This is the post to read if you ever wondered how beekeepers get their bees. January and February are the months when astute beekeepers place their orders for the bees they need in the spring. Hopefully established beekeepers won’t need to order bees because their colonies survived the winter. Sometimes an established beekeeper will still order new bees because they want to expand or they want to introduce different genetics into their colonies. Beekeepers have multiple options for ordering bees.
The first thing that might surprise you is that you can order bees online and get them delivered via the US Post Office, FedEx and UPS. Usually suppliers ship bees via next day delivery. Some suppliers won’t guarantee the quality of the bees after they are handed over to the courier. I have seen other suppliers state that the purchaser must be home to receive the bees when they arrive and will not provide a refund if you are not home to receive your bees. The first thing to remember when ordering bees is that these are living creatures and not widgets. My personal opinion is that you are better off to find a local supplier where you can go and pick up your bees to avoid stressing them out during the shipping process. However, that is not an option for everyone. When I read “Beekeeping for Dummies,” the author advised that you speak to your local post office in advance because the staff doesn’t really like having a 3 pound package of bees sitting in the post office.
Beekeeping is becoming really popular, so I decided to see if honey bees could be ordered on Amazon. Could a beekeeper really rely on Alexa to order bees? I searched Amazon, but I couldn’t find them there. I found every conceivable honey bee related product including a pair of legging pants with a honeycomb pattern. (If any of my friends or family are reading this, DON’T BUY ME THESE PANTS AS A GIFT. Just because it is bee related does not mean I will wear stretchy pants.) You may be wondering why I titled this post, “Alexa, Order Honey Bees” when I couldn’t find bees for sale on Amazon. The answer is simple. That title was much catchier than this one: You Can Order Bees from the Tractor Supply Website.
If you do a quick Google search, you can find dozens of regional suppliers for your bees. You can also check with your local bee club. If you go to your local bee club, you may find a beekeeper that has some extra bees they are willing to sell. If Doug and I manage to get all seven of our colonies through the winter this year, we plan to sell bees. (That is our plan now, but things could change. I have a feeling that selling bees may be like when your dog has puppies and you intend to get rid of all the puppies but they are so cute you keep them. Beekeepers tend to get attached to their bees. In a few months, I may be writing about how we have 14 colonies.) The average price for bees is $150-$200. A beekeeper can make good money selling bees, and you don’t get sticky like you do when you bottle and sell honey.
You can purchase bees in two ways, as a package and as a nuc. Here’s the difference:
Package bees: A package is just a box of bees with a queen. The bees are typically sold by weight, and 3 pounds is the typical amount of bees. The bees come in a box that has screened sides. A can of sugar syrup is inside the package. Also inside the package is a queen, but she is kept inside a small screened box called a queen cage. Typically the queen is introduced to the 3 pounds of bees right before the package is shipped. The bees are not familiar with the new queen, and they will kill her if she is introduced right away. After a few days, the bees become accustomed to the queen’s pheromones and they will accept her. (There is far more to installing a package of bees than what I can describe in this post.) If you buy a package of bees, you need to be prepared to feed them heavily after they are placed in your hive. The bees have to build comb, start laying eggs, and begin foraging. They have a lot to do, and it requires a lot of energy.
Nucs: A nuc is essentially a mini colony. Unlike packages, nucs have frames with foundation and drawn out comb. The comb will usually contain resources (stored pollen and capped honey) and brood. Bees will be crawling all over the frames and a queen will be inside. This queen will be loose and not in a cage because the bees in the nuc will have already accepted her as their queen. New beekeepers starting with nucs tend to get off to a faster start because your new bees have more to start with unlike the package bees.
Some beekeepers think a person just getting started should order package bees because they won’t swarm as fast and because you can watch the bees draw out comb and build their colony. Other people think that new beekeepers are better off starting with nucs because nucs will maximize your chance of being successful. Nucs tend to be stronger because they are more established. We started with nucs and were successful. I can’t tell a new beekeeper what to do. I can only tell you what worked for us. I will tell any beekeeper that when you pick up your bees, don’t put them in the cab of your truck like we did. The nuc box had a hole in it and the truck cab filled with unhappy bees.
No matter how reputable your bee supplier is, the bees you buy are going to be infected with varroa mites. If your supplier is reputable, the mite load will be at or below the threshold for treatment. I have heard other beekeepers talk about receiving bees that are loaded with mites. Once your bees have some time to get acclimated, it is a good idea to consider testing your bees for mites so you know if you should treat right away or wait until later in the year.
Now you know what happens when Mother Nature meets capitalism….You can buy bee colonies over the internet. The first tool you need to be a beekeeper is a credit card.