How to Buy Bees for Beginning Beekeepers
How to buy bees is one of the first questions that beginning beekeepers usually have. After all, it’s pretty tough to start beekeeping without honey bees! But buying bees isn’t difficult, because a number of companies offer honey bees for sale.
In fact, did you know that you can order bees online or over the phone and have them mailed right to your local post office?
It’s true, and it’s how most beginning beekeepers get their first bees.
Buy Bees by Mail Order
Bees that are shipped to you in the mail are called package bees.
Buying package bees is quite simple: you just contact a company that has package bees for sale, place your order, and the bees will be shipped to your local post office, where you’ll pick them up.
But although the process is simple, it does require a bit of planning ahead.
Once you’ve made the decision to start beekeeping, and know that you want to buy bees, you’ll want to plan to get started in the early springtime. That’s because package bee suppliers only ship bees during a relatively small window each year – roughly April to July.
And most package bee suppliers sell out of packages each year. Each supplier has only a finite number of bees that they can sell, and once those are sold, no more will be available until the following season.
So ideally, you’ll need to place your order well in advance.
If you’re interested in buying bees from a package bee supplier, contact them as soon as you’ve made the decision – even if springtime is months away. That way you’ll be assured getting your bees before the supplier sells out.
To find companies that sell bees, just Google “package bee suppliers” and you’ll find plenty.
Buy Bees in a Mini Hive
Another way to buy bees is to buy a miniature hive called a nuc (short for nucleus). A nuc is essentially a small but complete hive.
Nucs usually are about half the width and the same height of a full-size deep super, and usually contain 4 to 5 frames of combs.
When you buy a nuc, you can just take the frames out of the nuc, and place them in your own hive body. You’ll then add enough frames of foundation to fill the hive body. As the colony grows in population, it will build comb on the frames of foundation that you added.
There are several advantages of buying bees in a nuc rather than a package. The nuc comes as a working colony, with bees and brood of all ages. The queen that comes with the nuc is already accepted by the colony, and is laying eggs.
(A package bee queen is shipped in a cage of its own, is usually unfamiliar to the bees in the package, and must be accepted by the bees before she can begin laying eggs.)
And since the nuc is a small but established colony, it will usually build up in population faster than a hive started from package bees. This means that you’ll have a better chance at producing some surplus honey for harvest the first year.
But there are also some disadvantages starting with a nuc.
Nucs are considerably more expensive than packages. You’ll pay for the ease and convenience of starting your colony with a nuc.
And nucs aren’t normally shipped to you unless you’re buying a very large quantity of them. You’ll have to go to the supplier and pick them up. (Most package bee suppliers also sell nucs.)
But if you live within convenient driving distance of a reputable bee supplier and don’t mind the extra expense, a nuc is a great way to start a new hive.
Buy Bees Direct From a Local Beekeeper
An alternative method of getting bees is to just buy a complete hive from a local beekeeper. But this is probably the most expensive way to buy bees, and it does come with some potential drawbacks.
When you purchase bees from a reputable bee supplier, you can be sure that you’ll be getting healthy bees. Whether you’re buying bees in the form of a nuc or in a package, all reputable bee suppliers guarantee delivery of healthy bees.
And most bee suppliers have spent years in developing the strains of bees that they sell, selecting for desired traits such as gentleness and productivity.
But if you buy an established colony from an individual beekeeper, you likely won’t have any guarantees about the quality and health of the bees. In fact, it’s possible that there could be problems with the bees that the beekeeper doesn’t even know about.
And for some (myself included), buying an established colony just isn’t quite as much fun as starting a colony from scratch, and watching it grow into a strong and productive colony.
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