How to get Bees – the real thing
How to get bees in order to start beekeeping as a hobby is probably the single biggest hurdle for any newcomer. There are several ways to do it, though, which I will go into in this article. This is part of an ongoing series, so check out the other articles here.
What to do first
How to get bees should not be the first question on your mind when starting your beekeeping adventure. You need to have the basic tools on hand as well as a good location to place your future colonies and some hive boxes. The most important thing, if you can manage, is to have someone who already knows what they are doing.
If you cannot find anyone capable of willing to help you, you can still manage, but there is so much to learn that a mentor is hands down the best way to set yourself up for success. Maybe there is a local beekeeper’s club. Put an ad in the paper or on a local bulletin board that you are looking for a beekeeper to take you under their wing.
If things work out, this can come with more benefits than a treasure throve of knowledge and experience. You might get access to a beehouse or a good beekeeping location, and might even be able to take over from them one day when they want to discontinue their hobby. This is how I got to my first bee house, and later to the abandoned one that I use now.
Buy a Colony
Exchanging money for a colony that another beekeeper is selling is probably the easiest way to start your new hobby. It is as simple as finding someone – through ads in the paper or a local beekeeper association – willing to sell you a box full of bees.This is generally done in spring, when beekeepers sell surplus colonies that they managed to bring through the winter.
The way I have done this – mind you, I have only bought, not sold yet – is that you get to keep the combs but need to return the hive box. What that means is that you transport the colony to your location in the other beekeeper’s box, transfer the frames into your own box, and bring the box back to the seller.
Important note – Bees go Home
When you take bees from their original hive location, they will return to it if they can. They will do so across a distance of roughly 3 km. What that means is that when you buy a hive from a neighbour and set it up close by, most of the bees will return to the original location. While the queen and some bees taking care of the brood will stay, it will weaken the hive – plus you paid for those bees.
There are two ways to prevent this. The first is to set your new hive up further away from their original location. That works fine is it is farther than 3 km from their old home anyway. But what good does that do you in the example above? You could transport them further away, set them up there for a few days, then take them back. But that is quite the hassle, and not necessary. There is another option if you want to stay closer.
Lock them in. You heard me. Close the flight hole. Depending on the box’s design you can use the flight board, flip the entrance bar or use duct tape to close it. Leave them in there for three days. Do not worry, it will not damage them in any way. What it does is they forget where they came from. It resets their location sense. After three days, when you open the flight hole up again, they will get their bearings and from here on out return to your colony as their home.
Capture a Swarm
This next option to get your own hive(s) is a lot trickier and requires established connections to other beekeepers to keep an eye out for you. So it does pay to get into any local beekeepers’ club if there is one near you. But let’s start from the beginning.
Bees swarm. It is their way to multiply, on a large scale. While the number of bees increases through the eggs the queen lays, swarming increases the number of hives. In short, when they feel they do not have enough room to grow, they will start growing a new queen. Before that one hatches, the old one will leave with a large amount of bees. That is something no beekeeper wants, and it is preferable to prevent swarming, but sometimes, it still happens.
The swarm will then go looking for a new home. In the wild, that would be a cavity in a tree in most cases. And this is where fellow beekeepers come in. They keep their eyes open for swarms that are resting in trees, where they form large globs of bees with the queen in the center. And they will usually try to capture the swarm.
Doing that is an interesting experience and full of things you need to know – but I will go into that another time. The point here is that sometimes, these swarms are given to new beekeepers because the ones who caught them do not need or want another hive. They are not the best hives you can get your hands on, but they are a start, and I have had the pleasure to catch a few with the help of others.
This is undoubtedly the most time-consuming way to go about it, but it is also the most rewarding one in a number of ways. The idea here is that you would take over an existing beekeeping operation from a local beekeeper who is retiring. The benefits are plenty – a functional set-up, usually complete with everything you need to get started and keep going; someone who knows the craft and will most likely be willing to help you out; and a couple of hives to take care of!
Of course, this relies heavily on a beekeeper near you retiring, but even just working with someone and learning from them will give you a great head-start. And if your beekeepig mentor is not about to stop any time soon, they will still help you to get set up and are likely to give you a hive or two to care for yourself or to set up your own place.
For later: make your own
If you have access to your own hives, there are ways to multiply them. This will probably warrant a dedicated post, but I want you to know that with a little know-how, you can make more hives later once you got yourself a starter outfit. Depending on how far you want to take things, the options range from splitting a hive in two (the right way) and get two functioning hives out of it to breeding new queens, each of them the core of a new hive.
More questions regarding how to get bees?
If you want to know more about beekeeping in general I recommend you check out the other articles in this series. If you have more specific questions feel free to ask them! The best ways to contact me is via Instagram or Twitter, and I am looking forward to helping you in any way I can.
Until next time, thanks for your time and remember to Be(e) Inspired!