Table of Contents
Join Nicole and Drake Larson in an all new mini series- Honey Money! Drake takes the stage and serves to represent the new beekeeper- asking Nicole numerous questions about beekeeping. Learn the basics of beekeeping, how to get started, and learn tips and tricks to make your beekeeping a success. We will also discuss ways to profit from your hives and how to buy bees!
What You’ll Learn
- How to obtain your first bees
- Comparison of a swarm, nuc, package and hive
- How to catch a swarm
- Joining your local bee club
For this episode we are joined by Drake Larson, who you may remember from Episode 3-
Best 2nd Date Location and Legalities of Beekeeping. Drake is an Attorney serving Southern Colorado, and a fan favorite due to his intelligent and inquisitive nature, with no shortage of enthusiasm and humor.
Resources & Links Mentioned
- Blog post- Find Your Local Beekeeping Club
- Contact Drake via email
- Larson Law Office online
- Larson Law Offices Facebook
- Email us! [email protected]
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Drake: And welcome back. It is episode two of Backyard Bounty. Title is still in works, but I think honey money based on the last episode. It's a really good way to do this. We're talking about that honey money and let me tell you everyone, the sun is setting. I'm on my eighth cup of coffee. I don't know if my energy is going to crash or just keep on going and so we're just going to ride it out and Nicole is equally bouncing off the walls the way she does with minimal effort and energy. But, but we're here. We're both here. We're getting through this thing. And so I just want to kind of pick up where we left off Nicole. So episode one, we've captured the audience's attention. They're absolutely enraptured with everything. They're hanging on your every word. And so now that you've got that attention, let's put them through the works here. I want to make some bees. I want to make some honey money. Number one, I need bees for this. Where in the world do I go to get bees?
Nicole: Well, there are several different sources. The most common source for new beekeepers would be to purchase a package, which is a three pound little cage of bees with the queen that's not introduced to the colony yet and you can either order those through your local beekeeping club or order them online and then they ship them in the mail to you. Or sometimes local suppliers like Tractor Supply or your local beekeeping supply store can supply those to you. They usually range between $120 to $180 depending on your area and those bees come from California. When you purchase them, the company that sells them goes out, they shake three pounds of bees into a box, throw a queen in there that's not related to the colony and then they ship it to you. So we can talk a little bit more detail later about why that's not necessarily your best route, even though it's the most common.
Nicole: Another common way to get bees is to order a nuc. So a nuc is short for nucleus, it's basically just a little mini colony. It's a little hive that comes with five frames. It's got a queen that's already related to the workers. She's been proven to be laying and generally they're locally bred bees so they're more acclimated to your local climate. It depends on your area but those range between $150 to $200 but that's a better way to start. You're basically starting out with a mini hive and then you can also potentially buy a full size hive of a full eight or 10 frame hive if those are available in area. Some small scale beekeepers will sell those. And then the other route would be to catch a swarm. A swarm is basically like a package except that the queen is already accepted into the colony so all you got to do is take that swarm and put it in a hive box and they should start getting to work right away.
Drake: Well you just dropped an awful lot of knowledge. If you don't mind I'm going to take a step back and unpack this a little bit. So the first thing you mentioned is you can just purchase a package from California. It costs about $150. You made it sound like they don't really care. They just toss some bees in a package. The queen's not related and off they go. When you get this package from California, are the bees alive? I mean I don't understand how they get shipped. Is that okay for the bees?
Nicole: So it's basically like a little shoe box size metal screen box that they put them in and they ship them in. I'm not personally a huge fan of packages. So really kind of like you said, they don't care. And I can't say that they don't care because I'm sure they do care. But really all they do is they take some bees and they shake them into this box and then they take an unrelated queen and they put her in a little queen cage and they slap her in the colony. And then either they mail it to you or sometimes like in our area, a local gentleman will drive out to California with preorders, pick up the preorder packages, bring them back and you've got to buy them or go pick them up. But they're in transit in that little box for potentially up to a week. If they're mailed they're jostled around. I see a lot of posts online where people will get them and a significant portion of them will be dead.
Nicole: Maybe even the queen's dead. Depending on the supplier, I mean, hopefully they'll make good on it if the queen died. But that's not always the case and their unfortunate business practices. But the packaged bees, I liken them to like buying cattle. So here in Colorado, our climate is very different than California. So the bees that are from California that come in packages are commercially raised bees that don't generally come with a natural mite resistant. They're used to being treated for mites. They don't really have to fend for themselves as far as disease control and they're meant for the California area. They're used to being, like I said, if it was cattle, like vaccinated. You don't vaccinate bees but it's kind of the same thing. So what happens is a beekeeper here in Colorado or wherever else gets his package of bees.
