Dreaming About Getting Honeybees This Year? Start Now!


Judson DaffernIf you've been dreaming about getting started in beekeeping for awhile, and want to make a go of it this year, now is the time to get started. It's easy to place an order for bees from your local beekeeping supplier, but March is the last month to do it.

There are so many great reasons to keep bees on the small, self-sufficient homestead that it is almost a no-brainer. If you like to eat from your garden, your squash blossoms, blueberries and apples will all need pollinators. And, if you don't have bees around your place yet, you will definitely want to get a few hives going. Whether you want to do it for the honey and beeswax, the pollination, or the relaxing, almost meditative experience of working with bees, now is really the best time to get ready. The spring bee-order window is fast closing.

Beekeepers getting ready to work with a few Langstroth type beehives. Photo courtesy Creative Commons

The first big question you may have in setting up for beekeeping is “How do I get bees?” Here are a few possible ways to get a swarm or “colony” of honeybees for your hive. You can catch a wayfaring swarm in the months of May or June (I'll write about that later on); you can get a “split” off of a friend or neighbor's hive; or you can purchase a “package” or a “nuc” of bees from a commercial beekeeper or your local beekeeping supply company. The first option relies more on good luck than anything else, as you will have to see the swarm yourself, and know how to catch and transport it home. The second is fairly easy if your neighbor has a strong colony of bees, and is willing to show you how to get started. I am going to focus on the third option, ordering packages or nuc, as it a very common and easy way to acquire your first bees.

What is a package of bees? Package bees come from commercial beekeepers in California, Texas and other places with a warm spring climate. Every year, these beekeepers take a certain number of their strong over-wintered hives and open them up to sell off the bees. They shake the bees out of the hive, funneling them into shoe-box sized, screened boxes, and then introduce a young, mated Queen bee to create a whole new colony of bees. It is essentially a manmade swarm, ready for sale. Once the beekeepers have added a feeder to the box, they are ready for overnight transport to the beekeeping supply store near you. You will very likely be required to pick them up on a specified date, so there isn't much flexibility, and installing them in their new hive requires a few steps spread out over several days after pickup, so you are committed to stick around and not run off on vacation the next day.

package bees
A three pound package of honeybees with a tin can feeder, ready for sale. Photo courtesy apishive.com

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