Thinking of becoming a beekeeper? After you’ve built the hive, read this beginner’s guide on ways to obtain bees for your apiary.
Bees are social creatures. You can’t expect a queen to produce a whole colony by herself. Therefore, it’s important to know the basics of bee society. There are three levels in the bee community: the worker, the drone, and the queen. Worker bees are females and are responsible for a variety of activities, such as tending the queen, building comb, guarding the hive’s entrance, and collecting food. Drones are males, and their sole responsibility is to mate with the queen. The queen is responsible for all of the genetic traits within a colony.
Finding Bees in the Wild
The clusters of bees seen in the wild are called swarms. Often bees will divide their colonies because they are reproducing too quickly or the queen is injured or sick. Collecting a swarm isn’t hard, as the bees tend to be mild-mannered. Regardless, always be sure to wear proper clothing. It may also be a good idea to carry medicated syrup or a smoker to calm down any ill-tempered bees.
Bees on tree limbs can be collected by cutting the limb and gently placing or shaking the limb inside a container. Bees on a flat surface or fence post can be guided into a container by gently brushing them with cardboard, as you would with a dustpan. They can also be directed toward it by puffing smoke behind them, encouraging them to move in the opposite direction (toward the container). Transfer bees from the container to a hive by gently shaking them toward it.
However, sometimes free isn’t always better. Wild bees can carry disease or have weak genetic material. The queen may have been injured or killed and is often difficult to locate among wild bees. Also, just because you can see it doesn’t mean that you can take it. Some states may have laws about what is considered property, and if the tree limb is on your neighbor’s yard, taking those bees may be considered stealing. Check with your local ordinances before attempting to capture bees.
Some beekeepers argue against buying bees because they believe that wild bees are better suited to natural diseases in the area. However, for the beginner beekeeper, buying is probably the easiest and safest way to start an apiary. There are two ways to receive bees: package bees and a nucleus.
1. Package: To order a package of bees, contact a local beekeeper. Most packages will contain a queen, multiple workers, and a feeder filled with sugar syrup or some other type of sweet food. There are two ways to introduce the queen bee to the workers, the indirect and the direct method.
The indirect method allows worker bees to become familiar with the queen slowly as they eat their way through the food to her.
The direct method releases the queen immediately into the bees. Since bees are packaged with a queen that is not their own, it is more likely that she will be attacked through the direct method. Without a queen, the hive will not survive. However, if they do accept her through the direct method, your hive will be able to start breeding and producing honey more quickly than through the indirect method.
2. Nucleus: You can also order a nucleus hive. These come already stocked with an established bee colony. The disadvantage to this approach is that the queen may be old or of poor stock, thus resulting in weak bees.
Now that you have your hive and bees, it’s time to learn how to collect that liquid gold!