While it is possible to start a new beehive by splitting an existing hive or hiving a swarm, at Grateful Trees and Bees we recommend that new beekeepers establish a honeybee hive by purchasing a package of bees with a queen included.
In North Carolina, honeybee packages are typically available from March through early May. However, as with any agricultural product, Mother Nature may delay that window. If we have a particularly cold winter that lingers into early spring, bee packages will be delayed. Most suppliers require pre-orders and payment in advance for bee packages, and will then communicate the expected delivery date with their customers. The market price for a 3-pound bee package may fluctuate, but typically runs from $110-$120.
Package bees arrive in a wooden, screened box that’s typically 8.5″ X 16″ X 5.5″ and weighs 3 pounds. It contains 10,000 to 12,000 bees and a young queen who was laying brood prior to installation in the package. The queen is isolated in a small, wooden, screened box inside the package. We prefer to work with marked queens when available so that we can easily monitor her progress in the hive.
Most package bees sold in North Carolina are of the species apis mellifera ligustica, often called Italians. While somewhat prone to drift and not finding their way home, we believe Italians are a good species choice for new beekeepers. They are gentle, non-aggressive and slightly smaller than other honeybees. Italians are also good honey producers and not prone to swarm.
Russians, an apis mellifera hybrid, are one of the newer bee stocks in the United States, now available in North Carolina. In the 1990s the USDA imported these bees from the Primorski region on the Sea of Japan and began to breed them for their proven evolved resistance to the Varroa mite. In 2000, the quarantine phase for Russians ended, making them available on the commercial market. Russians exhibit some unusual behaviors such as having queen cells present all of the time and only rearing brood during nectar and pollen flow and they have a tendency to swarm.
The North Carolina Cooperative Extension posts an online list of North Carolina farms and vendors who have package bees for sale. Mail order of package bees is available, but when it is possible to obtain bees locally, it is best for the health of the hive. Grateful Trees and Bees can also handle package ordering, pick-up and hiving of the queen for you. Whoever you choose to purchase your bees from, we recommend that you contact a supplier now to reserve your bees for starting a hive this spring.
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