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Buying Bees to Start a Hive

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Important Facts About Buying Honey 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 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.

Honey bee packages purchased for new beehives image.

As a beginner beekeeper, you want to make the best choices for your hives. As you juggle all the new terms and techniques in beekeeping, things can feel a bit overwhelming.

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? 

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 bees shipped, expect to pay more to cover postage

pictures of bees for sale how to buy bees for a hive

Why Beekeepers Buy 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 order bees:

  • 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.

New packages of bees bought to fill a hive image.

When to Order Honey Bees

As late Summer fades into Fall and Winter, bee suppliers will begin taking orders. Yes, order taking begins months before bees 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 for bees 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.

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 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 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 colonies and queens from Georgia for years and have had good luck. 

How to 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 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? 

A package of honey bees in a wooden and wire crate image.

Common Methods of Purchasing Bees

There are several possible ways to get bees. Each method has advantages and disadvantages.

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

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.

You are buying several frames of honeycomb with brood, food, a queen and workers/drones. One major benefit of a nuc purchase is that the nuc already has several frames of drawn comb.

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.

Single full sized beehive image.

Buy An Established 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.

Final Thoughts on How to Buy Bees

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.

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