Not sure where to get bees for your new beehive? It’s a common dilemma when taking up beekeeping. But it’s one that’s easy enough to solve.
There are a few options to choose from when getting bees for a new hive. They are:
- Purchasing a nucleus hive
- Buying a bee package
- Purchasing a second-hand hive
- Collecting a swarm
Each one of these can be a great choice, depending on your situation and individual preferences. However, as a new beekeeper, making the decision can be a daunting task. That’s why I recommend finding and joining a local beekeeping club in your area. Most members will be passionate about beekeeping, and you’ll almost always find someone eager to help newcomers such as yourself.
Seek Advice Before You Buy Bees For Your New Hive
If you’re unsure whether or not there is a beekeeping club near you, you can start by typing in ‘beekeeping club’ + your location into Google and see what comes up. If there isn’t a local club, there may be an apiarist association. Here in Australia, for example, there are associations in every state and territory. These associations can be a helpful place to start.
Beekeeping clubs usually hold regular meetings and often have presentations by a guest speaker. They often run courses for beginners to learn about the workings of a hive. If you decide to take part in a course, it’s important to find out first if the course will involve some hands-on experience of looking inside a hive and handling the bees.
Having the hands-on experience will be beneficial as you will meet other new beekeepers too. It’s also confidence-building for you as a beginner to be handling the bees under the guidance of an experienced beekeeper.
Getting to know the other beekeepers in the club will make the hobby more fun and increase your knowledge at a rapid rate. Many beekeepers are accommodating and keen to share their knowledge. They may invite you to inspect some of their hives and, with their help, you’ll gain valuable experience in handling frames and boxes or supers full of bees.
At my beekeeping club, part of each meeting is dedicated to getting together with other beekeepers who live nearby. I found this helpful because when I needed advice, these beekeepers were just a few minutes away. We could exchange information about local conditions, what was in bloom, and the general health of the hive. A beekeeper never stops learning!
Talking with members of your local club will often be the starting point for getting your first bees. They will provide advice and guidance on how to obtain your first colony and what breeds may be the best for your first hive.
Where Can You Get Bees For Your New Hive?
Now it’s time to discuss the main options when getting bees for a new hive. Here they are:
A Nucleus Hive
A nucleus (or nuc for short) hive is a small hive made up of a box, four or five frames of brood (or baby bees), bees, a queen, and honey. It is often created from an established hive and is housed in a small box ready to be taken to your property and placed in your hive. You can read more about Nucs here.
A nucleus hive can be obtained online from sellers and often comes with instructions about how to transport it, as well as when to transfer the bees to your hive.
Remember, if you buy a nucleus hive, the frames need to match those in your hive. You should also have your hive ready and in position before transferring the bees.
Talk with the seller and ask them about the type and temperament of the bees and the queen you are purchasing. If feeling confident, you can transfer them yourself, or ask for help from a member of your local club.
A Bee Package
A bee package consists of a queen in a cage, approximately 8,000 to 12,000 bees, and a feeder of sugar syrup to feed the bees.
Bee packages are available from beekeeping equipment shops or bee suppliers in Spring. I’d recommend you check with your local beekeeping club to find a reputable supplier.
Contact the supplier you choose as you may need to order the package of bees in advance. You should also ask the supplier about the temperament of the queen and the colony. Sourcing bees this way has the advantage of a young queen and a healthy bee population.
The bee supplier should provide you with instructions on installing the package of bees into their new home at your place and introducing the queen bee to the workers.
Usually, the queen comes in a small, separate cage. This cage is placed between two frames, and the worker bees eat their way through the food plug in her cage. By that time her pheromones (scent) will have permeated the hive, and she will be accepted. Once again, depending on how confident you are feeling, you could install the package yourself, or ask for help from a member of your beekeeping club.
An Existing Hive
If you want to buy an existing hive, enquire with your local bee club first to find a reputable seller. You could go online and purchase one by yourself, but I don’t recommend it to new beekeepers who may not know what to look for. You could be making an expensive mistake unless you and a more knowledgeable beekeeper can do an inspection first. This may be impossible if the hive is some distance from you. Possible problems include:
- The boxes could be in poor condition and need repair
- The colony may be diseased or cranky
- The queen may be old and need replacing
Getting a hive from a reliable source has many advantages. First of all, you should be able to inspect the hive and ask questions of the seller, such as the age of the queen and the temperament of the colony.
Secondly, you can inspect the condition of the boxes and the frames, base, and lid. Remember, the hive you purchase should be housed on the same sized frames you have.
A reputable seller will generally be happy for you to take a good look around, as they will be proud of their apiary. They’ll also most likely advise you on where to place your hive.
Obtaining a swarm is the least expensive way to get bees for your beehive. A bee swarm consists of a queen and several thousand bees that have decided to leave an existing hive. They most often do this because they perceive there is insufficient space in the hive, so a new queen is developed and the older queen, along with approximately half of the bees, leaves the hive to look for a new home.
Bees swarm in the Spring and Summer seasons. Before doing so, the worker bees eat as much of the honey as they can – because they don’t know where their new home will be. They leave and cluster together in a temporary location while several bees fly away in search of a suitable location.
Bees in a swarm are generally submissive and good-tempered because they don’t have food or a brood (baby bees) to defend. It’s a different story if the bees have established themselves in an area, have built comb, and have a queen that is actively laying. They can be protective and act aggressively if you disturb them. You’ll need to wear protective gear when catching a swarm, even if the bees seem calm.
If you decide to obtain a swarm, then assemble your hive first, set up the bottom, the frames inside the box and the lid, and position it on your property.
If you let your local club know, they can get a swarm for you and help you to place it in your hive. They may charge a small fee for doing so. Ask if you can join them and help capture the swarm. It’s a great experience, and the more hands-on involvement you acquire, the more confident you’ll become.
At our club, there is a contact person called a swarm coordinator who’ll take your details and let you know when a swarm in your area becomes available.
The most significant advantage of obtaining a swarm is the cost. On top of that, by taking a swarm, you may be doing a service to your community – because the bees may be in an unwanted location.
If you or another beekeeper can remove the swarm humanely, then methods that are detrimental to the bees and the environment, in general, are avoided.
Obtaining a swarm has its disadvantages too. The queen may be old, and the bees unfriendly. They may have a disease or a pest that has been carried from their previous home and into yours.
These problems can be hard to detect until after you have placed the swarm in your hive, by which time it will be a more challenging issue to solve.
There are several choices and considerations you need to make when obtaining your first bees. I would recommend you learn as much as you can before getting your first colony.
Attend hands-on workshops, ask to visit experienced beekeepers, and inspect their hives under guidance. Ask to join in when catching swarms. All these opportunities help develop your knowledge and confidence around bees.
In my experience, it’s a better alternative than learning after you have acquired your first hive. Because I lacked sufficient knowledge when I obtained my very first hive, I was unaware of what to look for and where to go for advice. Sadly, I lost my hive during the Winter as a result. This could have been avoided by getting more experience before setting up my hive.
So join a club or association, become educated and then choose how you will obtain your first bees!