and yet little in flower yet.
It’s funny though in the summer to see that only a few bees are on the lavateras etc, they are zooming off into the hedgerows after blackberry flowers etc, they do love our fruit bushes though.
Native wild flowers and shrubs people, and lots of them, plant en masse
Great article, Rusty!
This Spring another line was added to my save-the-bees mantra “Get rid of the lawn service and sow clover.”
It’s “Quit ‘topping’ trees, especially Maple trees.”
That practice has long been abhorrent to me, for leaving the trees looking mutilated and stimulating unhealthy growth. This year it occurred to me that this ugly, ill-informed practice is usually done in late Winter or early Spring, just when the blossoms are coming out, depriving several bee species of critical early forage.. The sucker growth that sprouts around the unsightly stumps may not develop to the point of flowering for another 3 or 4 years.
We had a good Maple bloom these past weeks, even though interrupted by 2 cold spells. Whenever temps were back to 50, there they were doing acrobatics in the wind to land on the tiny blossoms.
Hope the Locust bloom is as good!
May I cut and paste this blog and put on my face book page?
I also want to send it to our new Prime Minister who professes be environmentally conscious
Yes, go ahead. Just be sure it includes a link back to my site.
Having been a hobby beekeeper for fifty years I can say that it’s much more difficult that it was back in the day. Mites have been a challenge but pesticides, herbicides and monoculture have made it all uphill. I’m often asked about beekeeping at farmer’s markets. There are active hobbyist groups and now you can find beekeeping supplies at your local hardware and garden store. When people indicate they want to help and that it would be an interesting hobby I try to be honest but honesty lends itself to discouragement. They always want to start with a single colony which is a good path to immediate failure; I encourage at least two which increases the investment. While Minnesota winters are much more mild than they used to be overwintering has increased challenges now with overactive colonies. I tell them most interested people to find another hobby. The vast monoculture and the pervasive impact of agrichemicals are the two challenges which need change.
Recently I met with a person who started a program to save monarch butterflies (www.saveourmonarchs.org). He wanted to add some directions and encouragement to people interested in beekeeping. I made the same argument that would be terribly disappointing for most people but directed him to a couple of vendors of mason bees; low investment, no work.
Thank you for this post. It’s exactly what I’ve been saying to a lot of people who look at me with the response “I don’t want to hear that.”
But it’s spring, some of the colonies survived the winter so there is hope.
Your comments on packages is spot on, too. Bees by the pound, queens from a production line, dying by the day thrown into a marginally provisioned hive…amazing any of those work.
I appreciate your work.
I agree. Sadly, It’s not only the honey bees, though. We humans are supposed to be the smartest species but we’re the only one that destroys the planet and environment. All of the stories about animals or insects on the verge of extinction and also global warming point back to us. We have no one to blame but ourselves. If we continue, we will be on the verge of extinction, if we aren’t already.
Well stated. The honey bee problems are a symptom of a much larger problem in a much larger system.
I Recent Removed A Stack Of Lumber With Large Groves In Them.
The Groves Were Filed With Mud dobber type Mud Nests. When
They Warmed Up In My Basement A Very Small Bee Came Out
That Looked Like A Honey Bee But Only About 1/3 The Size Of
A Honey Bee. What Are They?
I can’t tell for sure without seeing them, but from your description I would suspect a mason bee or a leafcutting bee, especially if the nests were lined up inside the groves with mud or leaves connecting them.
I am in agreement with you Rusty…..I am a new beekeeper with many old timer beekeeper friends. They told me of a time before round up and other harmful chemicals were less available to farmers and they were in honey paradise here in Jamaica. Our environment here is severely stressed with these imported chemicals being used by our farmers and the ill effects of long drought periods caused by climate change……I’m encouraged though that I can help by planting up green spaces and encouraging others to do the same with our indigenous flowering plants, trees & shrubs and discouraging the use of harmful industrial pesticides and other agro-chemicals that are not environmentally friendly. I do share your ideas and hope you keep spreading the word mon!
