I’m not going to discuss equipment, how to choose your bees, or anything else like that. I just want to discuss two primary methods to start, as well as one extra bonus method.
The first method, and the most common, is what is called a package of bees. A package comes in three sizes. Two, three and four pound sizes to be exact. They come in a little box that has screened sides and a small can inside with sugar syrup to keep them alive, with a small cage suspended in the box that contains the queen.
Now you might assume that these bees are all related, but that’s actually not the case. A bee package operation is actually rather fascinating. There is a bit of an assembly line of guys taking frames full of bees out of hives and shaking them into 55 gallon drums. This disorients the bees and they essentially become homeless.
Then other guys take plastic scoops and simply scoop the right amount of bees (most commonly three pound sizes) out of the drum and dump them into the package. A mated queen in a cage is put into the package, the food can is dropped in, and the whole thing gets closed up.
Since these guys aren’t related, they’ll need several days to accept the queen. So if you get a package, don’t release the queen right after you hive them, but let them release her instead. Since the queen cage is closed up by a candy plug they’ll eventually get through it. By then they’ll have accepted her as the new queen.
The second method is to use what’s called a Nuc, or a nucleus hive. This is basically a miniature hive, usually five frames of bees, brood, honey, and pollen. This is generally a bit more expensive than a package, but carries some huge benefits.
When you install a package, they’re not a functional hive. They have no brood, they have no stores, and they are basically starting from scratch. This means that their population will actually dwindle for several weeks while they get situated and wait for the first eggs to develop into brood and then young bees.
With a nuc, your hive is already functional and are ready to expand. They have brood at various stages of age, and they’ll begin to boom as soon as you put them into a full size hive. Definitely a better way to go.
Another side benefit is that most nucs are locally raised bees, which means they’ve already adapted to your climate. Package bees come from farther away … for example here in Washington packages generally come from California.
The bonus method I talked about? Swarm collection! Totally unreliable, and I’m not going to go into details, but you can set out bait hives and hope that some swarm will move in. If they do, you can put them into a full on hive and voila, you’ve got yourself a new hive.