Obtaining Bees

Obtaining Bees

How to do it correctly

There are a number of ways to obtain bees

  1. Buying a nucleus colony
  2. Packaged bees
  3. Collecting swarms
  4. Dividing an existing colony
  5. Buying disease-free hives

1. Buying a nucleus colony

Nucleus colonies come with a queen, 3-4 combs with worker bees, brood and honey.

When you pick up the nucleus hive, you transfer the frames with the bees and queen into your own standard hive. Add more frames with either new foundation or drawn frames into your hive to fill the box. Reduce the entrance to your hive.

The nucleus will then slowly build up to a stronger colony. As it does so, you can add a queen excluder and another box on top until you have a full strength hive.

This is usually done in September and October.

2. Packaged bees

Consists of a caged queen and about 1kg of worker bees. (Cages come in all shapes and sizes)

In late afternoon place the cage containing the queen into the hive removing the cork to the candy.

Shake the bees into the frames of the hive and close the lid. The bees will eat the candy and release the queen. The queen can then start laying eggs.

As there are not many bees, reduce the hive entrance so that guarding the entrance, keeping the hive warm and keeping out pests is easier for this small colony

Packaged Bees

Caged Queen (source: Foxhaven)
Installing Worker bees (source: Foxhaven)

3. Collecting swarms written by Bill Ringin

The natural way bees increase the number of colonies is by swarming. A swarm is a cluster of bees, containing a queen that has flown from an existing or parent colony. The aim of the swarm is to establish a new colony.

Swarming occurs in spring to early summer – usually September through to December when a large brood nest is present and nectar and pollen are in good supply.

Prior to swarming the colony begins to prepare queen cells to provide new queens. When these are sealed and generally around mid-morning on a sunny day about half the bees along with the queen tumble out of the colony entrance and after a short flight, settle on a nearby object forming a cluster. At this time the bees are quite docile, having gorged on honey prior to leaving the parent colony.

This is the best time to capture the swarm. Scout bees will begin flying out looking for a suitable new home. This cluster may move several times if no suitable place is located.

Back at the parent colony the new queens begin to emerge and one of these, after mating, will become its new queen. (The old queen having departed with the swarm).

Catching a swarm

Prior to working with bees the smoker should be well alight and protective gear in place.

If the swarm has clustered on a small branch the beekeeper may be able to, after light smoking, cut the branch and drop the cluster, using a jerk of the branch, into an open box containing a couple of
drawn frames and some frames of foundation.

If the bees are on a larger object they may, after light smoking, be dislodged by a sharp bump or use of a soft bee brush, placed into a box – then close the box. Any air born bees and some you may have missed will reform a cluster so after a few minutes these can be collected and added to the more rapid acceptance of the box as their new home can be achieved if a frame with some un-capped brood is added, however this may not always be available.

If it is possible to allow the box to sit and bees settle until dusk this is best. If this is not feasible secure the box, closing any entrance and it can be shifted to its desired location and the entrance opened and added to the box.

On some occasions due to access or height problems swarms may be difficult to box and it might be helpful to catch them in a cardboard box, bucket or other container. These should be temporarily bee proof – a tea towel can often do the trick – prior to putting them in a proper box. I once caught a swarm with a long handled fishing net lined with hessian.

Encouraging the bees to enter a box (hive)

To aid the bees entering a box via the entrance, a piece of wood, cardboard or stiff paper can be placed as a ramp leading to, but not obstructing the opening.

If notified of a swarm, the sooner you respond, the more likely they will still be clustered where you were told. Also enquire about the height and access to the swarm. A ladder and other equipment may be needed.

Bill Ringin

Bee Swarms

4. Dividing or splitting an existing colony

This can only be done with a strong hive, while on a good nectar flow and plenty of pollen coming in.

Divide half the existing brood box into a new empty box. Put honey frames against the walls and frames with foundation or drawn frames with pollen if you have them on each side of the brood. Add about half the bees. Make sure you know which box the queen is in. Re Queen the queenless box with a mated queen.

Take the new box about 3 km away otherwise the bees will just return to their original hive. After two or three weeks return them to their new position. If strong enough add a queen excluder and another box on top.

5. Buying disease free hives with bees

The following web site has hives for sale. Check they are disease free and ask if they have been checked by an Apiary Inspector.


Hives for sale