Hi Rusty. Yep. I am guilty. I was excited that I could do something to “help save the bees”. I ordered a package of unrelated bees ( as suggested by my bee PhD mentor) and took the plunge. I was thrilled to find your website and have followed it for the 3 years since I started. Recently I feel you are stabbing us newbees in the heart .
New comers “kill bees” and this latest article about saving the bees ….
I went to classes, bought books , studied bee care and most of all spent money planting forage for my new charges.
I had never seen bumblebees in my yard, I had never seen all the native bee varieties in my garden. Now, they thrive here. I am thrilled with my success in this brutal Stn CA drought. Yes, I lost a hive to probably mites with insufficient treatment but not without adhering to the advice from the top voices in Santa Barbara county.
I am trying hard as are my friends in the area who are also dedicated to saving all types of bees by improving forage and seeking community assistance with pesticides and herbicides.
Stop trashing us new bee keepers.
Sadly a disillusioned prior fan
Lynette, thank you so much for saying exactly what I was feeling. I have not gotten my packages yet, they arrive at the end of March, but I was stunned to read this post. I felt personally attacked.
Rusty, you don’t know me, I, like Lynette have read and studied and feel ready for my bees, unrelated or not. And wont my colonies be ‘related’ in about 4 to 6 weeks anyway?
Package producers dump bees from many, many colonies into a big container with a funnel. The empty packages are put on a scale, and the requisite number of bees is poured in from the big container. Then a caged queen is added. The queen has been reared by other bees at another site.
The bees in a package do not become more related over time anymore than the students in a classroom become more related during the term. Certainly they become more familiar, but relatedness is determined by genetics.
Once in the package, the bees become accustomed to each other and to their queen. After you release the queen, brood rearing can begin.
The bees in your package will all die within the first 6 to 8 weeks, but by then the offspring from the queen will replace them. The queen and her offspring are related of course, so now you finally have a group of related bees, a true colony.
So you correct in saying the bees become related after a couple of months, but that occurs only after the package bees have died and the queen has replaced them with her own offspring.
My issue is that I want to help bees, but what flowers do I plant? You hear all the time about how flowers at home depot and Lowe’s have pesticides and are actually harmful to bees. So what types of flowers are good?
Check out the Plant Lists for your area and then buy seed, if possible. Or go to a nursery that doesn’t apply systemic pesticides. You may have to ask about their policies.
I recently read a post on why honey isn’t vegan, which culminated with a way to save the honeybee. The website (unfortunately I can’t remember which one) focused on veganism yet the writer was quite well-versed on honeybee husbandry. She knew about varroa mites, bee castes, reproductive swarming… quite impressive actually. But then at the end she recommends that to save the bee we should all boycott honey because by reducing the demand for honey we would reduce the pressure on the bees. I wish I would’ve bookmarked the site, because I want to counter that suggestion with a recommendation to boycott almonds. Don’t buy almond milk, almond butter, almond “cheese”… California alone produces 80% of the world’s almond supply (so I’ve read), a huge demand. Almond pollination has a huge impact on our nation’s honeybee health, don’t you think? It seems to me that reducing this incredible pressure to pollinate the almonds, and being exposed to all manner of diseases and pesticides while doing so, would make more sense than boycotting honey.
My husband and I have been thinking of beekeeping. He used to keep bees many years ago long before we met.
A few years back my Dad and I discussed keeping honey bees in Saskatchewan, but my Dad passed away suddenly.
I was looking into a top-bar hive to start because I am no longer able to lift a super. My concern is the -50 temp that Saskatchewan is so famous for in the winter. My question is: can I put a hive into the centre of a small 6’x 8′ greenhouse leaving the lower and upper vents of the greenhouse opened slightly, will this be enough for the hive to survive the winter?