Nicole: First they have to introduce the queen to the colony, hope that the queen is accepted and that they don't kill her or she doesn't arrive dead. And then these bees are used to being treated for mites. So if you don't treat for mites, then usually what happens is these bees get a heavy mite load and then you end up losing your colony. They're not used to the weather here in Colorado. They're really not the best for a new beginner. There's a number of issues and a nuc is a lot better for a new beekeeper because that's more like a new hive. The package bees, not a fan.
Drake: So you don't recommend that. And in fact, moving on to the nuc, which you were telling me about. So you said that purchasing the package, I think you said it's between $130 $150 is that right?
Nicole: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Drake: And then, but you said the nuc starts at $150 anyway and goes up to around $200 depending on where you're at. So you could in theory get a nuc about the same price anyway.
Nicole: Yeah, it's generally about the same price and it's a lot better. So basically you're getting a five frame mini colony. So the queen's already introduced. They don't sell nucs until they've proven that the queen's laying. So you know your queen's accepted. You know that she's well mated because she's already laying and it's really like a plug and play. You take the frames out, you put the frames into your Langstroth hive and you're good to go. And generally, they don't ship nucs cross countries. So, if you're buying a nuc it's going to be at least a somewhat local beekeeper. Now the same considerations involved, if there have certain treatment practices and things then it's similar to the ones in California where if they treat their bees for mites so they don't have a natural mite resistance, then you're still going to need to treat for mites. And that's a heated debate among beekeepers as to whether or not you should be treating for mites to begin with. But that's a different topic for a different show. Because that one tends to ruffle some feathers.
Drake: Don't offend me with your mite theory.
Nicole: Oh, it gets deep. But anyways, so the bees at least are probably more local than ones from California. So they're at least more adapted to your geographic area and your climate, but all beekeeping is local, which means here in Pueblo bees that are adapted to our area are going to be a little bit different than bee's 30 minutes north up in Colorado Springs. So the more local you can source your bees from the better.
Drake: And I think you mentioned getting the nuc from I think you called it a bee club.
Nicole: Yeah. So bee clubs, since it's a congregation of people in your area then it's a good place to get to source bees. Generally anybody that sells bees locally in your area will be in the bee club. And so you want to get those bees as close to home as possible.
Drake: And so if I just do a Google search, I can find a bee club living near me.
Nicole: Hopefully. We also do have a blog post on our site.
Drake: You have a directory.
Nicole: Yes. So we also have a directory on our website of bee clubs. So you can go on and check out your state and there's also a little Google maps so you can type in your address and see what's closest to you. But you definitely, side note, you should always join your state club but also try to get something as local to you as possible.
Drake: And you have a link to that in this podcast here.
Nicole: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Drake: Great. So just review very quickly of all of the different options you mentioned, is the new nuc the most user friendly with the best success rate? Is that what you advise new people to start with?
Nicole: Yes. If, you are able to happen across a swarm that's probably a little bit better.
Drake: Oh, and you're getting ahead of me. I want to talk all about catching a swarm. We'll get there, but tell me if I want the least amount of fuss. I want the easiest way to get this started and the best success rate tell me is the nuc the way to go.
Nicole: Yes. It's plug and play. Take them out of the box. Put them in your box. Good to go.
Drake: Great. I have ideas of what this looks like. How do you find a hive? I'm 29 years old. I've been on this earth for 29 years now. I have never once stumbled upon a swarm of bees just hanging out, getting ready to be caught. Walk me through this please.
Nicole: So prior to my beekeeping time, I have not stumbled upon a swarm myself either. So I consider them a fun little gift because not everybody gets to stumble upon them.
Drake: A fun little gift. That's a great gift.
Nicole: Yes it is.
Drake: Especially to stumble into.
Nicole: They're freebies.
Drake: Tell me about the freebies.
Nicole: So generally the most common way to come across them is your swarm coordinator in your local bee club. Somebody, usually a non beekeeper will Google, oh my gosh, I found a bee swarm. What do I do? And they're directed towards your local bee club. And then your local bee club will generally have a swarm coordinator that will either catch the bees and then distribute them to your club based on whatever list they maintain or they might call you and say, "Hey, you're next on the list. Do you want to go get this swarm?" How ever they work that out is up to them.
Drake: So the easiest way to stumble into a group of freebies is go to your local bee club and they have some sort of lottery system or something like that.
