Is it time to buy bees? If you've made the decision to start beekeeping, then it is time to buy them. Or at least order them.
So how do you go about getting bees to stock your hive? And where can you purchase honey bees?
Or is there an alternative to buying bees?
Depending upon where you live, you might actually have several options...
If you happen to know a beekeeper in your area, you might persuade him or her to sell you some bees, and maybe even an entire hive.
That’s a way to get started. But more often than not, I think it’s not the best way.
There are two areas of concern with this method of buying bees:
The first concern is with the bees.
Even if the beekeeper is someone you know and trust, you could be buying a hive with problems that the beekeeper doesn’t even know about.
The hive could be host to one or more of the many problems that afflict honey bees these days, such as mites, hive beetles or some disease. If so, that will get you off to a very difficult start with your new hobby.
And the breed of the bees will probably be an unknown. You want to start out with gentle, non-aggressive bees; these might be just the opposite.
The other concern is with you, the new beekeeper.
Unless the beekeeper selling you the hive is willing to mentor you for a while, you’ll be diving right into the deep end of the pool.
You will go instantly from having no bees and no beekeeping experience, to being responsible for a working hive at full strength.
Might be a bit overwhelming at first.
An alternative to purchasing bees is to not buy bees at all.
Instead, you can get your name added to the swarm list of the local fire and police departments.
The swarm list contains the names of beekeepers who have volunteered to retrieve a swarm when a homeowner or business calls and reports a swarm on their premises.
The beekeepers that remove these swarms get to keep the bees.
Pest control companies also sometimes maintain a list of beekeepers to call for swarm removal.
There are also some concerns with this method of acquiring bees.
In fact, for a brand new beekeeper, the only good thing to be said about this source is that you can avoid spending the money to buy bees.
You will be even less certain about the health and temperament of a random swarm than if you bought a hive from a beekeeper. (If you live in an area where Africanized bees have become established, don’t even think about starting with a swarm!)
And who knows when your name will come up on the swarm list?
They normally take turns calling the beekeepers on the list, so beekeepers that were on the list before you will be called before you.
You’ll have to wait until there have been enough swarms for your name to come up next on the list.
You don’t really want to get your hive built and ready to go, eager to start your new hobby - and then have to wait for weeks for the phone to ring, do you?
The best way for a beginning beekeeper to get started is to buy bees from a reputable bee breeder.
You will be assured of disease-free bees that will be shipped right to your home. You’ll be able to buy bees with characteristics that are ideal for your area and that will be gentle to work with.
Your hive will start small, and grow in strength as you also grow in skill as a beekeeper.
And you’ll enjoy watching as the colony establishes itself, building beautiful fresh comb, with the strong young queen filling the new comb with brood almost as fast as the bees can build it.
In my opinion, that’s the way to start beekeeping!
When your package bees arrive, they will come with instructions for installing them in the hive. But let’s go over the process briefly so that you’ll know what to expect beforehand.
First, of course, you’ll want to be sure that your hive is completed and ready. Have it situated in the location where you plan to keep the bees so that you don’t have to move it after the bees are installed.
Once the bees arrive, place them in a cool, dark place where they won’t be disturbed. Plan on installing them in the hive late in the afternoon.
When it’s time to install them, mix up some sugar water made of 1 part sugar and 1 part warm water.
About a pint should be plenty.
Put some in a spray mister, and spray it on the sides of the wire cage. You’ll be able to see the bees licking it up. Don’t worry about spraying in on the bees; they’ll lick it off of each other.
Keep applying the sugar water to the cage until the bees are no longer taking it up.
Take the package of bees to your hive, and remove 4 or 5 frames from one side of the hive.
Also put your entrance reducer and feeder in place, with the feeder jar full of sugar syrup.
Open the package and take out the feed can and the queen cage.
There will be a small cork at one end of the queen cage. Take out the cork, and poke a small hole through the candy in the queen cage.
You do NOT want to make a hole large enough for the bees to get through; use a toothpick or a small diameter nail.
Wedge the queen cage in between a couple of frames, with the screen of the cage exposed to the bees.
Now pour the bees into the empty space in the hive created by the removal of the frames. Jostle the cage some to dislodge as many bees as you can.
Since the bees are damp from the sugar water, they likely won’t be flying much. As the bees spread out in the hive, carefully replace the frames, and close the hive up.
Leave the bees alone for 5 days (keep an eye on the feeder jar, though. If they empty it, refill it.).
Then, open the hive (using your smoker), and check to see that the queen is out of her cage.
Normally, the bees will chew through the candy in the cage and release her, but if that hasn’t happened, go ahead and release her yourself.
In about another week, open the hive again to verify that the queen is laying eggs.You don’t have to find the queen, just look for the eggs in the bottom of the cells.
If she’s not laying, contact the supplier of the bees. Otherwise, congratulations: your first honey bee colony is established!