There are several ways to acquire bees. No matter the method you choose spring is the best time to purchase bees. Listed below are methods by which to acquiring bees.
Established colonies will cost you more, but they can be worth the extra money. Before you purchase the bees have them and their equipment inspected by a state bee inspector. Dilapidated equipment or weak colonies you will want to stay away from.
When purchasing established colonies, the equipment will not require any assembly. Since the queen is already laying eggs, will be able to judge her brood pattern. The chance of producing a honey crop the first year with an established colony is very good. The previous owner should be able to give you any history or background information of the bees.
If you are a beginner, a strong colony may be more than you are ready to handle. The equipment may be old and need replacing, or it may not be standard equipment.
The nucleus colony is a smaller colony of bees taken from an established colony. The "nucs" hives have fewer frames than a standard hive. The nucleus colony consists of only four or five frames instead of the standard 10-frames. They can house extra queens and they can be used to raise new queens. The nucleus colony comes with the four or five frames of brood, honey and pollen, a laying queen, and every frame should be full of adult bees.
Nucleus colonies are less expensive than established colonies. The queens are usually new, giving you the opportunity to judge her brood pattern. If the nucleus colony has a strong nectar flow, there is a possibility of a honey crop the first year. Usually they can be purchased locally. Since the nucleus colony is not as strong as an established colony, they may be easier for a beginner to handle. You still need to have them inspected for disease.
Package bee producers produce package bees in southern United States. The package bees consists of 2 or 3 pounds of bees, a queen in a separate cage, and a canister of sugar syrup used to feed the bees during transport. They are shipped in a special screen mailing cages through the U.S. Postal Service.
The package bees are cheaper than the established or the nucleus colonies. Beginners should be able to handle them easily. The possibility of the broods having a disease is slim.
The package bees may not produce a honey crop the first year. It will be more difficult to judge the queen with no brood. Because of the strain of being transported, a queen may be out-dated which can lead to an unproductive queen. If the weather is bad, you will have a difficult time in introducing the bees into the hives. The bees will have to be fed until the start of the nectar flow.
Swarms can be a fun way to get bees, and they are free. They can be easily collected and placed in prepared equipment. It is usually a good idea to introduce a new queen as soon as possible to the swarm. The swarms can be rather large by they can be easily handled.
You will not get a brood so you will not be able to judge the new queen. The swarms are unlikely to produce honey crop the first year, but that does depend on the size of the swarm. The availability of swarms is very unpredictable.