This year is my first year having bees on my own-I am so excited! I had a couple questions that I am sure are total newb ones:
Question 1 – Is it better to purchase a new colony or to bait a swarm?
Dewey’s response – When starting, it is better to know you will have a colony, and when it will arrive, so purchasing a package/nuc/established colony is the surest way to get started. You can still seek to bait a swarm – and if one comes to the trap you can always bolster your purchased colony with the captured swarm. You won’t need a complete extra hive but will need an extra box with frames to hold the swarm. Use a sheet of newspaper to unite the swarm with the purchase or if you feel really confident manage the new colony and the trapped swarm as two colonies. You can still plan to unite them later in the fall.
New colonies, whatever their origin, are initially smaller and a joy to inspect but they also have reduced chance of successfully overwintering. Uniting helps improve chances of overwintering.
Question 2 – What are your thoughts on buying used bee equipment?
Dewey’s response – The purchase of used bee equipment entails some risk but has some advantages for establishing a new colony (whether a package, a colony split or a swarm capture). If a nuc is purchased as the starter hive, you are in fact purchasing used be equipment – the frames they occupy at least and, if a wooden nuc box it too may have been previously used.
Our two major concerns with used equipment
- A) Is it standard with your existing equipment or frames and boxes you will be purchasing? Is it in good shape? How can you tell? – well there is the rub.
- B) The second major concern is if are you buying someone else’s problem? Bees with heavy mite population, if used equipment includes the bees, or disease. Of the diseases, most will be cured by good weather and good bees but one disease, American Foulbrood (AFB), will not cure itself and could potentially contaminate your equipment and the equipment of neighboring beekeepers. Even if you don’t think you have neighbors with bees, you do. You can google AFB and get lots of information but until you have seen AFB scale and can recognize you most likely will miss it.
There is used equipment, and then there is used equipment. Equipment with bees is the greatest risk, equipment containing frames that still have comb or ruminants of comb is next in riskiness and if your purchase is of clean boxes, covers, and frames without any comb the risk is very minimal. Brush away cobwebs, any residue and then use new foundation for the frames. No need to seek to sterilize as anything we can do will just be a lot of work for little gain.
If in doubt on whether the equipment is standard size or there could be AFB scale ask an expert to check it out or bring one or two frames with comb, not all of them, to your next local bee meeting and get opinions from others at the meeting. Be prepared to get more than one opinion that may not all agree.
Welcome to the beekeeping family. We wish you great luck in the season ahead!