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Important Facts About Buying Bees
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 for the current season. In fact, this can seem like an overwhelming decision for beginner beekeepers. You want to make the best choices for your hives. Once you understand the various options and terminology, the task is less difficult.
A few new beekeepers will be lucky enough to receive a starter colony from a friend. But, most of us will be faced with buying bees for our first hives.
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 bees, right?
There are several ways to purchase new bees. Availability and cost are major factors and the options available to you may depend on your location. If you need to have bees shipped, expect to pay more to cover postage
Some retailers give discounts to beekeepers who buy several packages – perhaps you can combine your order with a friend.
Why Beekeepers Buy Bees
Buying bees is a new concept for those unfamiliar with beekeeping. 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 bee swarm! However, this does not always occur at the time when you are ready to begin.
3 Major Reasons for Ordering Bees
- new beekeepers starting new hives
- replacing colonies that died over Winter
- increasing the number of hives in the apiary
Most new beekeepers start the hobby in Spring. This is a time well before many wild swarms are available. Ordering bees to fill those new boxes is the most common way to get bees.
Experienced beekeepers buy bees to replace colonies that did not make it through the winter. Even though I have been a beekeeper for years, it is rare that I do not need to buy a few replacement packages.
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.
Those beekeepers wanting to grow the size of their apiary may order bees just to increase hive numbers more rapidly.
When Should You Buy Honey Bees?
As late Summer fades into Fall and Winter, bee suppliers will begin taking orders for honey bees. Yes, order taking begins months before bees are scheduled to arrive.
If you want bees for Spring delivery, order them as far in advance as possible. After Christmas is a common time for bee orders to begin in earnest.
A reputable bee 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 the bees. Your bees 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 the bees 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 for bees depends on several factors. Whether you buy package bees, 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.
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.
Where to Buy Honey Bees
Most of the suppliers raising honey bees 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 bees local to your region could be helpful. However, cooler regions will not have large quantities of bees 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 Honey Bees
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 bees 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 bees from Georgia for years and have had good luck with my colonies.
Ordering Honey Bees Online
Being able to pick up your bees 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 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 when ordering bees to be shipped.
You want to know: how will the bees be shipped, are the bees 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 the bees?
Common Methods of Purchasing Bees
Purchasing honey bees can be done in a variety of ways. None are better or worse than the others. Each method has advantages and disadvantages.
Buying Honey Bees In A Package
The most popular method of getting bees in the United States is to buy a package of bees. The bee package includes bees of all kinds: 1 queen, workers and even some drones (male bees).
This is the easiest method for new beekeepers because the colony is small and easy to work with. In my article, “Is Buying Bee Packages a Good Investment“, I discuss the pros and cons of buying bee packages.
Buying 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.
You are buying several frames of honeycomb with bees, brood, food and a queen. Another benefit of a nuc purchase is that the nuc already has several frames of honeycomb.
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 Hive
Another option of getting bees 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 bees with honeycomb, there is a risk of pests inside the hive.
How do You Get Bees: Step by Step
- chose your favorite method to buy bees : packages (most popular)
- research available suppliers – do they have happy customers
- order your bees early if possible(Dec-Feb)
- read and learn all you can before your bees arrive
A Last Word on How to Buy Bees
Which method of buying bees is best? Well… 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.
Whether you buy honey bees from a local source, pick them up at a regional bee supply or order them online to be shipped to your door – buy bees from a reputable supplier.