There are many ways to obtain bees, and each has advantages and disadvantages. Regardless of source, the new beekeeper should have assistance available from a local, experienced beekeeper.
Packages are often imported from the southern hemisphere and arrive in late April or early May. This is often a cardboard tube containing about 1 kilogram of bees and one fertile queen. Packages of bees are randomly inspected at the port of entry and may be shipped throughout British Columbia upon arrival.
Packages of bees consist of only bees. There is no comb, honey or brood present. Package bees may be installed into any hive type. If using a top-bar hive, packages may be the most practical way to populate your hive.
Package bees from the southern hemisphere are often from New Zealand or Chile. As such, they are entering their autumn when arriving in British Columbia. As such, they may not adapt to our seasons as well as local bees.
Nucleus Colony (aka "nuc")
Nucs are often produced locally and are usually available in May or early June. The nucleus colony consists of a fertile queen bee, a colony of workers and a series of combs. Often, a nuc will contain five frames, with at least three frames of brood.
Most nucs are for populating a Langstroth hive, which is most common in British Columbia. Top bar nucs may also be available from some producers, if a request is made early in the season. A deposit is often required for the nuc box, which the producer often wants returned.
Bees leaving their district must be inspected prior to sale. This is done by your regional Apiary Inspector (see BC apiculturist-inspectors). As nucs are generally from British Columbia, the bees are adapted to winter in their area of the province.
This is possibly the most exciting way to obtain bees. It is also a high-risk and unpredictable option. Swarms may occur any day of the week, and acquiring one is uncertain. If wanting the challenge of collecting a swarm, add your name to the local "swarm call list". It is recommended to accompany an experienced beekeeper when collecting swarms.
Honeybees swarm for a variety of reasons. Swarming is the honeybees natural mode of reproduction. Honeybees suffering from diseases may leave their hive and this appears similar to a healthy swarm. If the beekeeper losing the swarm is known, the swarm should be offered back to them.
If hiving a swarm, it is best to place these bees in a hive at some distance from any other honeybee colonies. This is to decrease the chance that any diseases present will not spread to healthy bees.
Honeybee swarms are often located 3 - 5 kilometres from their original hive. These bees, if healthy, are adapted to the local environment.
Occasionally, it is possible to purchase an entire colony from another beekeeper. The beekeeper may be downsizing, retiring or moving. If purchasing an entire colony, it is recommended to have the entire hive inspected by your regional Apiary Inspector before purchase (see BC apiculturist-inspectors). This is a service provided, free of charge, through the Province of British Columbia.
While rare, it is possible to have bees on your property without committing to being the sole keeper of those bees. If having a farm, meadow or other area suited to bees, it is possible that an established beekeeper may want to place some of their colonies on your property. Such an arrangement is best made, in writing, between the landowner and beekeeper. Shared bees may come from a variety of sources.
Updated: May 9, 2022