Advice for Obtaining Honey Bees
As with any livestock there are good, average and bad strains of all races of honey bee and it is important for beekeepers, especially those new to the craft, to source bees that are suitable, being docile, productive, disease free and not inclined to swarm. You can obtain bees as a full colony, nucleus, package or swarm. Full colonies are usually only available when a beekeeper is selling up or downsizing and are the most expensive way of buying bees, though you may save money on any beehives bought. Bee suppliers usually offer nuclei which comprise of five combs, bees, brood, laying queen and stores. These generally come in a returnable or supplied travelling box and will need to be transferred to a clean, sterilized hive. When obtained early in the season these can quickly be built up into a full colony and may give a small honey crop.
Swarms may be available to collect but, unless you have some beekeeping experience and the ability to collect them, they should be avoided.
When buying bees: Ascertain that the stocks offered are suitable for your needs. Try to avoid sourcing bees from outside your area as it could accelerate the spread of pests and diseases. Many beekeepers consider that local strains generally suit the natural flora of that locality. Use a reputable supplier. References may help you choose. Check with the supplier where the queen has come from. It is not always clear what strain of honey bee you are obtaining and whether the queen has been bred by the supplier, bought in or imported. If you import bees then make sure that you do this carefully. Follow the import rules if they come from outside the country through the proper channels of health certification. Guidance is available (see Advice for Obtaining Bees) on Fera’s National Bee Unit’s (NBU) BeeBase website nationalbeeunit.com
If possible examine the bees before purchase to ensure they meet the required standard and are disease free. If you are not competent to do this then ask a beekeeper who is to check for you. If the vendor is not prepared to show you or allow examination consider why. If frames are marked with the point of origin it will help traceability. Maintain a record of your purchase (a suggested form for this purpose is on the reverse of the Advice for Obtaining Bees factsheet). By Summer 2011 beekeepers registered on BeeBase will be able to record a purchase, sale, gift or movement of bees within their BeeBase records. If you would like to register on BeeBase go to www.nationalbeeunit.com. As a guide a good nucleus will: Have a good quality, young laying queen. She may be marked and/or clipped. Have all stages of bee brood present. Be free of signs of disease. Have at least three frames with brood. Have four frames or more fully covered with honey bees. Have the equivalent of at least one full comb of honey and half a frame of pollen as stores. All combs should be in a good and clean condition, preferably being less than one season old.