How to Start Beekeeping - Obtaining Your First Colony!

How to Start Beekeeping

There are many ways of starting beekeeping. Each one has some pros and cons. You should decide how to start beekeeping depending on the availability of the bees, time, and resources.

1. Buying Package Bees

Most people start beekeeping by buying 2lbs or 3lbs package bees. They are available in the spring and summer from April to July. There might be local package bees available in early spring, or later in the season. HOWEVER, IT IS BETTER TO BUY THE PACKAGES IN EARLY SPRING depending on your area. Beekeeping season start in early February or even earlier in the tropical climates and southern states like Arizona, Florida, Texas, Louisiana but in April and May in northern states. Most package bee producers start selling packages in April.  

Advantages of Package Bees

  • Cheaper than a nucleus colony ($140 and up for pick up only, to $220 shipped)
  • Package bee producers are experienced commercial beekeepers and most of them are reliable
  • All the package bees come with the newly mated queens. 
  • They will be shipped by UPS or FedEx and usually delivered on time 

Disadvantages of Package Bees

  • Package bees have to be installed as soon as possible. If not some bees will die in the packages.
  • Bees will die during shipment if not transported properly.
  • Colony development rate is slower compared to nucs.
  • They have to be fed continuously until the bees build all the combs. 
  • It takes about a month to get newly emerged bees in package bees. During this period some old bees will die and the colony population declines until the new bees emerge. 

Receiving and Inspecting the Package Bees

  • As soon as the package bees are arrived, place it in a dark cool place. 
  • Check if the bees are alive. There are about 10,000 bees in a package and 10% to 20% bee mortality is normal. 
  • Get your hive and all the equipment ready for the installation. 
  • Gently mist the packages with water or 30% sugar syrup. The bees will settle and cool down  especially if the weather is hot. Do not over spray or soak the bees. Apply just a gentle mist.
  • Place only 5 frames with foundations and remove the other 5 frames from the hive.
  • Jar the package firmly so bees fall to the bottom
  • Remove lid and feeder pail
  • Remove the queen in the cage
  • Remove the cork from the end of the queen cage with candy
  • Place the queen cage between 2 combs in the center, candy side up. The screen should not face to the comb
  • Shake package so bees fall down to the bottom
  • Quickly roll bees out of package through the opening
  • Repeat shake and roll until most bees are in  hive
  • Alternatively, you may place an empty super on the hive and  leave the package on the frames to let the bees leave the package. 
  • Then carefully insert the rest of the frames
  • Remove the empty super 
  • Close the hive
  • Start feeding the colony
  • Install the bees in the late afternoon to minimize flight.
  • Keep feeding the colony
  • After one week check if the queen is free. If there are eggs in the cells the queen is free and laying. If there is no queen order a queen immediately.
  • Do not disturb the hive for next 7-10 days
  • Check for brood 15 days after installation
  • Start feeding the colony with 1/1 sugar syrup as soon as the bees are installed. Keep feeding until they build all the combs. 

2. Buying a Nucleus Colony (nuc)

  • A nuc is a 3-5 frames of bees and brood
  • Comes with laying queen
  • Usually comes with a frame of honey, frame of brood and frame of pollen
  • Develops much faster than the package bees
  • Price is $200-300 depending on the season, genotype of the bees
  • Only disadvantage: may have brood disease

5 frame nuc

  • Catching a swarm
    • It is free
    • Most likely there is no disease (Usually healthy and strong colonies swarm)
    • In Africanized states they are mainly Africanized bees
      • Extremely defensive
      • It may look calm but when the colony gets stronger it will show the attitude
    • Re-queen the swarm with a known stock queen bee ASAP
    • Do not take Africanized swarms to urban areas
    • It takes about 2 months to convert the bees to gentle stocks after re-queening the colonies

    3. Catching Swarms

    • Wear protective clothing
    • Prepare a nuc box or full size hive
    • Place 1 frame of honey and 1 frame of brood if possible
    • Place 1-2 empty combs or foundations
    • Take the nuc box or hive to the swarm site
    • Cut branches around the swarm
    • Shake the swarm vigorously. Bees will fall into the hive or nuc box
    • Cut the branch and shake the remaining of the bees into the hive
    • If you can not shake brush the bees 
    • Bees will fall into the hive or nuc box
    • Allow remaining bees to move into container
    • If you do not have a hive or nuc box, use a cardboard box or bucket to catch the swarm
    • Leave the branches in the cardboard box
    • Close the box and take it  to the apiary
    • Transfer the bees in a hive or a nuc
    • Start feeding the bees
    • Do not disturb the colony for several days until the queen starts laying eggs.
    • If you have honey or old brood combs touch the frames to the swarm
    • Bees will move to the comb
    • Transfer the bees to the hive frame by  frame
    • Bees will be calm, will not fly as much compared to shaking them.
    • You can also see the queen easily 

    4. Hiving Feral Colony & Relocating

    There might be established feral colonies near you and you may be able to remove the colony, hive them and relocate them. However in Southern States most of the feral colonies are Africanized and relocating those colonies require experience and licensing. It is better to call experienced beekeepers to remove the feral colonies and relocate them. 

    5. Purchasing established colonies

    • Inspect the colony before buying
    • Look for the queen (age, genotype)
    • Look for the workers (color, size, defensive behavior)
    • Any sign of disease
    • Number of frames covered with bees
    • Number of frames of brood
    • Condition of the equipment
    • Price depends on the frames of bees and brood     (About $25-50/frame of bees)
    • Established colonies are more expensive in the spring especially before the almond pollination season. Price will go down after the almond pollination season.

    Why Apimaye Hives are Better For New Colonies

    We recommend using Apimaye insulated bee hives for the hobby beekeepers and sideliners. They are especially handy for new beekeepers. 

    If you are getting packaged bees, you need to feed them continuously until they are established. Your colony will need to draw comb so the queen can start laying eggs and the colony can start growing again. Beeswax is a very resource so your colony will need a lot of feeding. Our top feeders will help you feed them easily without disturbing the colony in their new place. 

    The insulation in the hives will help them sustain a stable internal temperature and not introduce unnecessary stress on your new colony with the fluctuations in the spring weather.

    You can use the included division board to limit the colony to a smaller section of the hive, helping the bees coordinate better and faster comb building.

    You can take your Apimaye hive to your local beekeeper to put the colony in the hive. Then just seal the hive by closing the entrances and latching, then easily move the colony to your their new home. 

    If you are catching swarms, moving a 1 piece sturdy Apimaye hive close to the swarm is much easier thanks to handles and unibody design. The latches and handles are especially handy when the swarm is in a higher location.

    When relocating colonies, you can use our plastic pro frames to save the comb and brood. Again, sealing and carrying to a new location is much more easier in our hives.

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