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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Ordering Bees

This spring, I'd like to start 2 Warres, and I figured packages would be easier to install than transferring bees from my TBHs. I emailed Sam Comfort about some packages the other day figuring that he would put them on sale like most suppliers at the beginning of January. Turns out, I was wrong. He usually starts selling in December, and he was already sold out. Doh!


This unfortunate oversight on my part led me to the topic of today's post and some things I've learned about ordering bees over the past two years:

  • Do your planning in winter. Even though spring doesn't roll around until March, most places start start taking orders sometime around December or January. If you wait until March to place an order, you'll have a tough time finding a supplier.
  • If you have a TBH, you'll probably have to order a package. You could wait for a swarm, but you're taking your chances. Also, very few people sell TBH nucs. If you find someone local who does, buy a lottery ticket because you are one lucky person.
  • If at all possible, try to obtain local, treatment-free, survivor bees, especially if you live in a cold climate. If you can get them, you'll be much happier than if you get bees from the deep south because they're already acclimated to local conditions. There is an interesting YouTube video with Mike Palmer (Vermont) in which he compares his bees to southern bees. His bees survive the brutal New England winter because they use very few resources during cold weather. In fact, he says that they are so still in winter he can barely even hear them hum in the hive. This is in stark contrast to southern bees that eat a lot of resources and make quite a loud buzz all winter because they're shivering more.

    So why are southern packages so popular? I've been a newbie, so I understand the impatience associated with getting ones' bees. We beeks all want our packages before the spring flow starts. That's when it's fun to watch the bees, and we all hope that if we get our bees early enough, they might, just might, give us some honey. Southern suppliers know and understand this, so to fulfill the demand that we've created, they select for bees that build up very early in winter. The problem, though, is that the Northern beekeeper can experience quite severe weather even through the end of February, sometimes into March, and these bees from the deep South may begin building up before they really should for our climate.

    Also, many southern packages have a bad rep up here because packages have to be put together so early that queens are often not fully mated. As a result, she's often replaced during her first season.
  • Order asap. If you can find local treatment-free bees, order as early as possible because they are next-to-impossible to find and sell out quickly. If I need packages next year (though I doubt it), you can bet that I will be checking Sam's site every day starting the day after Thanksgiving to make sure I don't miss out again.
  • Order a package and requeen, if necessary. If you can't find local treatment-free bees, order a package, but then requeen with a local queen when they become available (usually around June for my area).
So anyway, those are my lessons learned. Now I have to decide what to do about my Warres. Can I just cross my fingers and hope that if I build them, they will come?

How about you? Have any of you found a good supplier for your area? What has your experience with ordering packages been? Have any advice to offer?

1 comment:

  1. One of the dilemmas I have is not knowing whether I need bees or not. If my bees make it through the winter, I'm all set, but if they die in March, it's too late to order. We had a 50+ degree day here yesterday and both hives were abuzz with activity, so right now, I'm hoping I'm all set. We recently had someone on our beekeeper list call all the local suppliers and summarize who had what in terms of packages/nucs and where they originated from. That was a really good resource.

    Since your hives seemed to be in swarm mode last year, maybe they'll continue the trend and you'll have some splits/swarms to populate your Warres. You could set up one or both of them as a bait hive and hope they'll swarm right into it.

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