Welcome to NewBee University!
Lesson 1: Buying Bees
Introduction: While it may seem surprising, you can purchase bees, by the 1,000’s in fact. You can even get bees delivered in the mail! When it comes to becoming a beekeeper one of the first challenges is learning how to buy your bees. This lesson will explore several ways you can go about buying your bees and becoming a beekeeper.
1.) Package Bees
This is by far the most common way for beekeepers to buy there first colony of bees. A package of bees is a box about the size of a brief case with screened sides for ventilation. Inside is a “swarm” of about 3lbs or 10,000 bees and one very important bee safely caged in her own little box (the queen). These bees have been collected from other hives and matched up with a new young queen, who is unknown to them and therefore kept in a safe cage until they get acquainted. These bees are essentially dumped into your hive with the new queen and they make your hive their new home. The process of hiving a package will be described in more detail in a later lesson. Package bees can be shipped to your local post office and picked up when they arrive. Not all suppliers are willing to ship and of course you will be paying shipping and insurance costs, but these costs are not as high as you might expect for such “hazardous materials,” anywhere from $10-20 extra. Package bees can range in price from $100-$150 with most being in the middle of that range. Packages are picked up in the spring (April-June depending on region and weather) however many supplies take pre-sales for their packaged bees as early as December and many supplies sell out well before spring arrives. If you are buying package bees, especially if you hope to drive and pick them up from a supplier within driving distance, you MUST plan ahead and reserve your bees early. If you miss out, all is not lost, many times the connections you make at Beekeeper Associations can help you find another avenue for securing your bees, but the best advice it to PLAN EARLY.
2. Nucleus Hive (“Nuc”)
A nucleus hive, or “Nuc” (pronounced “nuke” as it is the first part of the word nucleus) is a small established hive. A nuc can range from 3 to 5 frames with a mix of honey and pollen stores, larva, brood, and a active laying queen that has been living and laying with this small colony for some time already. The advantage to starting a hive with a nuc is that the colony’s order and its queen have already been established and proven to be working. To install a nuc the frames are simply removed and placed into your hive along with additional new frames for the bees to expand to (more details on the installation of a nuc are found in a future lesson). Nucs are not shipped and have to be picked up from a supplier, however nucs are often available from local beekeepers as they can be made from splitting a few frames off of a successful hive and introducing a new queen. Nucs are sold in a box, often a wax coated cardboard box, with 3 to 5 frames of drawn comb which adds to both the value of a nuc to a new beekeeper as well as the cost. Nucs cost about 20% more than packaged bees and range from $135-185. While not as common as packaged bees for new beekeepers to get started with, many argue that nucs reduce the risk of the bees absconding (flying away in search of a new home) and build up into a productive hive faster.
Very few beekeepers start beekeeping by catching a swarm, however it is worth mentioning. When bees have successfully survived winter, their numbers and health are strong, and nectar is flowing in the trees and plants in the area they will swarm. A swarm is when a new queen is created in the hive and a swarm of bees leaves the hive with the old queen in search of a new home in which to build up their new colony. Swarming is how bees reproduce their number of colonies. Beekeepers LOVE to catch these swarms because it is both exhilarating…..and saves over $100! The reason this is not a practical way for a NewBee to start is because it is unpredictable and swarming happens later in the spring when the time to arrange for purchased bees may very well have passed you by. While catching a swarm can be a great bonus to a new beekeeper it is not recommended to plan on this to start your beekeeping adventure.
4.) Established Hive
Like catching a swarm, beginning with an established hive is not a recommended way for a NewBee to get their start, but it can be done. Sometimes beekeepers are looking to downsize their apiary (bee yard) or retiring all together and are looking to sell their active hives. Buying an active hive can range in cost from $250-450. The age and quality of the hive parts is one huge variable in buying established hives and there are some cautions about using any used beekeeping equipment (more details on buying used equipment in a future lesson). One of the major drawbacks for a new beekeeper is skipping all the learning that comes from starting small and building to a fully established hive. It is kind of like getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time on the highway instead of starting out in the driveway.