I don’t know the answer to your question, although I know honey bees are successfully overwintered in Saskatchewan. I think some are brought inside and some are wrapped, whatever gives them a little extra warmth and protection from winds. I think the greenhouse idea might work, it sounds logical, but I think you would be better off asking a local beekeeping club to see what they recommend for your conditions.
I live in Colorado where we have cold winters, though not as cold as yours, Cynthia, and I kept a small top bar hive in a small greenhouse for a few years. In the beginning it was great because next to the greenhouse was a small stand of aspen trees, which gave the greenhouse shade during the hottest part of the day. We cut a hole in the side of the greenhouse which the landing board abutted and the bees flew in and out of that hole, for the most part. While generally not a problem, some bees would insist on using the “people door.” There would often be a bee or two frantically trying to exit through the ceiling because they could not tell the glazing from the sky. We ended up installing fabric shade cloth on the ceiling to stop that behavior. Working the hive can be difficult with limited space to move, put things, and forget using a smoker. If the bees become upset, the greenhouse gets crowded real fast.
In the summer the greenhouse would be much warmer inside than out. We installed a solar-powered vent to push the hot air out. Our greenhouse also has a roof panel that automatically lifts once it hits 70°F or so inside. Only once did we have a comb collapse. Our high was 105°F that day… outside the greenhouse. In the winter, the greenhouse would be warmer by 5 or 10 degrees F (the bigger difference being during the day and the smaller overnight). For some colonies, that extra warmth can mean the difference between living and dying.
Once the stand of trees died and we lost the shade, the greenhouse simply became too hot in the summer. We installed more shade cloth but it didn’t help moderate temperatures, and it became kind of dark inside to work the hive. I always wear a veil. Temperature swings between day and night also became much more dramatic, which in winter can be a problem if the bees break cluster during the day and don’t reorganize before night falls. That’s my contribution. Just stuff to consider. Best of luck… Holly
I’m so happy that someone finally stated the obvious. If we want more bees we have to plant more flowers! We can’t just assume there will be enough flowers for more and more and more hives. Bee packages should come with seeds to give people the idea. Maybe you could invent that Rusty, unrelated seeds and bees in a box!!!
Hallo Rusty, our national Bio-dynamic bee keeper day is this coming Saturday, March 12th. I would like to translate your piece above into Dutch for using there. The subject of the morning session is The Living Landscape, so your piece is exactly appropriate. I will of course give all credit to you as the source and if you want the Dutch version for other readers I will mail it to you afterwards. Your piece seems to have gained a lot of responses on your site too, good work thank you, Lindy
Certainly. Go ahead and use it. Also, it would be fun for me to post your translation, so send it along when you have a chance.
This spring, I’m doing a lot of work on my bee yard, which sits on about 1/4 of an acre next to our pond at the back of our farm. I’m planting clover, borage and a wildflower mix for pollinators – all seeds free of Neonicotinoids and are nonGMO from American Meadows. I’m also challenging my husband not to mow pasture in the back where there is typically a good stand of clover. Hopefully we’ll pump up the plant buffet for our girls.
I have an unusual problem with 2 Langstroth hives this spring. There are piles of earwigs in the telescoping cover. I mash as many as I can with the hive tool, but when I check them again there is just as many again. One beekeeper suggested putting some cinnamon in the cover. What do you suggest?
I just ignore them. Earwigs are scavengers and they don’t hurt the colony. Penn State University has a publication called A Quick Reference Guide to Honey Bee Parasites, Pests, Predators, and Diseases that says, “Beehives provide shelter to a number of large and small arthropods such as spiders, earwigs, and cockroaches. These are not harmful to the bees or hive equipment and do not require control.”
Once your colony builds up strength, the earwigs will usually disappear.
Just a funny to share from a new beekeeper.
I recently split a hive and installed a new (caged) queen to the split. When I was inspecting the new hive, waiting for the queen to be accepted, I kept finding large deposits of what looked like Dijon mustard.
