The commercial value of honey bees as pollinators hovers around $15 billion annually. Fortunately, bees are available for sale rather inexpensively, considering their potential value both regarding pollination and honey production. If you’re looking for package bees online, there’s a lot you need to know about costs, bee types, and sellers.
How Do You Start a Bee Colony?
To start a bee colony, you need to purchase a set of bees and move them into a hive. But there’s more to the process than searching the internet for bees for sale. I recommend checking out our guide on how to become a beekeeper along with this article. If you live in a city, don’t lose hope, we got you covered on our guide to urban backyard beekeeping as well.
Here’s what you need to know about starting a bee colony.
The first step in starting a bee colony is finding out what type of bees are native in your area and purchasing some. However, before bringing the bees home, you need to build or buy a hive for them to live in.
Though bees are not too picky when it comes to their homes, your hive should not use paint, fragrant glue, or varnishes. Apart from that, building your own hive or buying a pre-made one doesn’t make much difference to the colony.
Consider buying or building hive stands as well, to keep your bees off the ground and away from potential predators. Keeping hives elevated is not only closer to nature, as bees naturally colonize in trees and other high places, but it helps protect against weather conditions, too.
A too-hot or too-cold ground surface can affect the bees’ ability to create honey. Therefore, maintaining adequate ventilation and steady temperatures is crucial.
Moving the Colony
Once you purchase your bees, you’ll need to ease them into living in their new home. You should have food readily available for the bees and keep other animals or livestock away from the hive location.
The queen bee arrives in a cage, separate from the worker bees and drones. A small cork keeps the queen in her cage, and it’s up to the worker bees to free her. You can remove the cork from the cage, replacing it with a small soft candy for the bees to eat as they work toward releasing the queen (Source: Tractor Supply Co).
For the worker (and drone) bees, you can gently dump them over the frames and into the hive. Shaking the travel box will help release any remaining bees, but you should also wait at least thirty minutes and check again for any stragglers.
Once their food supply is in place, the queen bee is ready to be released, and the worker bees are all in the hive, you should not disturb the hive for at least seven days. During that time, the worker bees will free their queen and become familiar with one another. If you do check the hive, the interference may cause the workers to reject their new queen or even kill her.
How Much Do Bees Cost?
Per-hive rates vary for honey bees based on a handful of factors, making it difficult to put a price tag on a single bee. However, you can often purchase a queen on her own, so there is specific pricing per bee in those situations. For whole hives, many factors come into play.
Bee Cost Factors
The overall cost of package bees depends on what stock they are, where they’re from, how many total bees you receive, and how acclimated the group of bees are to one another. Package bees are a collection of honey bees from multiple colonies that beekeepers bring together to create a new hive.
Forcing the bees to join a new hive requires that they meet their new queen and familiarize themselves with one another. This process can take time, and bees with calmer temperament are more likely to take to a new queen more easily than more aggressive types.
Which brings us to the next factor in bee cost, stock. Although there are 3,500 species of bees in North America alone, there are only a handful of honey bee stocks that are common in the United States and elsewhere. While commercial beekeeping operations have bred some stock for commercial use, other stocks are commonly available on the market.
The most common stock of bees is Italian, which beekeepers favor because these bees are most efficient with their honey production. Beginners may also choose bee breeds like Russian, Carnolian, or Buckfast depending on availability and beekeeper preference.
Traits to consider when selecting bees include:
- Over-wintering ability
- Swarming tendencies
- Honey production
- Pollination level
- Wax/propolis production
Another consideration is the local availability of bees. Bees do not travel well in shipping containers, so you will want to choose a bee seller that is nearby. Keeping the travel time short ensures that your bees will remain happy and healthy during their trip. It’s also less likely that bees will become stressed or die if they only travel locally.
Total bee count is another consideration that can affect bee cost. A single established bee colony can have as many as 80,000 bees per hive depending on the season. But package bees often come in weights rather than bee counts.
Depending on the seller, however, you may find rough estimates of how many bees per colony. Beekeepers calculate this by estimating how many pees per frame and multiplying accordingly.
Other Ways to Buy Bees
Though package bees are often preferable for new beekeepers, there are other bee buying options. Many beekeepers prefer watching their colonies grow from the ground up, but others are interested in buying a honey-producing hive from the start.
A flow hive, for example, is a full bee farm that contains a queen bee and workers. The flow hive aims to allow beekeepers to harvest honey without disturbing bees or working to extract honey from the combs.
Critics of flow hives point to the unnatural means that the hive uses to extract honey, noting that it removes much of what beekeepers enjoy about keeping their hives. Conversely, advocates suggest it’s a simpler method of retrieving honey that is easier on both bees and their keepers.
A second option that is faster than package bees is the purchase of a nucleus colony. A nucleus is a set of bees, including a queen, that are already familiar with one another and have begun producing honey. You can expect a nuc colony to be more expensive than package bees, but it’s also a shorter process to set up the hive and begin harvesting honey.
Also, note that you should be wary of purchasing honey bee hives for sale by homeowners or people looking to get rid of native bees. Successfully relocating an entire natural bee hive is difficult, dangerous, and typically not healthy for the bees.
Why Are Queens So Expensive?
How much a bee is worth depends on the breed or stock of bee, but also whether it’s a queen, worker, or drone. Queens are most valuable, while workers and drones are “common” bees that the hive can replace if necessary.
Replacing the Queen
Though a hive can also replace its queen, the process isn’t easy. It takes time to grow a queen larva into a queen bee, although the queens come from eggs that are identical to worker bee eggs. The difference is, adult worker bees must deliver a special “royal diet” to the young bee.
“Royal” food mixtures contain extra calories, hormones, and other ingredients that help a new queen develop. This combination of food makes the bee grow the anatomy of a queen. Colonies only create a new queen if their queen dies, becomes lost, or is becoming unproductive.
Because it’s difficult to grow queens, they fetch a higher price per-bee. While you may not want to purchase single worker bees, the queen is essential to all hive operations, making her more valuable than her fellow honey bees.
Bee Life Cycles
Queen bees are not only more expensive because of their egg-laying value, but also because of their longevity. While worker bees live an average of six weeks, queens often live up to five years. However, many beekeeping operations replace their queens every other season to ensure production stays high.
If you choose to replace your queen seasonally, you’ll notice that they are even more expensive during busy seasons. Queen bees for sale often come with an asking price anywhere from $20 to $400 depending on the season, breed, and maturity.
You can find live honey bees for sale anywhere online, but the most important consideration is the health and wellbeing of your hive. Buying bees online can seem confusing, but there are a few basic rules for getting the most for your money.
Shop locally when possible, reducing both travel or shipping costs and keeping your bees relaxed. Be prepared to wait your package bees out as they adjust to life inside their new hive. Otherwise, you may accidentally kill off your queen. And finally, observe and enjoy your bees as the colony grows, and you will not only learn more about honey bees but also develop a greater appreciation for how they work and live.