What You Should Know about Buying Honey Bees
If you are excited about getting bees in a hive, you are probably interested in finding out more about how to buy honey bees. The good news is that there are several way to acquire bees. Take some time to consider the options when you see those – honey bees for sale signs.
Learning how to buy honey bees is one of the first tasks facing a new beekeeper. I mean, you can’t be a beekeeper until you have bees, right?
Some new beekeepers will be lucky enough to receive a starter colony from a friend. But most of us will have to buy honey bees for our first beehives.
Where do you go to buy bees and what kind should you buy? Actually you have several options when it comes to honey bees for sale.
Let’s explore how to get started.
Honey Bees for Sale
As late Summer fades into Fall and Winter, bee suppliers will begin taking orders for honey bees. This is the time to order bees for next year!
The whole process of purchasing bees can be very confusing to new beekeepers. A reputable bee supplier will do everything possible to deliver healthy bees.
It is important to remember that bees are living things and no seller can guarantee that you will have success with your bees.
Your new honey bees become your responsibility as soon as you have them in hand. It’s time to put into place the techniques you have learned about package installation or hive inspections.
The seller has no idea whether or not you have taken proper precautions with the bees to protect them and help them get established.
If you have problems, and can convince the supplier that you have made every effort to be a good beekeeper, most of them will stand behind their product.
New beekeepers are sometimes surprised to learn that honey bee families are purchased. Some folks think they can just put out a hive and the bees will come. (This can happen – its called a swarm.)
However, this does not normally occur-at least for new beekeepers who have no experience.
If you are really serious about starting this year, plan on finding some bees for sale to ensure your new beehive isnt empty.
Keeping Beehive Records
One of the most important aspects of good beekeeping involves record-keeping. Good hive records help you prevent repeating the same beekeeping mistakes over and over.
It is also a good practice to record your bee purchases. In this way, you don’t have to depend on your memory to know where a particular hive of bees originated.
I developed this Beekeeping Journal from years of experience in answering the questions of new beekeepers.
It is very useful and easy to use for a new beekeeper – yet involved enough to be beneficial to someone with a few years of experience.
Honey Bees For Sale – The Challenges
Buying honey bees is one of the first challenges for the new beekeeper and it can be intimidating.
Don’t let the unfamiliar terms and practices involved in beekeeping frighten you.
As with everything in beekeeping, each method for acquiring bees has advantages and disadvantages.
It is somewhat like buying a new car, we choose one that we like and a model with a good reputation but anyone can get a bad one!
Thankfully, our bees are very forgiving and ordering bees does not have to be a hassle.
For experienced beekeepers, buying bees is an activity we look forward to each year. In all honesty, we don’t look forward to paying for them but we do like to get them.
Providing new colonies to beekeepers is a major part of the beekeeping industry. (Read more about acquiring bees.)
Thousands of packages of honey bees are sold each year. And bee suppliers make thousands of dollars, beekeeping is big business. Choose a bee supplier with a reputation for supplying quality bees.
Approach this part of your beekeeping journey as you would any financial transaction. Ask questions, if you have beekeepers in your region and you ask enough people, you can get a good feel for the best place to buy your bees.
If you do your research, your chances of being happy with your bees increases greatly.
Buying Honey Bees For Restocking
In addition to new beekeepers, experienced beekeepers buy bees as well. Some of them, “us”, will be replacing 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.
Bees have a remarkable system for Winter survival but colonies do perish. Even with proper management, some Winter hive losses should be expected by every beekeeper.
But 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.
Can you ever have enough honey bee colonies? Well, in truth you can have too many colonies but we beekeepers don’t always think so.
Spring is a time that beekeepers buy honey bees to increase their number of hives. They might also catch swarms to fill new hives but purchased bees are a sure thing.
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.
Most beekeepers agree that purchasing bees local to your region could be helpful. However, cooler regions will not have large quantities of bees ready early in the season.
In my area, our “honey flow” or time of excess nectar takes place early in the year. This is the time when many plants are in bloom and my honey crop is made.
If I miss the “flow” I may miss the chance to make a honey crop. When you are searching for bees for sale, keep in mind that quantity doesn’t always mean quality.
The largest suppliers may be big because of their good quality and reputable service – or they may simply be the largest because they cut corners. Again, ask questions before buying bees.
If you are a new beekeeper, you may not know how to buy honey bees from local sources. That’s okay. A quick internet search will find the bee sources nearest to you.
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.
You always have the option to requeen a hive later in the season if you are not pleased with the characteristics of your colony.
Buy 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.
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. Some carriers to do insure live delivery – ask questions.
When ordering bees to be shipped, read the terms of service carefully. 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?
Different sellers have different rules.
Buy Honey Bees In A Package
The first method of buying honey bees that we should explore is the most common one.
Purchasing “package bees” is the most popular method of buying honey bees in the United States.
The bees arrive in a wire and wood box a little bigger than a shoe box. We call this a bee package.
The package contains roughly 10,000 honey bees-this 3# package is the most popular size.
Over the years, bee experts determined that this is a sufficient number of bees to start a colony in the spring. However, you may find 2# or 4# packages for sale too.
When you order bees in a package, the queen bee will be protected inside a small queen cage.
Inside the queen cage, you will have a young mated queen and a few workers to care for her.
This queen bee is unknown to the bulk of bees inside your new package. The white (queen candy) in one end of the small queen cage will allow her to be released slowly.
By the time she exits her cage, the colony should be ready to accept her.
Your bee package will also contain some food for the bees to use on their journey to your hive.
A can of sugar syrup will be attached inside the box – it will have a tiny hole in the bottom to allow bees to feed.
The package bee population will include workers of all ages and even some drones (male bees).
Most package producers treat the bees for mites before shipping but you may find a Small Hive Beetle that tags along.
