Beginners frequently ask, "What's the difference starting with packages as opposed to nucleus colonies?" Since both have an equivalent number of bees and a queen - it's not apparent why a Nuc at $160 is a better bargain than a package picked up for $95.
It has to do with time and what's happening in the bees' season..
Spring is when colonies build - as temperatures grow warmer and pollen and nectar become plentiful, their inclination is to make a new colony. Packages, nucs and swarms all arrive about the same time in the southern Appalachians. Each contains about 10,000 bees and a mated queen. If installed in new equipment, comb must be drawn for the queen to lay. Extruding wax requires tremendous energy and warm temperatures. If the beekeeper does not provide additional feed the build up will be slow.
A package is like Ellis Island - where a bunch of immigrants from different lands (hives) are thrown together, given a queen not their mother - and told to build a City. They will do it - but it's not the best way to start. The caged queen will take several days after she's released to resume laying. Her eggs won't hatch for 21 days and it will be two more weeks before the first mature into foragers. Added together it will be six weeks before any new bees are ready to forage. By then ALL the original bees in the package will be dead! (The total lifespan of a worker averages six weeks)
A package is a box of bees shaken down a funnel. They aren't sorted by age - but even if all were a day old when the package is made - they'd be week-old when delivered in April - and it will be late May before the first influx of replacement bees are ready to forage. This most important season in the bees' year will pass while the package isn't strong enough to take advantage. The main honey flow will happen while the package loses strength every day until at least the fourth week after installation. And if the new colony doesn't like the queen they've been given, they will supercede her - adding another three weeks and seriously jeopardizing the survival of the colony.
By contrast the Nuc has several advantages: the queen is already accepted and laying eggs. She is proven. She continues to lay even as the nuc is transported and the frames of brood are tranferred into the beekeeper's equipment. Within the comb are stores and brood of all ages. A balance exists between older bees and an increasing number of replacements.The colony utilizes the abundant resources and builds into a fully established colony.
Comparing a package and nuc around May 30 (six weeks after installation), the package has been continuously fed by the beekeeper and now has mostly drawn ten deep frames of comb. The first daughters are beginning to forage and the population once again approaches where it started. Unfortunately, the Spring flow is nearly over. If the beekeeper continues to feed, the second deep should be drawn by another 3-4 weeks.// The nucleus colony did not have to be fed. It expanded immediately and filled the five frames of foundation in less than two weeks. By the end of May the second deep is mostrly drawn and the colony has reached near full strength. They are in position to gather a surplus in summer and go into Winter strong and healthy.
Looking at it in economic terms, the package costs $95, plus five frames with foundation that'll add $10 to the cost. If the colony doesn't accept the queen, a new one will cost $25 plus shipping and another two weeks will be lost. Hopefully the colony will get it's comb drawn (feed cost$, takes time, and is messy). In a good season it may gather summer surplus and be ready for Winter by early Fall.
"Time is money"
The Nuc builds much faster, and may actually gather a surplus that Spring. Each shallow super contains 2.5 gallons of honey. That's 30 one pound jars of honey at minimally $6 a jar. Or the colony could be split at the end of May (using the box the nuc came in) and allowed to raise their own daughter - giving the buyer a new two-deep colony and a 5 frame nuc valued at ... $160!