Most people begin beekeeping by capturing a swarm or getting bees from an established beekeeper. It is much easier to purchase package bees from a reliable bee breeder than to remove them from nests in buildings or trees. This method requires a lot of time and effort . Also, wild bees can be diseased or infested with mites, have a bad temperament, or be poor producers. You will get a better strain of bees from a professional. They select bees for characteristics such as greater honey production, gentleness, disease resistance, and better wintering qualities.
The season for shipping bees is short and the supply can be limited. Place your order in winter and give the delivery date you want. Plan to have package bees arrive six to 10 weeks before nectar flow begins. If you are not sure when that is, schedule the arrival for early or mid-April. Before the bees arrive, your hive should be assembled, fitted with foundation, and set up in a good location.
When the shipment arrives, examine it carefully. There are always a few dead bees. If most of the swarm or the queen is dead, immediately report it to the company. It is usually better to request replacement rather than a refund.
If the weather is hot when the bees arrive, put them in a cool dark room that is not over 70oF. While the bees are adjusting to the temperature change, smear the screened sides with sugar syrup. Feed the bees repeatedly until they are engorged. They will be much quieter to handle.
Install the bees in the hive late in the afternoon when tendency to drift is lessened. Open the hive and remove four frames from one side to allow space for the bee package. Use the entrance cleat to narrow the hive entrance to three inches. Remove the shipping strip from the top of the cage and shake the bees to the bottom of the cage. Take out the queen cage. Remove the pasteboard over the candy end of the queen cage and use a small nail to punch a hole through the candy. Do not make the hole so large that the queen can get out immediately. Suspend the queen cage, screen side down, between two center frames.
Remove the feeder can and shake some of the bees over the queen cage. Place the partially emptied package, top side up, in the empty space left by removing the four frames. Some beekeepers prefer to shake out all the bees over the queen cage and not take out the four frames. Place the inner cover upside down on the hive and place the feeder can, feeding holes down, over the hole in the inner cover. Add an empty super to house the feeder can and then put on the outer cover.
Leave the colony alone for a week except to feed them syrup if necessary. If the queen has not escaped from her cage by then, let her out. Remove the queen cage and shipping cage and replace the missing frames. Continue to feed the bees until nectar begins to flow and the colony is strong enough to begin storing honey in the super.
You can increase your numbers of hives by collecting swarms. Let your fire department, police or sheriff, and county extension office know you are interested in bees. Often people call these agencies when they see swarms.
Swarms settle in all kinds of places, so there is no single procedure for capturing them and putting them in a hive. Have your equipment ready during the swarming season so you can go to a swarm on short notice.
After a swarm leaves a hive it might settle on a nearby tree, fence post, side of a building, or other similar object. Swarms near the ground are relatively easy to capture. Put cloth sheet on the ground by the bees and place a hive or box on it.
A smoker can be used to drive the bees toward the entrance of the hive, but they usually enter on their own. Carefully brush clustering bees toward the entrance using a handful of smooth leaves or weeds. After the first brushing, place the telescoping inner and outer covers on the hive so bees are attracted toward the entrance.
It is more difficult to capture a swarm that has settled high in a tree. Often the limb may be cut off and carefully lowered to the ground. Remove the covers of the hive and give the branch a sharp, quick shake to dislodge the bees over the combs and entrance. After the bees begin a steady movement into the hive, replace the covers. After the swarm has become settled in the hive, it should be moved to a permanent location the same evening or early the next day.
Once in a while you might want to transfer bee colonies from nonstandard hives or from a standard hive in which the combs are messed up. You might even want to salvage a colony from the attic of a building. Sometimes transferring bees is not worth the effort. It involves a lot of work, and the colony might be diseased or infested with mites. If transferring seems worth the risk, you can use several methods.
Prepare a new hive body with a full set of frames and wired brood comb. Bees usually accept old, dark comb more readily than they accept new comb or foundation. Place this hive body or top of the brood chamber to be transferred. Brood rearing tends to move upward in the hive, so the colony gradually transfers itself into the area. This takes about a month. When all the brood have emerged from the old hive, remove it and melt down and salvage the wax.
You can speed the transfer process by smoking the queen and workers into the new hive body, and then placing a queen excluder between the old and new hive bodies. The excluder allows workers to tend brood in the old hive but forces the queen to lay eggs in the new hive. The old hive will be clear of worker brood in 21 days.