I was sure it was something very wrong, so I moved my frames to a clean box so I could hose off all that “stuff.”
The light bulb went on! Cleansing! I had no idea it could be so “ample.” I was wondering if when bees are upset, do they respond with using their business like weaponry?
PS – Honey bees don’t care for rhododendrons or azaleas but all the bumble bees do.
My husband firmly believes honey bees target clean and shiny things, like freshly washed cars. Who knows?
And yes, you are right about rhododendrons and azaleas.
I think this post makes a lot of really valid points, and I want to encourage people to learn a lot about beekeeping and take a good course before attempting it, because having sick bees does increase the chances of your neighbors bees getting sick.
I also want to respond to the “unrelated bees” comment. There is no evidence that unrelated bees are worse than related bees at working together when they have shared their pheromone and the queen’s pheromone for a few days. In a few weeks, all those bees will be related (a bit longer if you install the package on foundation). A nuc may be a little further along in this process (towards becoming a related colony) than a package, but most people selling bees are putting a nuc together from multiple colonies. Additionally, nucs tend to have more diseases and mites in them. If you get a package, there are only phoretic mites, and some of them may die due to lack of brood during their time in the package. A nuc, however, comes with mites in the brood, mite treatment and pesticide build up in the comb, etc. It is healthier for your bees and better to purchase a package if you are a new beekeeper, even though a nuc may seem easier.
Nothing in the post implies that unrelated bee can’t work together; it simply states that packaged bee are unrelated. I mentioned it merely because a lot of people think a package of bees comes from a single hive, which it does not. However, you say that “in a few weeks, all those bees we be related” which definitely is not true. Those particular bees will never bee more related than they were the day they were put in the package. Their genetics were determined at conception. But those unrelated bees will soon be replaced by bees who are related to each other and to the queen, since they will all be her progeny. The unrelated bees serve only to get the colony started, and yes they can work together just fine.
Sorry about the phrasing, that is what I meant by saying they will be related. The current workers will die and will be replaced with new, related bees. I understand that you didn’t mean that unrelated bees can’t work together, but to me, your post/comments (comment where you said that you don’t have to worry about unrelated bees with nucs) did imply that a package is worse than a nuc because they are less related. My point is that nucs can also be made of unrelated bees, with frames from multiple different colonies that will emerge into the same nuc. This obviously depends on who you are getting the nuc from, but even if they are a very small scale beekeeper who splits a nuc from a single colony, they are likely putting in an unrelated queen. But the relatedness doesn’t really matter, we agree that they can work together just fine. In terms of disease, you are likely getting way more diseases with a nuc than if you buy a package, with varroa (or even foulbrood) infested brood, and potentially built-up contaminants.
In terms of starting healthy hives, and keeping the bees around your own hives healthy, it is a lot safer to buy a package than a nuc, as you get less of the “extras, including mites and viruses” than you do with a nuc, and your bees will have a chance to build new, uncontaminated comb, and have a break in brood during which the varroa population will drop a bit.
Like I said, I think your post brings up a lot of valid points, and is a great start to an important discussion. At the same time, bees are fascinating, and people want to keep them! It is important for bees and all of us already keeping bees that we give those just starting information about how to start the healthiest hives possible and keep all surrounding bees healthy. It is possible that the “nucs are better than packages” interpretation is just a misreading on my part, but I wanted to take this opportunity to post this information so that if beginning beekeepers reading your post interpret it the same way, they can have a bit more information 🙂
I don’t disagree with anything you say here. Most people I know begin with packages, and I see nothing wrong with that. I agree with you that I’ve seen some pretty scary looking nucs, situations where it looked like the seller was getting rid of old comb and bad frames. At other times they are gorgeous, so it varies with the source.
Still, if someone is starting late in the season, a nuc can give them a leg up in starting a colony quickly. To me, it’s not that one is good and one is bad, they are merely different and each has pros and cons.
better for me to understand