In the third and final article in our series on populating new hives, we discuss purchasing fully-established hives. While novice beekeepers can greatly benefit from starting off with a colony that is already up-and-running, there are things to watch out for.
Experienced beekeepers will usually buy package bees or nucleus colonies to populate their hives as the weather warms. For new beekeepers, however, using these methods to establish a new colony can be a challenge. From picking the right location to setting up the hive, installing package bees or nucs to inspecting the progress on drawing out foundation, there’s a lot to learn.
Buying Established Hives
For some novice beekeepers, the easiest way to successfully join in the fun is purchasing fully established hives. Often sold by experienced individual or commercial beekeepers, acquiring established hives has many benefits for the beginner. However, not all hives for sale are of equal quality.
Most experienced beekeepers who sell established hives are happy to answer reasonable questions. However, don’t simply rely upon verbal promises that the hive is in good shape and the colony is healthy. Instead, take the time to visit the seller and inspect the hive components for yourself. Lift out a few frames to look for healthy brood and good food reserves. Lastly, look at the general state of the seller’s equipment and observe how they handle the bees.
Inspecting Established Hives
Buying an established hive from an experienced and knowledgeable keeper is a good way to insure a successful first year. To make sure you are starting off with the best colony and equipment possible, look for the following:
Properly Set Up and Maintained Hive
Be sure that the equipment is of the proper type and arranged properly. A standard set-up uses one or two hive bodies on the bottom with shallower honey supers above. Each box should have the proper number of frames arranged in an evenly spaced manner. Ask the seller about any other equipment that is present, such as queen excluders or syrup feeders, and look to see what type of bottom board is used.
Next, look at the condition of the equipment. Hive components should be painted on the exterior surfaces (but not on the inside surfaces!) and should be free of wood rot or other damage. Box and frame corners should be snug and tight, not loose or wobbly. Be especially aware of any foul smells emanating from the hive. While a bee hive does have a distinctive smell, it should not be offensive or smell of decay.
Healthy Queen and Brood
Well-cared-for hives should have an actively-laying queen that is fully accepted by the colony. The seller should be able to quickly find and identify the queen and have no problem pulling up a few of the frames for a quick inspection. While it is not difficult to introduce a new queen with a queen cage, it does require more work and knowing how to identify problems should they arise.
The frames in the hive body should have many brood cells of young bees at various stages. You should see open cells with eggs or larvae, as well as brown-capped cells with developing brood. These cells should be relatively tightly grouped in a solid pattern towards the center of the frames. If there are many empty cells or the pattern is very random, there are likely issues with the queen or colony.
Lots of Workers and Food
When the hive is first opened, the bees should be numerous, filling most of the open spaces between the frames. The overall demeanor of the bees should be calm and accepting of the inspection. While it can be a bit jarring to take your first look inside a busy hive, the bees should be used to it and not appear overly agitated.
Along the top edges of the frames in the hive body and throughout the frames in honey supers, you should see plenty of cells with food stores. Capped honey cells are typically found towards the top of the frames, while cells of nectar are left open until they dry out to the proper consistency. Cells full of pollen may be of different colors, from light yellow to orange to dark brown, depending on the season and flora available in the seller’s location.
Confident and Organized Beekeeper
Lastly, observe the general state of the seller’s equipment and how he or she interacts with the bees. An experienced beekeeper will move calmly and confidently, showing little fear and lots of respect for the bees. Well organized and cared for tools, equipment and hives are the hallmarks of a reputable keeper. If the general state of these items is sloppy, dirty or haphazard, there is a good chance the colony is of less-than-stellar quality, too.
Read the Other Articles in This Series:
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