Nicole: That or if you don't have a local bee club, then I like to use Craigslist and I post ads and or search for sometimes people will post in the help section or whatever. I have these bees. I don't know what to do. I've also sent out letters to tree trimming companies and pest control companies that say, "Hey, if you come across bees, please give us a call. We'll remove them for free." And then also Facebook groups. If you have a Facebook group for your neighborhood or your area, that's a good place to not only post ads but to keep an eye out and then it's also kind of improves your success rate if you can offer a little gift, maybe a jar of honey or $10 to somebody who calls you and reports a swarm.
Drake: Talk to me about talking about actually catching a beehive. Is it a simple matter of just shaking a bunch of bees into a box and carrying them home?
Nicole: So lets kind of back up a tiny little bit and talk about what a swarm is because a lot of people don't know.
Drake: I don't know so thank you. Please tell me.
Nicole: So obviously the queen bee in a colony doesn't have individual babies that she sends out into the world and says, "Make your own colony." So a swarm is a division of a colony. Generally the original queen of a colony leaves with about half of her workers and they go post up on a tree or a side of a building or wherever they decide to hang out until scout bees find a new place to live and then everybody moves on into this new place.
Nicole: So when they're in a swarm, they're full of honey because they ate a whole bunch and stored some honey in their honey stomachs, in order to get them through their journey and to start their comb building in their new home. They're homeless. So they're generally not aggressive because they're not defending anything. So they don't have a reason to sting you because that's not their house so they don't need to defend it.
Drake: Are they not defending the queen?
Nicole: Uh-uh (negative). Because there's no threat to her. So the queen will be in the middle of the swarm ball. Usually it's between the size of a baseball to a basketball, depending on how many bees and the queen will be in the middle of that. So basically they're just hanging out while the scouts find a new home. Once the scouts find a new home, everybody takes off and moves in. So that's what a swarm is.
Drake: So you catch them between moving when they're homeless?
Nicole: Yeah. So it should be a colony of worker bees, usually some drones and a Lang queen. So it's great because it's the intro beekeeping kit. Just add hive, good to go.
Drake: And how do you make sure that you catch all these different types of bees? I guess we'll start at the beginning. What does the queen look like? Is it bigger?
Nicole: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Drake: How much bigger? How do I identify it?
Nicole: So you're not generally going to see her in the middle of the colony because she's usually tucked away. So sometimes you get lucky and find her but when they're hanging in that big ball formation, it's pretty challenging to find her. So you can kind of get a hint as to whether or not you caught her. So, when you catch the swarm, generally they're going to be hanging from a branch. That's the most common and so we'll start there. But I have a five gallon bucket that I've cut half of the sides out of and I've riveted some mesh screen so there's ventilation.
Nicole: So I take my little bucket and I try not to cut the tree, I just shake the bees into the bucket and you kind of give them a good hard shake. They all fall into the bucket. And then you put the bucket underneath the area where the bees had swarmed. And if the queen is in the bucket, then the worker bees will start fanning some of their Nasonov pheromones. And so all of the scouts and stuff flying around will then fly into the bucket. If you have a little nuc or an extra high body, you can also take that and shake them into there.
Nicole: Otherwise, you're going to have to take your bucket home and transfer those bees into a hive. So if you have the queen in your swarm vessel, whether it's a hive or a bucket, then they'll start fanning that pheromone. And that's how you can tell you have a queen. Now, if you've shaken everybody into your bucket and they all take off and they fly back onto the branch, well then you didn't catch the queen and the queen's probably one of the bees still hanging out on the branch because when you shake them, you don't get 100% of the bees. There's still some that are left on the branch.
Drake: That's fantastic. Sounds actually a lot easier than I thought it would be. I imagine it requiring a butterfly net for some reason.
Nicole: It's pretty simple. It gets a little bit more challenging if you have them in a really dense bush so they're spread out across multiple branches, or if you get them on the side of a building and you have to brush them in. So it can be a little bit more challenging at times, but it's usually as simple as just shake and go.
Drake: Wow. We're getting there. One step at a time. I think the next time we talk, when you talk about what it takes to have a beehive, what kind of bee hive we need to have as well as other things like climate considerations and we'll just keep marching through this. But I have learned a lot. Oh, we also need to talk about bee suits, but we'll leave that for later. As always, there's a bajillion links in the description, check them out. So be sure to join us for another episode where we finally find out what it takes to make a beehive and what type of wood. Is it oak? Is it maple? I don't know. Stay tuned.
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