So it’s time to purchase your bees to get started with your beekeeping hobby. A package of bees is a great way to start a new hive. But what do you get with a package of bees?
A package of bees includes 2-3 lbs. of bees and a young mated queen (in a queen cage, usually marked) ready to be placed into a hive. A package of bees contains roughly 10,000 honeybees, 3000 to 5000 bees per pound, in a vented wooden box with a feeder can of sugar syrup.
Purchasing a package of bees is a very common and inexpensive method for new beekeepers to get started. I will discuss what to expect when you purchase a package of bees and both the pros and cons of honey bee packages.
What To Expect With Your Package Of Bees
Beekeeping is a fantastic hobby but it does have a steep learning curve and requires a bit of patience. One way to make the process easier is by purchasing a package of bees from your local beekeeper.
A package of honey bees is a small, easily transportable hive that contains roughly ten thousand honeybees, a mated queen, and a can of sugar syrup in a vented box.
The bees included in the package are normally from separate colonies with a mated queen also from a different colony.
Since the queen has not yet been accepted by these bees, or commonly referred to as “locked in” with the colony, it will take time for the bees to accept her. There are specific methods for introducing the queen and I’ll include a video below illustrating this process.
What you’ll typically get with a package of bees is a can of sugar syrup to feed the bees during shipping. Once you receive your bees, they will continue to require supplemental feeding for around a month depending on your local conditions.
It is not uncommon to receive a large number of dead bees; some will die during shipping because they are stressed and have been deprived of their normal colony conditions. The longer the shipping time, the more dead bees you’ll receive.
Packaged bees tend to be very grumpy and agitated when you first transfer them to a new hive. This is due the bees being from different colonies with an unfamiliar queen. Once they accept a queen and are working, your bees will calm down quite a bit. Buying packaged bees is the most popular option for new beekeepers since its cheaper than buying a nucleus colony.
One of the biggest advantages to purchasing a package of bees is how much you will learn as a beginner beekeeper. You will get to observe how the bees build a hive from scratch and you will be more hands on in the beginning. You can also use any type of hive box since it will be a small colony to begin with.
As I mentioned above, packaged bees are usually made up of worker bees from different colonies as well as a new queen from a different hive. Some suppliers also package a couple worker bees with the queen bee. But this does vary between suppliers.
Sometimes your bees can arrive pretty beat up depending on weather conditions and shipping times. I’d recommend to always inspect your queen to make sure she is alive and healthy. If you’re new to beekeeping, it’s best to have an experienced beekeeper assist you with this.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Packaged Bees
I’ve outlined below the main advantages and disadvantages of purchasing a package of bees from a supplier.
Advantages Of Packaged Bees
- Least expensive option for purchasing bees
- High availability – it is very easy to locate a packages of bees and they don’t have to be purchased locally.
- Can be shipped over long distances – many suppliers will ship packages nationwide.
- Bees can be easily placed in any type of hive box, The Langstroth, The Warre or The Top Bar hive.
- Less likely to have diseases and parasites – but they will still require treatment early on.
- Easily transferred into a new hive.
- Education – is the best learning experience for a new beekeeper.
Disadvantages of Packaged Bees
- Weaker colony – these bees will require more feeding, support, and monitoring to become a strong colony.
- Young unrelated queen – it will take time for the bees to accept the queen, and in some cases they don’t and you will have to purchase a new queen (re-queen the colony).
- Higher chance of re-queening and/or absconding
- Increased stress on the bees from shipping and you will receive a large number of dead bees.
- The colonies requires a lot more time to build since they have no comb, brood, or food stores.
- Possible climate difference between shipping origin and hive installation. This again increases the stress on these bees.
- You are likely to receive more stings since these bees will be highly agitated and very grumpy. These bees were not prepared to leave their previous colony, are highly stressed from shipping and are queen less.
I still cannot overstate the importance of the education a new beekeeper will receive when purchasing bee packages. Not to mention how much easier it is to order packages of bees no matter where you live, and they are more cost effective than purchasing nucleus colonies (NUC’s).
Packaged bees can be easily introduced into any type of hive, whether you have a Top Bar, Warre or Langstroth hive. There also tends to be less issues with mites and parasites since there is no brood frames included. But you will need to treat your bees within a couple of weeks.
The biggest disadvantage to packaged bees is they tend to be pulled from different colonies and therefore are genetically unrelated. They also require a lot more TLC and if the colony doesn’t accept the queen you many have to purchase another. The colony will require quite a bit of feeding to build comb and to gather nectar and pollen.
Packaged bees also have a higher chance of absconding especially if being introduced into a brand-new hive. New hives and frames do not contain the attractive pheromones and scents that older frames and hives do.
If you’re new to beekeeping, it’s always best to purchase 2 packages of bees. You just never know what could happen especially since you’re learning, and you will make mistakes. You could be incredibly lucky and have both colonies take off, but you could have one completely die or one colony not accept the queen.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Much Is A Package Of Bees?
For beekeepers, one of the most significant costs they face each year is purchasing packages of bees for starting new hives or for replenishing already established ones (unless they are doing they’re own splits). As beekeeping begins to more popular the price of bee packages keeps rising.
In 2018 the average cost of a 3 lb. Package of bees was between $120 to $145 depending on the supplier and location. But now in 2021 the average prices for a package of bees ranges from $130 to $210 depending. It can be a bit cheaper when you order from your local region as apposed to ordering nationwide delivery.
This is pretty crazy since these prices are very close to the cost of buying local NUC’s.
How much does it cost to purchase a queen bee?
Like the rest of bee prices, purchasing queen bees has continued to rise into 2021. The average cost to purchase mated queens ranges from $29 to $45 each. Now, this does depend on how many queens you purchase (volume discounts), the time of year, and the breed.
Keep in mind this doesn’t include shipping. Shipping usually ranges from $20 to $30 depending on the number of queens you order.
How long can you keep packaged bees in the shipping container?
I always recommend installing your bees as soon as possible. If you can, it’s best to install your bees into the new hive the same day you receive them. You don’t know how long they’ve been caged and hopefully you don’t have to many dead bees.
You could probably keep them in the shipping container for 3-4 days as long as you continue to feed them. But, as I stated above, for the best chance of success I recommend getting them out of the shipping container as quickly as possible. You should also check the level of sugar syrup in the can, this will give you some indication of how long the bees have been caged.
When should I order my package of bees?
If you’re planning on ordering packages of bees and/or queens, I would recommend ordering them early. It’s always best to order them in the winter for delivery in March through May.
Suppliers ship on a first come first serve basis and you need to get your orders in early. As a beginner I would recommend ordering in December for a package of bees. The earlier the better since suppliers will sell out fast.
What is a pack or group of bees called?
A group of bees that all live together in a hive or nest in one place is called a colony. A colony includes three types of honey bees: the queen, worker bees, and drones.
When a colony of bees are looking for a new home, there is a variety of reasons for this, a large number of bees will leave the hive with the queen. This is called a swarm.
Beekeepers commonly refer to their bee colonies as hives.