A beehive isn’t much good without bees inside it.
Now that I’d finally made the plunge into this new hobby, I couldn’t wait to get started. But the equipment was only part of what I needed. I’d also need bees.
I had a problem there. Most people who buy bees do so in the spring. I was planning to start in June, after the big pollen season had ended. Although the beekeepers I spoke to seemed to think that it wasn’t too late to start, most agreed that I probably wouldn’t be able to collect any honey the first year. The bees would need it for the winter.
That was okay with me. I just wanted to get started and get a feel for it. Honey could come later.
But where to get the bees? Most mail order sources simply did not ship bees anytime other than spring. I’d have to find another source.
How You Get Bees
Of course, before I could get bees, I had to learn about the options for getting them. There are different ways to get them.
- A Package. The most common way to get bees is in a package. They arrive in a box with the queen inside a special container called a queen cage. You literally dump the bees from the box into the top of your hive. Then you place the queen cage where the other bees can eat away a “candy” stopper that’s holding her in. She moves into the hive with the others and they go right to work.
- A Nucleus Colony or Nuc. This is a box of bees with a queen already installed, mated, and laying eggs. It’s basically a very small hive. Most nucs are 5 frames in a single box. You take five frames out of your lowest hive body and put the five frames from the nuc into their place. The bees then go about their business, building on the additional frames you provide in the hive bodies. My Vermont beekeeping friend says that this is the best way to get bees.
- A Split. Some skilled and knowledgable beekeepers can split one colony into two by manipulating the frames so that the queen and a bunch of bees go into a new hive body. The remaining bees in the original hive body are suddenly queenless so they make a new queen. Of course, you need a beehive to split it. You can learn more about splitting hives in this video.
- A Swarm. When bees get too cramped in their living space, they move out in a swarm. Swarms are relatively common in May and June. Beekeepers who can catch them basically get free bees. (Heck, some people are even willing to pay beekeepers to take the bees away!) I watched a swarm get caught last May. This is the cheapest way to get bees and it’s surprisingly easy if you have the right equipment and the swarm is within reach.
Although I would have loved to have gotten a swarm — and not because I’m cheap — I was hoping to get a nuc. The trick was to find one.
Craig’s List to the Rescue!
A fellow member of the North Central Washington Beekeepers Association (NCWBA) knew I was looking for bees and immediately began to help. He forwarded me some Craig’s List ads for nucs available in the Spokane area.
Spokane is about 140 miles from where I’m currently living and nearly 180 miles from where my bees would live. Needless to say, I wasn’t terribly excited about driving 360 miles in one day to get bees.
But if I had to, I would.
There was no real rush. At first, I was waiting for my equipment to arrive. It did — the day before I had to go back to Arizona for some personal business. I simply didn’t have time to set up a hive and get bees all in one day. It would have to wait until my return.
In the meantime, I placed my own Craig’s List ad:
New Beekeeper Wants Bees (Wenatchee area)
New beekeeper seeks bees for hive. Healthy nuc or swarm or split. Yes, I know it’s a little late in the season to start, but it isn’t TOO late. Can you help?
Also interested in coming along to observe/assist swarm removal in area, even if I can’t have the bees.
I was in Arizona when I got a response:
hi my name is randy I have 2 five frame nucs I want 100.00 each you can call me at 470 XXXX for info
Thus began an email exchange with questions and answers about the nuc. They were 5-frame nucs with queens that were laying eggs. The queen was a Carniolan — a breed known for gentleness. The frames were quickly filling with comb, brood, honey, and pollen. They needed to be put in a hive soon.
The best thing about it: it was in Dryden, less than 15 miles from where the bees would be living in my new hive.
I made an appointment to meet with him and pick up the bees late one afternoon when I returned to Washington. More on that in another blog post.