So now we have a hive (Part 1), what we need next is bees. There are two main ways to get bees for your new hive: package bees and nucs.
But first lets talk about a little about hive placement. Your bees need a couple of things, water, sun, and protection. They will travel up to 3 miles to collect nectar, but these other items are closer to home. They need a water source and will find their own if not provided, think neighbor’s swimming pool. I have found that something like a small concrete bird bath placed in proximity to the hive works pretty well. Regrading the sun, bees work sun up to sun down, so placing the hive in full sun will maximize there work day. For this same reason it is recommended to face the hives south so they get the most of the sunshine. Finally protection, by this I mean a couple of things. A good wind break will help protect the hive from being blown over and from winter storms. Also, they need to be located to protect people and animals from interfering with their work.
A package of bees is typically 3lbs of worker bees and a single queen. They come with the queen in a special box that has a candy plug to keep her separate during shipping. Once they arrive they queen box is placed in between a couple of frames and the worker bees are coated with sugar water to calm them before dumping them into the hive. After a couple of days you will need to check that the queen was released and has gotten to work. The advantage of this is they are typically cheaper than a nucs and can be used with any of the hive types from the previous post (Part 1). The downside is the bees are starting from scratch and will need to be feed and watched over more carefully.
A nuc is basically an established 5 frame hive. You will receive 5 mostly full frames of brood, nectar, and drawn comb. It will include a queen and an already working army of bees. When you pick it up or it arrives make sure you find the queen and she gets into the new hive. Another tip I found was to insist on picking them up in the early evening when most of the bees have returned. Some less than good bee keepers will deliver them during the day and re-queen the nuc with returning workers. Or so I am told. The advantage here is your hive has a head start over a package and should have brood cells and nectar all ready to go. One point of “opinion” I found about this was whether or not the new nuc needed to be feed when I got it home. We decided since they had 5 empty frames to build out that we would feed to help them get established. The disadvantages to nucs is they are more expensive because you are getting bees and frames, plus you are stuck with the hive type of where you get the bees, i.e. you cant put top-bar frames in your Langstroth hive.
We decided to go with a nuc since the bees would be established and hopefully know what to do even if we didn’t. The other reason we did this was to get “local” bees that were already adjusted to our climate. You can order packages from a lot of places, but mostly from warmer southern climates because they can raise bees over the winter months and build up the bee supply. We wanted our bees to have over wintered successfully in the expectation that they would do better in future years. What I learned when we picked them up was that while the workers were local, the queen was from California. The bee keeper told me he could split hives to get the workers, but to get queens this early they had to come from out of state. I guess that will have to do since we already brought them home. Also, a quick link out to a great site “Keeping Backyard Bees”. I wasnt sure how I was going to get the bees home inside my SUV, but since I am on their mailing list at just the right time we got an email about “Transporting Bees Without Nuc Boxes”. Check it out and sign up for their free email list.