There are several options. Spring is the time to populate your hive (April-Late May in Portland, Oregon). Any later than that and generally (in Northern climates especially) the bees won’t have enough forage time to build up food (honey and pollen) stores to sustain them through the winter.
1. Swarms/Feral Bees - We recommend having a local beekeeper catch a swarm of feral bees for you or catching them yourself (much easier than it sounds!). The reason why is that we’ve found feral bees tend to be heartier and more apt to thrive, having not been intervened with by the treatments and chemicals often utilized by commercial beekeepers. Additionally, a swarm will have issued from a colony that is obviously strong enough to have cast off a swarm, and originates from your local area. Thus, the bees will be adapted to your local climate. This is the method of obtaining bees we most strongly recommend What’s a swarm, you ask? Swarming is a natural way for bee colonies to propagate, producing new colonies for the world. It is a totally natural process that occurs in all colonies. Think of it as a means of reproduction, but on a colony-wide scale! There are scores of videos on our youtube channel at http://www.youtube.com/beethinking showing what bee swarms look like and how to catch them. For more on swarming, please refer to: How to Catch a Swarm of Bees. For further questions please contact us directly.
2. Bait & Trap – Swarm traps and bait hives. This can sound intimidating, but we know many brand new beekeepers that tried to lure a swarm and found that no sooner had they built a lure, then they had a colony move in all on their own! Swarm traps and bait hives can be built following simple plans found on the internet. There is also a book called: Swarm Traps and Bait Hives, by McCartney Taylor that we sell. A benefit is that again you would likely be attracting hearty, local bees from your area.
3. Packages - Alternately, you can obtain bees by purchasing a package from a breeder. Generally, packages will be coming from a warm climate such as Arizona, California or Texas and will be shipped to you via the USPS, who will call you quickly once they arrive! Packages generally contain one queen that has been open mated or artificially inseminated, along with 10,000 bees from a few different colonies. The bees are put together in a box containing sugar water syrup in a can (their food supply during travel), and the queen which hangs in a small cage at the center of the box, while the bees around her get used to her scent. A simple internet search for “package bees” will yield many results and providers. If you use this method of obtaining bees, contact us for instructions on how to release the queen, which will be a bit different than in a commercial style of hive.
Getting connected with local beekeepers, especially local foundationless beekeepers, will help you tremendously. A simple internet search for “foundationless beekeeping” and the name of your town, closest major city or even state, will no doubt yield good results and resources. Other search terms that will help are using the name of the hive type you have, and the name of your community or town, such as: “Top Bar Hive, Houston, Texas.” This will lead you to meeting some great folks of all different experience levels. It’s great to have someone to ask questions of, observe, and commiserate with if your bees don’t want to cooperate!
Learn More About Obtaining Bees