Last modified on 3 November 2010, at 03:44

Beekeeping/Obtaining Bees

Before one can keep bees one obviously must have access to bees. There exist several methods for obtaining bees, the most common include getting bees in the form packages, nucs, established hives, baiting for swarms, from swarm or capturing and finally by collecting a feral hives.

Packaged BeesEdit

In the United States packaged bees most often come from the southern warmer states, namely California, Texas and Florida. Packaged bees can often be shipped anywhere within the continental US though it may be cheaper to have a large number trucked to the desired region and have the packages distributed. Packages are in high demand as the season progresses, so it is often best to reserve the desired number of packages early on during the winter or previous fall. If an option is given, it is best to have the packages delivered so that they arrive around the time of the first bloom. Packages are usually made available in three, four or five pound increments. For a single new hive a three-pound package of bees with a queen should be sufficient. However if desired four or five pound package can be split to make two hives, just be sure to purchase an extra queen. Packages can be acquired from many sources and be individually be composed of differing races of bees. If possible it is advised to do some research when purchasing packages. There exist many resources to acquire packages, some advertise in beekeeping journals, others simply by word of mouth. Be sure to know what you are buying and don’t get lured in by possibly false claims.
If you decide to go with a package be sure to learn how to care for a package of bees and how to hive a package. Also be sure you know how to handle the queen and introduce the queen to a new package.

Pros and Cons of Packaged Bees
Pros Cons
  • Fewer bees to start working with, therefore less intimidating
  • Must be certified as apparently healthy before sale in the US
  • History is known
  • Entire package can be treated with Sugar Roll to guard against mites
  • Only available during certain times of bee season
  • High stress for bees
  • Delivery personnel apprehensive dealing with bees
  • Bees may be exposed to the elements
  • No eggs or brood until queen starts laying in hive
  • Heavy feeding required to encourage new comb building

Nucs (nucleus hives)Edit

Nucs, or nucleus hives, are in essence small self-supporting hives. Though not good for collecting extra honey, or hardy to long-term poor weather conditions, nucs make for a good way to establish new full-sized hives. Nucs often contain three to five drawn frames, but it is not unheard of to have ten full frames. One of the major benefits of nucs over packaged bees is that they should already contain a laying queen and a somewhat established colony. However, nucs cannot be transported anywhere near as easily as packaged bees and are often more expensive. Nucs can also harbor disease and pests; because of this, be sure to inspect the nuc and get its history prior to purchase. Whenever possible it may be a good idea to contact your state bee inspector prior to purchasing a nuc.
If you find that a Nuc is how you wish to start a hive, check out information on moving hives and hiving nucs.

Pros and Cons of Nucleus Hives
Pros Cons
  • Contains bees of all ages, brood and eggs
  • Quicker to establish
  • No queen release required
  • May harbor disease and mite problems
  • May require deposit and return of gear to original owner
  • Generally can’t be shipped and must be acquired locally
  • Nuc equipment may not integrate with other hive equipment
  • Queen may be old or of poor quality
  • Don’t integrate well to non-Langstroth-style hives

Established HivesEdit

Established hives are exactly what their name implies, a fully working established hive. The upside of an established hive is that it gets to work as soon as it is placed in its new location. However, it has many of the same down falls that a nuc has, and a large hive can be rather intimidating to a novice beekeeper. Established hives can often be acquired rather easily from retiring beekeepers; the trick is finding out before anyone else does. Other equipment may also come cheaply from such a source. Some of the best ways to find out about such a deal are by keeping in contact with your local club, by browsing the classified ads within beekeeping journals, and by reading local beekeeping newsletters.
If you are thinking about going with an established hive rather than starting your own, be sure you know how to properly move a hive.

Pros and Cons of Established Hives
Pros Cons
  • Contains many bees of all ages, brood and eggs
  • Already established
  • No queen release required
  • Full hive is ready for honey production
  • Likely kept by an experienced beekeeper
  • May harbor disease and mite problems
  • May require deposit and return of gear to original owner
  • Expensive
  • Can’t be shipped and must be acquired locally
  • Queen may be old or of poor quality
  • Equipment may be old and failing
  • May be a bad reason as to the availability of the hive

Swarm BaitingEdit

Baiting swarm traps may or may not be a successful or first-rate system for acquiring bees. Depending on the time of year captured, a swarm may not be able to sustain itself through winter; therefore, it may be best to only bait traps early within the swarm season. Whereas there is the plus that your bees would be free of charge, you may simply be acquiring more trouble than it is worth. Swarms may be of inferior stock or even africanized. Because of this it may not be a wise idea to capture swarms through baiting.
However, if you still feel confident with the idea of trapping a swarm, you may wish to learn how to trap a swarm and how to hive a swarm.

Pros and Cons of Swarm Baiting
Pros Cons
  • Free bees
  • Bees may be well acclimated to current region
  • No brood or eggs
  • Unknown lineage and history of captured swarm
  • Bees may be Africanized
  • Bee capture is not assured
  • Swarm may have health or mite problems
  • Swarms will have older queen that may be failing

Swarm CaptureEdit

Swarms are natural occurrences for bees. Swarm capture was the original way in which beekeepers would increase the size of their apiary. Swarm capture, however, is not recommended for a novice beekeeper. Capturing a swarm can prove to be quite tricky for someone who has not had any experience working with bees. Many of the same down sides exist with swarm capture as there does with swarm trapping. It is best to only capture swarms if you know where they originated. Sometimes your own bees may swarm or the bees of another beekeeper, these are often the prime swarms to capture. Some residential areas even have a swarm notification list in which keepers can be added and notified when some one spots a swarm. However, be aware many people believe any collection of swarming insects to be bees, so false alarms may be commonplace.
If you still feel positive towards swarm capture, you may wish to learn how to capture swarms and how to hive it once you have it.

Pros and Cons of Swarm Capture
Pros Cons
  • Free bees
  • Reportedly both fun and thrilling to do
  • Bees may be well acclimated to current region
  • No brood or eggs
  • Unknown lineage and history of captured swarm
  • Bees may be Africanized
  • Swarm may have health or mite problems
  • Swarms will have older queen that may be failing
  • Can, but not necessarily, lead to being badly stung

Collecting Feral HivesEdit

Feral hive collection may be the most labor intensive and dangerous way to acquire bees. First year beekeepers should not perform such task, in fact many veteran beekeepers won’t even dismantle a feral hive in order to acquire bees. Feral hives can be found within hollow trees, large flowerpots, and house walls or even hanging from trees or other such locations. Because the hive is established, capturing a colony almost always requires destroying its surroundings, causing the bees within to become very irritated. This should not be done without full Protective Gear. Any damages done to property may be the responsibility of the collector, so be sure to sign a contract before extracting bees.
Collecting a feral hive is no easy task, but if you decide to take that route be sure you are familiar with the process of collecting a feral hive and know how to hive it.

Pros and Cons of Collecting Feral Hives
Pros Cons
  • Free bees
  • Reportedly both fun and thrilling to do
  • Bees may be well acclimated to current region
  • Brood and Egg comb can be collected
  • Drawn comb can often be collected
  • Honey can often be collected
  • Other bees may return and establish at the same point year after year.
  • Unknown lineage and history of captured swarm
  • Bees may be Africanized
  • Bees may have health or mite problems
  • Can, but not necessarily, lead to being badly stung
  • Intimidating task with a great deal of work involved
  • Collector may be expected to repair damages
  • Many bees can be killed in the process, including the queen
  • Queen may be difficult to both capture and find