There are two options when starting a new hive, either purchasing bees from a supplier or a local beekeeper.
From a supplier
If you don’t know a beekeeper, you can order bees from suppliers, many of which sell equipment as well. Three pound packages are recommended. Order bees right after Jan. 1 and specify the delivery date between the third week of April and first week of June. Typically, the bees will arrive in a screened cage with a queen. The queen is then installed in the new hive, then the rest of the bees are shook from the cage.
From a local beekeeper
Bees are typically sold in swarms or splits. Again, it’s important to get your order in early.
Swarms are nature’s way of dividing colonies. Typically, the beekeeper will want you to bring your equipment to them, then they will find a swarm and collect it with your equipment. Depending on a number of factors, you usually return to collect the new colony after one to two weeks.
Splits are a better option to start a hive. Three to five frames of bees, brood, honey and pollen are collected from a donor colony and a new queen is introduced. This is more beneficial because there’s already a succession of bees present, food stores for the bees and developed combs for the queen to lay eggs in.
Like all living creatures, new bee colonies must be fed. Both sugar syrup and commercial feeders can be purchased from suppliers. Select a feeder style that’s enclosed within the colony, that will prevent bees from robbing it from their neighboring hives. Once the hive is filled with developed combs, the food should be removed and honey surplus supers added. Never feed bees while surplus supers are added, as the harvested honey will be compromised.
Honeybees are susceptible to diseases and parasites. The most common is the varroa mite. Nearly every colony will have varroa mites, and when left untreated, infestations can kill colonies within one year. Varroa mite treatments are available from suppliers and should be used during a period of nectar dearth, or absence of nectar flow.
In central West Virginia, the ideal time to treat is between mid July and late August, when the summer sourwood nectar flow has ended. Treating at this time reduces number of mites and enables bees to continue brood production until the late fall months, ensuring a strong entry in to winter for the bees. Nectar flows vary by area, so be sure to tailor treatments based on your region’s nectar flows. Remember, never apply any treatment or feed to bees while honey surplus supers are installed on your colonies.