Not as difficult as you might imagine
Establishing a beehive is not as easy as capturing a few bees buzzing around your flower garden and expecting them to take to your hive. You already knew that! To begin, you will obviously need more than just a few bees if you want to give your hive a chance to thrive. So, you need a significant quantity of bees, but the question remains as to how.
Surprisingly, getting honeybees is not too difficult and there are a few common methods. As a novice beekeeper, you should probably leave the more difficult methods until you have more experience, but it’s good to have knowledge of the options available to you. So, let’s cover each of them in detail..
Catching a Swarm
If you are a beginner beekeeper, don’t even think about this! It is far from ideal,m until you have strong experience. Seasoned beekeepers may argue that – because this method is, well, free – it is the best way to get bees for your hive. However, free does not mean easy, safe – or even likely (if you can’t find a swarm).
You also need to take into account that you cannot guarantee that the wild bees you capture aren’t of the Africanized variety.
Beyond the question of the health and temperament of bees from a swarm, capturing wild bees is difficult and can be dangerous to a novice beekeeper. It takes technique, finesse, and luck to obtain a swarm and get it safely into your own hive. Also, the successful establishment of the hive in a new hive is far from certain.
Bait is often used to trap honeybees for capture, but some bees are fussy or simply not interested in your attempts. This method may be free, but it is frustrating and dangerous if you are new to the game. But, on the off chance you are still not convinced, let’s dig in a little more.
Capturing a Swarm
If the swarm is on a tree branch, spread a sheet underneath the tree where the swarm is located. Position a box, preferably cardboard with a lid, directly beneath the swarm holding onto the branch. Shake or whack the branch quickly and sharply to knock the majority of the swarm into the box. If the branch is small enough, you might be able to saw or sheer the branch at the base, hold the branch over the box, and shake the bees into the container.
Place the lid on the box, but allow space to remain open for any bees that were separated from the swarm to rejoin their colony. Wait a few minutes to ensure you have the queen. You will know, because the bees will quickly jump ship and return to the tree if their queen is still there.
In situations other than a tree branch, spread out the sheet and place the box as close as possible to the object that houses the swarm. Use a bee brush to gently remove the swarm and collect the bees in the box. Be sure you check for a queen in the same manner as above before securing the lid.
Here’s an awesome video from our friends at Bee Thinking (http://www.beethinking.com), covering how to capture a swarm, in this case using a Top Bar Hive Nucleus Box.
Using an empty hive, place a few drops of lemon grass oil on top of the frames and wait. The success rate for most baited hives is low, and there are many suggestions for what type of bait to use. Each keeper has their own secret to baiting swarm traps, but many find it difficult to get started with this method.
This is a complete full functioning hive with everything you need already. It has the comb, eggs brood and all the types of bees including a queen that is already laying eggs. The main advantage here would be the queen has already been accepted into her hive. She will even be laying eggs while they are being shipped to you and because there are already different generations of bees the hive will be more stable and there wont be this massive rush to lay eggs fast.
A nucleus colony is a pre-established colony of bees that can be ordered and delivered to you to place in your own hive. Nucs, as they are known in the beekeeping community, are increasing in popularity due to the bees having already accepted a queen and the bees are all related.
Unfortunately, nucs require hives to possess deep frames, so if you have already built a hive without these types of frames, the bees from a nuc will not enough room. You also run the danger of bees that infested with mites or parasites, or carry diseases brought from the supplier.
A nucleus colony is also pricier than other methods to obtain honeybees (perhaps twice as much as a package of bees), but the dead loss associated with new colony establishment is lower due to the bees preexisting familial ties.
A split is when an established hive is divided with the intention of establishing a new hive colony. If you are new to the scene, this may not be possible unless you know a beekeeper that would be willing to divide a hive for you. You will still likely have to purchase a queen for your new colony. The possibility of failure to establish a new hive is higher using this method for several reasons:
- The new queen may not be accepted
- There aren’t enough bees in the hive
- The hive was split at the wrong time of year (too little time to prepare for colder weather will kill them off)
- Some split hives will have trouble producing honey due to the change
Package of Bees
A package of bees can easily be ordered online and will arrive with 3 pounds of bees, including a young queen ready to be placed in a hive. Packaged bees will need extra attention from the beekeeper until they are well established. You will need to feed them sugar syrup until they begin producing their own food. Some beekeepers disapprove of packaged bees, because they are not already established like in a nucleus colony, but this method is recommended for beginner beekeepers.
When your package arrives you will see around 2-3 pounds of bee which have been collected from many different hives. You will also receive a young queen that hasn’t had a lot of time to prove she is a strong queen. She will also have to be accepted by the hive which can be difficult if they reject her. Remember a hive without a queen is doomed. You will see the bees packaged together with a food source for travelling and the queen in her own little box. This does not come with a comb that is something you will need to think of when purchasing a package.
Most beginners are not going to have a comb to start with, which is fine but you shouldn’t be surprised if you don’t get any excess honey from your hive in the first year.
Benefits of a package of bees over other methods
- You can observe the bees build up their hive from scratch
- The more hands-on approach allows you to learn more about beekeeping
- You can use any type of hive for packaged bees
- Good success rates
- Less expensive than nucleus colonies
As you become better versed in the art of beekeeping, you may want to try other or all of the methods listed, but to begin, a package of bees is your best bet to establish a successful colony. Be mindful that, with any pursuit, there is a period of trial and error, and, should the hive fail, don’t become discouraged, but try again!