Beekeeping for Beginners: Buying Bees for the First Time

Buying bees for the first time

Springtime will be here before you know it, which means if you’re a beginner beekeeper, you’ll be buying bees for the first time. There can be a lot of decisions to make when you first start, including what to consider when buying your first bee colony. Here are some critical things you need to know before you order your packaged bees or nucs.

How are Bees Ordered?

You can find many online resources to point you in the direction of a local beekeeper or apiary that sells bees. Our local apiary is a family-owned bee farm that has a lot of information on their website about what types of bees they sell. Bee sellers are often times a wealth of knowledge on how to buy bees for the first time as they understand the types of bees that will thrive in your local climate.

Typically, you can order a 2 or 3 pound package of bees with a mated and marked (or unmarked) queen or a nucleus colony package (AKA nucs or nuc package).  

What’s the Difference Between Packaged Bees and Nucs?

The difference between packaged bees and nucs is important to understand when you are buying bees for the first time.

Nucleus Colony:
A nucleus colony, or nuc package, is an established colony with 5 frames that honey comb is already built on.  The advantage of ordering a nuc package is that you are giving your colony a head start by putting them into your hive with comb already built.  They already have a queen, food stores, and brood. (Brood refers to the eggs, larvae or pupae of honeybees). The cons of a nuc package are that they are more expensive than packaged bees and they can be more difficult to transport.

Packaged Bees:
Packaged bees are just as they sound; a package of bees. These bees come without an established comb. The queen comes in her own capsule, and has not been introduced to the colony. The risk of buying packaged bees is that the queen is usually from a different colony and may be rejected by the worker bees she is being paired with.  In addition, packaged bees also have a lot of work to do to build comb and produce brood. Typically, packaged bees are purchased by a more experienced bee keeper with an established hive.

How Much Do Bees Cost?

Bees vary in price. Packaged bees are less expensive than a nuc package. Beekeepers that sell colonies will have set prices. On average, packaged bees cost around $120, and a nuc package will cost around $150. If you are buying bees for the first time, we recommend buying a nuc package.

Choosing the Right Bee Species

Believe it or not, there are many species of honey bees. Each specie is different and have unique attributes. The table below shows the comparison of the commonly purchased bee species. Bees are typically classified by how much honey they produce, level of aggression, and how fast they build their spring comb. The most important attribute is understanding how they cope in the winter months, especially if you live in a cold climate.


Italian

Carniolan

Buckfast

Russian
AggressionModerateLowMod-High Mod-High
Wintering AbilityGoodGoodGood Very Good
Spring Comb BuildGoodVery GoodLow OK
Swarming TendencyOKHighLow OK
PollinationModerateHighModerate Moderate
Honey ProductionVery GoodGoodGood OK

We have Italian honey bees because we wanted bees that would winter well and produce a lot of honey. I would be remiss not to mention that I often joke that our Italian honeybees are flying around on tiny Vespas and wear tiny gold Gucci necklaces.

All of these factors considered, if you are buying bees for the first time I would suggest buying your bees in a nucleus package. Furthermore, choose a bee species that you think will work best for your climate and expectations.

Finally I will leave you with this small (and funny) word of caution before you buy bees for the first time. When you pick up your bees, don’t be alarmed if there are a few extras flying around the pick-up site. Many bees get loose and fly free in the truck during the loading and unloading. Because of this, you might get some winged hitchhikers in your car or trunk after they have been loaded.  That said, you may want to leave the kids home the first time. If your kiddos are anything like mine, it’s a screaming emergency if a bee gets in the car!

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