How to Buy Bees for Your Hive

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For those of you new to the world of beekeeping, you may be wondering how to get bees for your hive. Ordering bees from a retailer is the most common way for new beekeepers to start. Luckily, you have several different options for buying bees. Each method has pros and cons. Learn the “ins and outs” of the process and you will be ready to start your beekeeping adventure.

Honey bees in front of new hive.

The idea of buying bees is a new concept to many beginning beekeepers. It seems that it would be easy to just catch some-similar to putting out a bird nest box. While that can work – it is not a sure thing. It’s time to learn how to order some bees.

Common Methods of Buying Honey Bees

There are several possible ways to purchase bees for your new hive. Each method has advantages and disadvantages – you have to decide which factors are most important to you.

Options:

  • a package
  • a bee nucleus hive
  • full size hive

Honey Bee Packages

The most popular way beekeepers get new bees in the United States is to buy a bee package. The package includes enough bees to start a hive – including :1 queen bee, worker bees and even some drone honey bees (males).

Three pounds of bees is the most common package size (approximately 10,000 bees). This is the easiest method for new beekeepers because the colony population is small and easy to work with.

Buy a 5 Frame Nuc Hive

The common term “nuc” is short for nucleus. A nucleus colony is the “heart” of a hive. This set up provides you with a mini colony ready to grow complete with some honeycomb and bee brood.

While they may provide a head start, nucs are not always the best option for every beekeeper. Be sure to understand the advantages and disadvantages in buying a nucleus colony. It is not always better than a package.

Buy An Established Colony

Another way to buy bees is to purchase an established full hive. This can be a bit overwhelming to a new beekeeper as established hives are sometimes more defensive.

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 acquiring a bee disease in the hive. Or, to receive a box with any number of honey bee pests.

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Diagram for various methods of buying honey bees.

When to Place Your Bee Order

Bee suppliers begin taking orders for Spring delivery as early as the Fall before! 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 ordering to begin in earnest.

Be sure to review the sellers policy for canceled orders, changes to your order etc. 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.

How Much Does It Cost to Buy Bees?

The price you pay when you buy honey bees depends on several factors. The option you choose (packages, nucs, full hive) the time of year and availability of bees for sale – all can affect 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.

A cardboard nuc box is one way to buy honey bees for a new hive.

Deciding What Kind of Bees to Order

In many cases, the types of honey bees available to purchase will be limited to a couple of choices. Two of the most popular bees are Italians and Carniolan honey bees and/or a mix of the two. Russian bees are another common variety.

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.

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. 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 “honey flow” in your area, you may have to feed your bees sugar water more heavily. Beekeepers like to get a head start in the Spring – you can always requeen your hive later for more local genetics.

Local Pickup or Shipped

A quick internet search will find the bee sources nearest to you. Ask local folks, contact the local beekeeping association. 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

Being able to pick up in person is great because you get to see exactly what you are getting.  However, you can buy honey bees online and have them shipped right to your front door.

The United States Postal Service will have the honor of delivering many honey bees. 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? 

Prepare Before They Arrive

After placing your order and plunking down some “cold hard cash”, the job is not done. You have some more things to do before the bees you just bought arrive.

Consider taking some bee classes – they can be very helpful. Also, refresh the procedure for 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.

Experienced beekeepers buy bees to replace colonies that did not make it through the winter or to increase their hive numbers.

New beekeepers may be a bit overwhelmed with all the new techniques and terms in beekeeping – how to choose the best option?

FAQs

Can I buy live honey bees?

Yes, there are several options for buying live honey bees. However, they are generally a seasonal product with orders taken in the Winter for Spring delivery.

How do you buy bees for a beehive?

Search for local bee suppliers in your area or find an online seller that ships. Place your order for one bee family per hive and wait for the delivery date.

What honey bees should I buy?

There are several options for bees to purchase. Italian, Carniolan and Russian honey bees are popular – also Buckfast.

Final Thoughts

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. You will find that this is also true when buying honey bees. Try several different methods of ordering bees and see which one works best for you and your apiary.