Buying honey bees is the most common way for new beekeepers to begin the hobby. There are several different options to consider when deciding how to buy bees to start your hive. Each method of obtaining new residents to occupy your beehives has pros and cons. Learn the “ins and outs” and you will be ready to start your beekeeping adventure.
How Beekeepers Get Bees
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Learning how to buy honey bees is one of the first big decisions facing a new beekeeper. I mean, you can’t be a beekeeper until you have some residents for your hive, right?
A few new beekeepers will be lucky enough to receive a starter colony from a friend. But, most of us will be faced with paying money to fill our hives.
The options available to you may depend on your location. Availability and cost are also major factors. If you need to have them shipped, expect to pay more to cover postage
Why Beekeepers Need to Order Bees
The idea of buying bees is a new concept for those unfamiliar with beekeeping. It seems that it would be easy to just catch some-but that doesn’t always work. There are several reasons beekeepers might need to order:
- new beekeepers starting new hives
- replacing colonies that died over Winter
- increasing the number of hives in the apiary
Some folks think they can just put out a hive and the bees will come. This can happen for those lucky enough to catch a swarm! However, this does not always occur at the time when you are ready to begin.
Most new beekeepers start the hobby in Spring. This is a time well before many wild swarms are available. To be sure of filling those new boxes, placing an order is the most reliable method.
Experienced beekeepers buy bees to replace colonies that did not make it through the winter. Even though I have been a beekeeper for a while, some years I need to buy a replacement package.
Don’t feel like a failure if you lose colonies – it happens. And, it happens to just about everyone – they just don’t all admit it.
Also beekeepers wanting to grow the size of their apiary may order a few packages to increase hive numbers more rapidly. This is an acceptable method-just be careful of getting more hives than you can manage.
When to Place Your Bee Order
As late Summer fades into Fall and Winter, bee suppliers will begin taking orders. Yes, order taking begins months before they are scheduled to arrive.
If you want new colonies for Spring delivery, order them as far in advance as possible. Right after Christmas is a common time for bee orders to begin in earnest.
A reputable supplier will do everything possible to deliver healthy bees and be there to give advice and answer questions after the sale.
But, there is always an element of risk involved – no one can guarantee that you will be successful with your hives. They become your responsibility as soon as you have them in hand.
Always consider taking some bee classes. They can be very helpful for new beekeeper.
You should learn how to install a package of bees, or how to install a nuc hive before you bring them home. This ensures that you have everything you need on hand and all of your beekeeping equipment ready.
How Much Does It Cost to Buy Bees?
The price you pay depends on several factors. Whether you buy packages, a nucleus colony or a full hive, the time of year and availability affects price.
In general, package prices vary from $125 to $200 plus shipping (if applicable.) Expect nucs to be in the $200 and up range and of course a full hive is often over $250.
Where to Buy Honey Bees
Most of the suppliers in the US are found in the South. States like Florida and Georgia are centers of honey bee rearing on a very large scale.
Their short mild winters are ideal for colony growth. Honey bee colonies living in the South will be large productive colonies when northern winter lingers.
This is why most of the “bee package” producers are in Georgia. Are these southern bees suited for life in other climates? This is a topic of great debate.
Purchasing colonies local to your region could be helpful. However, cooler regions will not have large quantities ready early in the season. If you miss the “nectar flow” you may miss the chance to make a honey crop.
Local Pickup or Shipped
A quick internet search will find the bee sources nearest to you. Ask local beekeepers, contact the nearest beekeeping club. Beware of re-sellers who drive to Georgia, purchase packages and sell them in Wisconsin as locals !
Don’t laugh – it happens. And there is no harm at all – as long as the consumer knows what they are buying. I have purchased colonies and queens from Georgia for years and have had good luck.
Ordering Bees Online for Delivery
Being able to pick up in person is great because you get to see exactly what you are getting. However, you can buy online and have them shipped right to your front door.
The United States Postal Service will have the honor of delivering many bee packages. Admittedly, your postal carrier may not be thrilled with the job.
Ask questions before placing your order – not every carrier promises live delivery. Read the terms of service carefully.
You want to know: how they will be shipped, are they insured, if they are insured and the package arrives damaged – do you have to file a claim with the post office or will the supplier replace them?
Common Methods of Getting Bees
There are several possible ways to get bees. Each method has advantages and disadvantages. Where you live many play a role in deciding which one is best for you. The most common ways beekeepers buy bees are:
- in a package
- a bee nucleus hive
- full size hive
Buy Honey Bees In A Package
The most popular method of getting bees in the United States is to buy a package. The package includes enough bees to start a hive – including :1 queen, workers and even some drones. Three pounds of bees is the most common package size.
In general, the bee family includes a mated queen bee traveling in a small cage. She is ready to lay but must get to know the bees she is with – hence the reason for the separate cage.
A can of sugar syrup is inside to feed the bees as they travel to their new home. This is the easiest method for new beekeepers because the colony is small and easy to work with.
In “Is Buying Bee Packages a Good Investment“, I discuss the pros and cons of buying bee packages.
Buy a 5 Frame Nuc Hive
The common term “nuc” is short for nucleus. A nucleus colony is the “heart” of a hive. When you buy a bee nuc, you are getting a mini colony ready to grow.
A Nuc purchase is not always the best option for every beekeeper. In “How to Buy a Nucleus Colony“, I discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of purchasing nucs.
Buy An Established Colony Hive
Another option is to buy an established full hive. This can be a bit overwhelming to a new beekeeper as established hives are sometimes more defensive.
However, you do avoid the risk of having to introduce a new queen. And, the colony should have everything it needs to be grow and be productive.
Buying a full hive does not come without risks. Unless you purchase from a good beekeeper with a reputation to protect, you run the risk of getting a weak or sick hive.
Also, anytime you purchase a hive with honeycomb, there is a risk of disease or pests inside the hive.
What are the Best Honey Bees to Buy?
There are several types of honey bees available to purchase. While some strains do better in certain climates, receiving healthy, pest-free bees is probably more important than any particular breed.
However if you can, find bees that have good genetics for mite resistance, they are desirable – regardless of the race or breed.
A common saying is : “If there is one thing beekeepers can agree on – it’s that beekeepers can’t agree on one thing !” This is certainly true when discussing many beekeeping topics.
And, as you do your research, you will find that this is also true when buying honey bees. Try several different methods of obtaining bees and see which one works best for you and your apiary.