How to Purchase a Queen Bee for Your Hive
Beekeepers are responsible for the hives of honey bees that they keep. Occasionally, a beekeeper may decide that buying a queen bee is the best plan of action for the hive. Keeping young productive queens in the colony is the best way to ensure a strong, healthy and productive hive of bees. For those of us who are involved in beekeeping for honey production, having strong hives is especially important.
Why Would You Need to Buy a New Queen Bee?
This is a fair question. Indeed, why would a beekeeper ever need to buy a queen when the bees can make one for themselves?
There are several situations where purchasing a queen honey bee is the best idea for the colony.
Purchase a New Queen with Desirable Characteristics
Sometimes, the beekeeper wants to introduce new genetics into the bee yard. Some bee breeders focus on developing a line of bees with special characteristics.
Because the queen is the mother of every bee in the colony, you might consider choosing one that is supposed to be more hygienic.
Colonies with hygienic behaviors tend to have fewer problems with varroa mite infestations.
Buying a queen from a bee breeder focusing on hygienic behavior (to control mite populations) may be appealing if you struggle with mite control.
Also, a bee breeder may offer queens that he/she says will over Winter better in a cold climate or be calmer on the comb, etc.
Colony Is Unable to Produce a Queen Bee
The honey bee colony has a remarkable ability to replace their queen bee when needed. With the right materials in the hive and enough worker bees, a new queen can be produced.
However, sometimes the right materials are not in the hive. Without fresh fertilized eggs or very young larva, no queen can be produced.
Also, if the colony has been queenless for a while, this presents a bigger problem.
The population may be too low to sustain itself while waiting for a new queen to be raised, mated and produce new workers.
In any of these situations, looking for a quality queen is a good plan of action.
How Much Does a Queen Bee Cost?
The cost of a queen can vary from one location to another. And of course, if you are buying bees from certain breeding programs you can expect to pay more.
Breeder queens are produced and artificially inseminated with chosen drone semen.
These bees are often hundreds of dollars. Don’t panic, the average beekeeper does not need an expensive queen.
Buying a mated queen bee from a reputable breeder should only set you back $30-$50 on average. These queens are open mated. They fly free and mate with drones in the area.
The bee breeders saturate the surrounding area with drone colonies to increase the chance that the queens will mate with drones that have the desired characteristics.
While you can buy virgin queens, or even queen cells, most beekeepers will have better success when purchasing a mated queen bee.
How to Get a Queen Bee
Buying a queen bee is very easy during the warm season. From late Spring through early Fall, finding a queen bee for sell should not be a problem.
Sometimes, local beekeepers raise a few extra queens – if the beekeeper is reputable, this is a great way to add some new genetics to your bees.
If you live within driving distance of a bee supply, they will often have extra queens for sale during “bee season” – especially early Spring.
And believe it or not, you can buy a queen online and have her shipped right to your front door.
Now, whether she will arrive alive is another question but many queens are shipped through the mail each season.
Protecting Your New Queen in the Queen Cage
When she arrives, your new hive leader will be in a queen cage. This small box can be either wood and wire or plastic.
She does not travel alone but will have a few worker attendants in there with her. They are known to the queen and will feed and care for her until she is released.
Don’t panic if a couple of the workers are dead. Bees die every day and these may have simply reached the end of their life cycle.
Keeping the Queen Alive in Her Cage
Your new queen can stay in her cage for several days if needed. Though I recommend installing a queen as soon as possible, she will survive for a while.
Place the cage in a cool (not cold) dark place and try to avoid bothering them. Once a day, put a drop or two of water on the screen of the cage.
Some beekeepers use special queen introduction frames when introducing a new queen – but its not a requirement.
What to do if the Queen Bee Dies in the Cage
If your queen is dead upon arrival, call the supplier immediately. They will instruct you on the next steps to take.
Before ordering queens through the mail, it is a good practice to ask questions about live arrival guarantees.
Yes, maybe she is insured but if the unthinkable happens and you receive a cage of dead bees – what then.
Will the supplier send a replacement or will you have to file a claim with the post office to get a refund?
It’s a difficult business to ship live insects through the mail – just be sure you understand any risk on your part.
Last Word on Tips for Buying a Queen Honey Bee
There will be times that you will be unable to buy a queen bee due to availability.
In these cases, if the season allows and the colony has a decent population, perhaps the bees can raise a new queen if you give them fresh eggs from another colony.
Before paying money for bees of any type, shop around. Ask questions of people who have purchased from the supplier before.
And then, get ready for the wonderful things that new queen you just bought is going to do for your colony.