Here is something that may blow your mind…..You can order bees through the mail. That’s right. You can order a box of bees, referred to as a package of bees, that is shipped to you through the US Post Office. One book I read strongly advised their readers to alert the local post office in advance of your bees arriving because the buzzing parcel can sometimes freak out the staff. Being shipped through the mail can place some stress on the bees. If possible, seek out a local beekeeper who can supply you with bees. Local beekeepers can supply you with bees that are already acclimatized to your area, and you can drive the bees to their new home so they don’t have to spend a couple of days in the shipping process. (In the near future I will post about the adventure we had driving our first two nucs home. Let’s just say that one of the packages holding a nuc was not entirely sealed.) No matter how you get your bees, you need to do a few things before you order your bees.
- Take a class – We are fortunate that our local beekeepers’ association is strong. They offer annual classes that give you lots of good information to get started. They also connect you with other beekeepers that can serve as a resource and with local suppliers of bees and beekeeping equipment. If you are not in an area where you can take a class, spend a fair amount of time reading books and blogs from experienced beekeepers, preferably that live in the same climate as you. Beekeeping has a local component to it. How someone in Florida manages a hive is going to be a little different from how someone in Oregon manages a hive.
- Pick a location for your hives – Honey bees are very well behaved. In general, they leave you alone so long as you don’t do anything to really annoy them. I routinely weed my flower beds with bees buzzing around me. So long as you don’t step on them or swat at them, the honeybees ignore you. People frequently assume all stinging insects are the same, but the dispositions of a honey bee and a yellow jacket could not be more different. Your hive doesn’t need to be a great distance away from your house, but it should be in a low traffic area to prevent people and pets from disturbing the bees. You will read all sorts of suggestions about the direction the hive should face, the amount of sunlight it should receive, the need for a wind break, etc. You will rarely have the luxury of having a spot that meets all the criteria. Do your best, and find a spot that meets most of the desirable criteria and you should be fine. If you live in a subdivision or populated area, it is probably a good idea to check HOA rules and city ordinances to make sure you comply with any restrictions regarding where a hive can be placed. Bees need water. If you live close to a neighbor that has a swimming pool, make sure you keep a fresh water source close to your hive. Bees will gladly visit the neighbor’s pool if that is their closest source of fresh water.
- Find a mentor – You will have lots of questions when you get started. It is good to have an experienced beekeeper you can consult. When we started our two hives, one hive had no queen. We don’t know if the queen was somehow separated from the nucleus of bees we purchased or if she was killed when we installed the nucleus. Either way, we needed to figure out what to do fast before our hive died. Our mentor really helped us navigate this challenge, and now the hive is doing just fine. (BTW, our mentor lives about 100 miles away, and we have not met him face to face. We do everything via text and online messaging. He has been fantastic, and we hope to meet him in person soon and see his hives.) If you don’t know any experienced beekeepers and can’t find any in your area, seek help on line. Join a forum on social media. We find that the regional groups on social media are more beneficial because you will find people in the same climate that can help you. Be aware that beekeepers often have differing opinions. The old saying goes, “If you ask 10 beekeepers a question, you get 10 different answers.” If you are using social media to get your guidance, make sure you are in a group that is well managed and that only allows civil, productive discussion. We have found that beekeepers tend to be helpful, kind people, and you don’t have to worry too much about internet trolls in these groups.
- Order your equipment and bees early – Assembling a hive can take some time, so you would be wise to order this several months in advance of when you expect your bees. We have heard of horror stories of people who ordered hives on line only to find out that the hives were backordered, and the bees came before the hive! Don’t let that happen to you. You can order hives that are already assembled, and we opted to do that for our first two hives. This option is more expensive, but it is convenient and takes one more variable out of the initial start up. However, going forward we will likely purchase hives that we assemble ourselves. We live in northern Kentucky, and in our area new bees are usually installed in April. You need to order bees in February from our local supplier if you want to get your bees in April. Bees are a finite commodity, and the suppliers can’t just keep taking orders to meet demand. You can’t crank out packages of bees the same way you crank out widgets. When the suppliers run out of bees, there is nothing you can do except wait for the supplier and mother nature to work together to make the next round of bees. If you receive bees late in the year, your hive may not have enough time to build up the precious supplies they need to get them through the winter. If you are someone that doesn’t like to plan and prefers to do everything on the spur of the moment, beekeeping may not be the hobby for you.
- Have a plan – When your bees arrive, you need to know how to install them in their new home. You should know how to wear your bee jacket and run your smoker before the bees arrive. You should have a plan for how frequently you will be checking your hive after the bees are installed, and you should know what to look for during your hive inspections. New bees going into a new hive should be fed especially if trees and flowers aren’t blooming yet in your area. Have a plan for how to feed your bees. You may want to use a jar feeder or a top feeder, and that is equipment you will need to purchase separate from your initial hive. If you can’t watch someone else install a package of bees or a nucleus of bees (aka nuc) in person, go to You Tube and watch lots of videos. You will find that different beekeepers have different ways of doing things, but you can at least benefit from seeing what others do. If you buy your bees from a local beekeeper, use that beekeeper as a resource to develop a plan to manage the bees for the first few weeks.