Advantages of Buying Package Bees
Package bees are generally available earlier in the year than Nucs. This is an important consideration for some beekeepers.
If you live in a region with an early honey flow, you want to get your hives set up and ready to take advantage of the bloom.
For those needing bees for pollination, early blooming trees and plants wont wait for bees to be available.
If you are gardener who wants bees, early packages are the most common method.
Package bees are easy to order and availability is not a problem if your order is placed early.
In my area, one should place an order for bees by early January to ensure the best chance of getting the pickup date desired.
You will pay less for a package of bees vs a “nuc” or established colony. Because we often recommend starting with 2 bee colonies, package bees offer a smaller investment.
Disadvantages of Buying Package Bees
When asking yourself – “Where can I buy bees” you must consider that each way of getting bees has challenges.
Buying honey bees in any form is not without some peril. These are living creatures and transit is a dangerous time.
Purchasing package bees is not without its disadvantages. All packages are not created equal in quality. You should choose the source of your bee packages with care.
Choose a provider with experience and good reputation. Ask a lot of different beekeepers who they recommend.
No business person can please everyone but longevity in business means that something is being done right.
Each year I hear stories of people receiving skimpy bee packages.
After getting your new bees installed in their hive, don’t open the hive everyday. The bees need time to settle down and adjust.
New packages can leave the hive if the beekeeper is too intrusive. And yes, even when you do everything right, occasionally the bees will leave.
In many regions, don’t expect a package of bees to make honey until the second year. They need the first season to become established.
How to Buy Honey Bees In a 5 Frame Nuc
The word nuc (pronounced “nuke”) is used in the industry as a short form of “nucleus”. The nucleus or center of the colony includes: the queen, workers, drones and young bees.
From any nucleus, a colony can grow to be large and productive given the right conditions.
Colony growth with a nuc will happen more quickly than package honey bees. Size can vary but the most common size of a nuc is 5 frames.
The frames consist of honeycomb, honey, pollen, baby bees (brood), a queen and enough workers to fill the box.
The beekeeper will move this small nuc into a regular 8 or 10 frame hive to allow growth.
Advantages of Nucs
A nuc colony does have advantages. A lot of work has already been done by the bees.
Honeycomb has been constructed, food reserves collected and young bees are developing in a good nuc.
Also, the colony contains a queen bee that is already accepted by the workers.
You can see why a nuc bee colony arrives with a head start in development over packages.
Disadvantages of Nuc Colonies
Nucs are not without a few disadvantages. They are more expensive than package bees. And, Nucs are often not available for early Spring delivery.
If you live in an area that has an early honey flow, the majority of the bloom time may be past before your nuc arrives.
The biggest concern with nucs is the increased possibility of transmitting pests and disease. Honeycomb can contain a multitude of bacteria and diseases.
If you decide to try a nuc, be sure to purchase from a reputable beekeeper who will stand behind the bees in case of disease or other problems.
Here is a great post to help you install your nucleus colony.
Buying Bees In An Established Hive
A few lucky beekeepers may find an established hive for sale. 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. The hive should have brood (babies), comb and honey.
You are more likely to harvest honey for yourself the first year with this set up – but I don’t really recommend this method for new beekeepers.
In my online beekeeping class, I encourage beginning beekeepers to choose a package or nuc for their first hive.
I believe that a package or nuc allows for more of a learning experience.
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.
How to Buy Honey Bees: Step by Step
- chose your favorite method to order or buy bees : packages, nucs, hives
- order your bees early (Dec-Fed)
- read and learn all you can before your bees arrive
- prepare bee equipment early
Risks When Buying Honey Bees
Bees are livestock and managing them has its perils. No one can look at a family of bees and tell if it is a “good one” – or will continue to be good in the future.
There are types of honey bees available for purchase. Each breed or race of bee has advantages and disadvantages. And, few of us are buying pure-breds anyway.
Sometimes, queens are not accepted by the new package or are released too soon by the beekeeper.
New beekeepers are in danger of failing to feed the new package sufficiently.
A Nuc colony can also have a poor quality queen bee. And the honeycomb in a nuc can bring more than bees and honey with it: pests, viruses etc. Buying bees is like buying anything else: buyer beware.
Ask around for recommendations. This is especially true if you are buying bees online.
Ask different people (perhaps from different clubs) for tips to find the best bee supplier.
No Perfect Way to Buy Honey Bees
So which is the better method of buying honey bees ? Package honey bees or Nucs – or even full hives?
The debate has raged for years and no doubt will continue.
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.The good news is that we beekeepers have several options for getting bees.
You may decide to try each option and see which fits into your beekeeping philosophy.
Getting Off To The Best Start Raising Bees
Whichever method of bee acquisition you choose, read, learn and prepare before your bees arrive.
Proper education and preparation will increase your chances of success. Take a couple of beekeeping classes. Read books.
Avoid getting too excited when you see those “Bees for Sale” signs.
Once you decide how to buy honey bees and where to order them, you need to be ready for arrival.
Improper feeding is a common mistake. Proper feeding of bees with sugar water is a big boost. They have a lot of work to do.
Prepare ahead of time. Choose a feeder style. If you choose a small bee feeder, you may need more than one at a time.
I like to add a liquid supplement such as Honey-b-Healthy to my sugar water.
A good spray bottle (you can pick one up at Walmart) filled with sugar water (half sugar/half water) is handy to spray on the sides of the honey bee package. The bees will feed through the wire and it helps settle them down.
Raise your colonies off the ground. If you have only a couple of colonies you might purchase a hive stand.
Otherwise, you can make a sturdy foundation for your hive by using a few cement blocks as a base.
Now you know how to buy honey bees-packages, nucs or hives. Any of these choices can get you off to a great start beekeeping.
updated with Bee Awesomeness