It’s springtime here in Arizona and everyone is “buzzing” to get bees. I’ve received lots of questions about how to start beekeeping. Coincidentally I have also had lots of requests for bee removals. I love it! In both cases people are showing an interest in helping bees.
In Many parts of the country, and in Arizona before Africanized bees, the solution to both questions was easy… remove the bees from where they aren’t wanted and give them to the person who does want them. That still can be an answer here in Arizona, but giving Africanized bees to a new beekeeper isn’t always the wisest choice. There is a learning curve and a level of danger and frustration that comes with managing an Africanized hive while it is in the process of being requeened, and this is best not done in a backyard if the property is in an Urban setting. The best option if you want a relocated hive is to get one that is already requeened, or find a beekeeper with a suitable apiary who will house your Africanized colony during the approximate two month requeening process. I say process, because, while the actual requeening only takes a week, the time it takes for the Africanized bees to complete their life cycle and be replaced by docile bees takes several weeks. The cost of getting these bees is usually around $100-$150 plus the cost of a queen, which is $40, and you may not have a queen available in the spring, so the colony will remain Africanized for several more months. Collecting swarms poses the same problem of needing to be requeened, but their behavior will be much milder as they build their comb and numbers. This gives you more time to requeen, I believe, and is the cheapest option since you may capture swarms yourself.
Those are two possibilities for getting bees, and may be your only options if it’s March and you didn’t order your bees in October, depending on where you are. However, if you are part of a group of beekeepers, like Arizona Backyard Beekeepers Association, for instance (wink, wink), there are going to be other ways of getting bees. Many beekeepers split their colonies in order to make nucs (usually some arrangement of 2-3 frames of bees and brood with 2-3 frames of drawn comb with food stores). This is a great way to start in the spring because the bees are already building their numbers, they have drawn-out comb and you will be months ahead of the honey-making process. These nucs cost around $200-$250 here in the Phoenix area. You can order nucs in the Fall from beekeeping companies, but right now your best bet is a beekeeper.
If you have the money, and want to just step right in to a full-fledged hive, then you can often buy a complete hive from a beekeeper. This will usually be 1-2 boxes with brood and food stores with a docile, European colony already established. Make sure that the hive has been treated for Varroa and there is no sign of disease. A quality hive full of bees will probably run about $300-$400, but will be ready for honey production right away.
If all of this makes you realize that you just want to wait until the Fall to order—not likely, if you are like me, but I have to mention it—you have two options for ordering: Packages and Nucs. You already know what a nuc is now, so I’ll just explain packages. This is simply a box of about 3 pounds of bees with a mated queen in a queen cage. The cost of this is usually $115-$135. It will take a while for the bees to build comb for the queen to begin laying eggs and to be able to store food, so you can see that while cheaper than a nuc, you are also way behind on being able to get honey. You will not likely harvest until next year in this case, much the same as a captured swarm. Sometimes packages are available in the late spring, but these bees will struggle through the summer.
Here is a chart to summarize everything I just said. I hope it helps you make the right decision for you. Whatever you decide, please join a local beekeeping group for support. It is essential to your success.
Options for Getting Bees
|Things to Consider||Swarm||Relocation||Package||Nuc||Established Hive|
|BEES||Unknown genes, likely Africanized in Arizona.||Unknown genes, likely Africanized in Arizona.||About 3 pounds of chosen breed||Working colony on 5 frames, know genes.||Full size, working colony, known genes if requeened.|
|BROOD & FOOD STORES||None||Brood, comb, and possible food stores.||None||Typically 5 frames||mix of brood and food stores|
|DRAWN COMB||None||Natural comb, wired into frames||None||Typically 5 fames||Frames should be mostly drawn|
|FEEDING||Must be fed until comb is drawn and some food is stored.||May or may not need fed depending on nectar flow.||Must be fed until comb is drawn and some food is stored.||Feed to draw comb and fill the full sized box.||Not likely required.|
|SPRING STARTUP||First to draw comb, but starting from scratch.||Ready to go, but will need to fill out frames.||Slowest to start.||Add to full size box because they are ready.||Up and running.|
|FIRST YEAR HONEY||Not likely||Possible depending on location.||Not likely||Possible depending on location.||Probable, depending on location.|
|DIFFICULTY LEVEL||May be aggressive until requeened. Usually healthy||May be aggressive until requeened. Usually healthy.||Usually docile, but will need to be fed. Unknown health.||Docile bees ready to go. Not difficult. Should be healthy.||Just regular inspections, no extra help needed. Should be docile and healthy.|
|AVAILABILITY||Usually February-May, Sometimes Fall.||Mostly spring, but can be year-round.||Order in Fall for early spring delivery.||Order in Fall for early spring delivery, or call a beekeeper year round.||Year-round in Arizona. Contact beekeeping group.|
|COST||Free if collected yourself, $75-$100 if from beekeeper.||Free if collected yourself, $100-150 if from beekeeper.||Prices vary, usually $115-$135||Prices vary, usually $200-250||Usually $300-$400 from local beekeeper.|