The 3 ways to acquire honey bees

How and where do you get bees? This is a common question in the world of beekeeping. If you want to know how to get bees then you’re in the right place. The good news is that there’s more than one way, each with their own pros & cons. Let’s get some bees!

The links on this website may contain affiliate links. This means that I may receive a commission if you decide to make any purchases using my affiliate links. Read Disclaimer.

3 pound package of honey bees
The first and only time I made my own package bees from my father-in-law’s beehives. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

The 3 ways to get your bees

1st Way- Mail order package bees

The most common way that people acquire honey bees today is by ordering them through the mail from commercial beekeeping operations.

When you get bees using this method, they come in a screened, ventilated box. Typically, the box comes with 3 pounds of bees and your genetic choice of a laying, queen bee.

This post doesn’t cover how to introduce your new bees into your hive equipment but we will cover the pros & cons of ordering bees in this way.

Pros

1) easy to acquire
2) genetic availablity, should you have a preference

Cons

1) unfortunately, this method of acquiring bees is not sustainable beekeeping
2) this method is also ethically questionable due to the process that honey bees must go through in order to be packaged. I have linked a video here. Proceed to time index 1:50.

This video is not meant to insult, condemn, or defame the specific beekeepers in this video. It is merely meant to bring awareness to the disruption and stress that honey bees are put through.

But, even though this way is not a very Apicentric way of acquiring bees, sometimes it may be the only way. If neither of the next two options work for you then you gotta start somewhere and that’s okay.


2nd Way- Local beekeeper

This is definitely a good choice, as it will be much less stressful on the bees than getting package bees.

When buying from a local beekeeper, make sure that they have hive styles that match your own so that their frames or top bars will fit in your own hive equipment. Generally though, most beekeepers are going to have Langstroth style hives.

The way this method works is that you must find a local beekeeper, usually there are several in your area, and ask if they sell bees. If not, keep trying. But if they do, here are the pros & cons of buying bees from them:

local beekeeper standing next to his hives
Look for a local beekeeper like this one! They may be more than willing to help you out. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Pros

1) Less stress on your new bees
2) You will be buying an already established colony
3) Potential for mentoring from the beekeeper you bought from

Cons

1) You probably won’t know the beekeeper’s practices and could potentially buy equipment that has a high chemical count in the beeswax comb of the colony or is infected with American Foul Brood.
2) The beekeeper could be a dishonest person and sell you one of their weak or sick colonies
3) You discover that the beekeeper’s hive equipment isn’t compatible with your hive equipment after all
4) The beekeeper’s experience level may not be up to par.
  • I know of a beekeeping club where the President of the club admitted that he does not know why he loses the majority of his hives each winter.
  • 45 minutes later he also told the everyone that he hasn’t seen the need to treat for Nosema in 15 years. Not good! You don’t treat for Nosema by the way, you treat to prevent it, which he did not.
  • Nosema is going to affect colonies the most during the winter months

3rd Way- Catching a swarm

This is by far the best way to acquire honey bees. Fortunately, there are two ways to catch a swarm and begin your beekeeping adventure. This method will be somewhat disturbing for the bees but if done correctly, you can minimize the stress level on them greatly.

honey bee swarms clustering in tree
Here are two distinct clusters of bees. I only needed a small ladder to reach these bees. Photo by Jonathan Hargus

The 1st way- Shaking a swarm

This method is used when you see a swarm of bees hanging in a large cluster somewhere in a tree, bush or wherever they fancied to land.

Ideally they cluster within reach but sometimes they can gather much too high in a tree to safely gather. When conditions are ideal for shaking a swarm, you simply prepare your equipment, making sure you have everything you need before shaking your new bees into a nuc box or something similar.

After shaking your bees into the nuc or hive body you prepped beforehand, cover them up mostly, leaving a smaller entrance for them to come and go through the cover.

They must choose to stay in your equipment and should never be completely trapped. Bees can die when they do not have proper ventilation.

Now you leave your equipment somewhere close to where you shook them. Come back at sundown, close them up safely for transport and take them home, placing them where you have chosen to have a new beehive.

Open them up early the next morning. They will take the day to orient to their new location. Leave them along for 7-10 days to give them a better chance of establishing themselves.

The 2nd way- Attracting and trapping a swarm

This way involves the least amount of effort. Instead of shaking bees into your hive equipment, you let the bees come to you.

By setting something like a nuc box 6 feet up in a tree, you create a place for a swarm to move into on their own.

The way to do this is easy:

1) Prepare your hive equipment with top bars or frames installed in a nuc box.

2) Dab some Lemongrass essential oil on the top bars and some at the hive entrance

3) Secure the nuc box in a tree about six feet off the ground using a ratchet strap. I recommend not going higher to the point where you need a ladder. This just creates more work and potentially hazardous circumstances.

Pros

1) It’s free! The first two methods require somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 or more
2) The swarm is likely to be locally adapted survivor stock
3) Catching a swarm gives you some very essential beekeeping experience. Once you have learned how to catch a swarm, you can do it over and over.

Cons

1) You have to be very, very patient. You may have to wait a long time before ever hiving a swarm.

That’s it! Those are the three ways of acquiring your very first honey bees. My personal recommendation is to use methods 2 & 3. And don’t be afraid to ask the beekeeper about their practices.

If they feed their hive corn syrup, thank them for their time and walk away. The same goes if they treat their hives using chemicals.

I know what you’re thinking, “How would I know if a beekeeper uses chemicals or corn syrup?” And a valid question it is. So let me help you out. Here are two questions that you may ask nonchalantly while in conversation with the beekeeper:

Q1- “How do you control Varroa mites in your hives?

If they answer with words like this: Apistan, strips, fluvalinate, cumafos…then that’s bad. You don’t want those bees.

But if they say something like this: I don’t treat for mites (also not good, but better than using chemicals), Oxalic acid, or natural breaks in the brood cycle…then go ahead and do business with them.

Q2- “How do you supplement your bees food supply when their food gets low?

If they answer with words like this: High fructose corn syrup or corn syrup, walk away politely. If they simply say ‘syrup,’ ask them to specify corn syrup or sugar syrup.

If they answer with words like this: sugar syrup, ‘I don’t feed my bees with anything extra‘…then that’s good.

A truly sustainable beekeeper will not feed corn or sugar syrup to their bees. But sugar syrup is the less of two evils.


That’s it! If you have any more questions or need clarification then comment below or Contact me directly. I’m always happy to help…that’s why I’m the beekeeping mentor.

As usual, thanks for your time and support. Until next time remember,

~Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee!~

Jonathan Hargus/Beekeeper Extraordinaire

ConvertKit

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.