You chose your beehive, set it up and got it ready for it’s new little dwellers. What’s next? Now it’s time to get your first bee colony! If you are new to beekeeping, the question of where to buy bees for a hive is a very important one. It’s not as if you can go to the local pet store and order a box of bees. So where do beekeepers get their bees?
How Do Beekeepers Get Bees?
There are 3 ways beekeepers get bees. They either buy a package of bees, buy a nucleus colony, or they catch a swarm. The most common method for new beekeepers is to buy a package of bees.
The only free way to get bees is by catching a swarm, but that isn’t always possible for all beekeepers. That’s why buying bees is a more common method for beginning beekeepers. This normally happens in two ways – by ordering a package of bees, or by purchasing a nucleus colony.
Order a Package of Bees
Bee breeders will ship live bees through the mail. Imagine the mailman’s surprise at having to deliver a box full of buzzing bees! If you order bees from a breeder they will typically come in a screened box containing 3 pounds of bees, or about 10,000 bees.
Typically, each 3 lb package of bees will also come with a queen. She comes in a separate, small cage that separates her from the rest of the colony. Breeders will also ship the bees with a can of sugar syrup for them to feed on while in transit. 1 package of bees is sufficient for your new beehive.
Another great option to buy bees is from a local beekeeper. You can find other beekeepers by joining a local beekeeping group, or through your local beekeepers association. If you ask them where to buy bees they should be able to help you.
You may even find that there is a beekeeper in your area that is willing to sell you some bees to get your hive started. If anything, they will be able to point you in the direction of a reputable bee breeder. Be sure to ask early. Some bee breeders require you to reserve your bees months in advance.
Purchase a Nucleus Colony
Another solution to where to buy bees for a hive is to buy a nucleus colony. A nucleus colony (often called a nuc) is an established colony of bees with 3 – 5 frames. The frames will contain comb, brood, and an actively laying queen.
All that needs to be done is transfer the frames and bees from the nuc box to your bee hive. A nucleus colony must be bought locally. If available, it is highly recommended to go with this option because it is the least stressful for the bees, which gives them a higher rate of survival.
There are beehive starter kits that are sold “nuc ready”, meaning that they include everything you need to get started beekeeping, but the nuc. These kits come with a deep brood box and 5 frames. There are only 5 frames so you can easily fit in the 5 frames that you will get with your nuc.
Catch a Swarm
The last method for beekeepers to get bees is to catch a wild swarm of bees. The best thing about catching a swarm is that it’s free! And who doesn’t love free bees? The downside? It can be tricky, especially for beginner beekeepers.
Even for experienced beekeepers it can be difficult to guess what the bee’s health and temperament will be like. Africanized bees are a problem in some areas because of their ultra aggressive nature. If you would like to attempt to capture a swarm of bees it is best to get help from an experienced beekeeper or bee association.
To catch a swarm of bees you’ll need a swarm trap. A swarm trap is a box that is placed in a tree, or other area where bees are likely to swarm. The trap will contain some sort of bait to lure the swarming colony into it.
Once the swarm has moved into the trap, you can capture them and move them into your own hive. You can learn more about swarms here.
Where to Buy Bees For a Hive
Packages of honey bees can easily be bought online. Plan to order your bees in the winter to ensure that you will have them in the Spring. It is not uncommon for popular suppliers to run out of bees, so it’s a good idea to order early. Below are some reputable retailers of bees for a hive:
What is a Queen Bee?
The queen bee is the most important bee of your entire colony. One colony of bees (50,000 + bees) will have only one queen. All of the other bees function to support her egg laying. Worker bees even feed, groom, and clean the queen.
You can spot a queen bee by her size. She is twice as big as a worker bee, with a long abdomen. Her long abdomen is necessary to lay and cement eggs to the honeycomb cell.
Beekeepers often mark their queens with a small colored dot on her thorax to make her easier to identify. The color of the marking of the queen bee identifies the year in which she was born.
When buying a queen bee you can request that the breeder mark the bee for you. It is not harmful to the bee and usually only costs $5- $10 extra.
Where to Buy Queen Bees
If you are lucky enough to have beekeepers in your area, you should definitely see if they have any queens available. But with urban beekeeping on the rise, many beekeepers do not have a local source for bees.
When you buy a package of bees or a nuc, it will come with a queen, but there are situations where you will only need to purchase a queen. This is when your colony has become queenless.
A queenless hive is certainly a cause for concern because if the queen is not replaced, the colony will perish within weeks. Signs of a queenless hive are a lack of brood and eggs, an increase in drone brood, and a change in temperament.
If you have found that your hive is now queenless you are probably wondering where to buy queen bees. Like other bees, newly mated queen bees can be bought from a breeder and shipped through the mail. There are several apiaries online who specialize in breeding and shipping queens.
Newly mated queen bees can be bought from a breeder and shipped through the mail.
You can buy queen bees online at:
The queen bee will come in a small cage with a few worker bees, or attendants. The cage will have a small hole in it which will be plugged with candy.
The queen cannot join the hive immediately because they are not used to her smell. They will think she is an intruder and kill her. To get the bees to accept her as their queen her entire cage must be placed in the hive.
Over the next few days the bees will eat through the candy plug and release the queen. By the time they have eaten through the candy they should be used to her smell and accept her into the hive.
Where to Buy Mason Bees
Mason bees are different than honey bees. They do not make honey and are instead raised for pollination. Mason bees are gentle, solitary, and do not live in a hive like honey bees.
Instead, they make nests, and if you provide them with a home with premade holes, they will nest in there. After setting up your mason bee house you might be wondering where to buy mason bees.
You can either wait for local bees to be attracted to the mason bee house or you can purchase mason bee cocoons. Mason bee cocoons are sold online. The cocoons are to be placed in or near a mason bee house. The mason bees will emerge once temperatures reach 50 degrees F.
Mason Bees can be bought online at:
If you are wondering where to buy bees for a hive, there are 3 different ways. You can buy a package of bees, a nucleus colony, or you can catch a swarm. For beginner beekeepers it is best to buy a nucleus colony. Bees, including a queen, and mason bees are easily bought online from bee breeders.
This post was originally posted on 7/13/2019 and updated on 4/4/2022.