When is the best time to buy bees? I'm interested in getting into this business.
Also, in what manner? Package bees, nucs, or just from another beekeeper? Any good breeds to get?
The best time is probably in early Spring before the main nectar flow. I started out buying bees in nucs and also bought a package. Nucs are probably the best you can do generally, unless you can buy an entire established hive. The reason I bought package bees was for top bar hivekeeping, the nucs I bought for regular Lang hives.
>When is the best time to buy bees?
Since you are in Maryland, I will defer to someone from the area to address the best time to buy. I don't know when the best time is there.
>I'm interested in getting into this business.
It's a fun business. You can make a living at it, but only if you are frugal because there is no limit to what you can spend on equipment.
>Also, in what manner? Package bees, nucs, or just from another beekeeper?
Of course it depends on what is available and at what price.
A package may or may not do well enough to harvest. The problem is the time delay to build enough comb for the queen to start laying and then for that brood to reach the point that it is emerging. This is the cheapest.
An established 5 frame nuc is easily worth twice as much as a package because the queen is already laying, there is already brood hatching. You can actually expect to get a harvest from a hive started from a five frame nuc.
An established hive, of course should produce a harvest and I wouldn't mind buying them if they were available. Sometimes you can find someone who is retiring and they will sell them reasonably. I would find someone who knows bees to inspect them and see if everthing looks good, but mostly if it looks pretty healthy it's probably ok. But maybe some help at what looks healthy from someone with experience is good.
>Any good breeds to get?
Everyone has their preferences and you will hear plenty, I'm sure. I haven't had any bad ones.
I had several hybrids including Starlines (Dadant) and Buckfasts (B. Weaver). They do really well, but don't reproduce on their own (queens that is) very well. So you have to requeen every year. Sometimes if they decide to supercede the queen you end up with some viscious bees.
I got one Harbo queen this year and it absocnded. Not a large enough sample of Harbos to really give you my opinion. I had a couple of Russian queens from Walter Kelly (who gets them from somewhere else) and they did well. I've bought All Americans from B. Weaver and Italians from Walter Kelly and they both were gentle, productive bees. I have had friends who had Caucasians and Midnights (hybrid Caucasians from Dadant) and they liked them. They were productive and gentle. They used a lot of propolis, which makes it more work sometimes, but one theory is that propolis is how the bees sterilize everything.
I have no experience with any others, but I'm sure the proponents for them will tell you what they are good for. I think most of the breeds are good or people wouldn't bother to keep them. It does seem to take different managment techniques for some of the darker breeds.
It may be that the patern of nectar flow in your area may make some breeds do better than others. Some build up quickly in the spring and do well where the main nectar flow is early. Some build up more slowly and hit their peak in late spring and then stay strong through the fall. The point is you want the population to peak just before the main flow. This flow is different in different parts of the country.
Again they will all probably do ok. Finding what does the best in your location may require some experimentation. Just remember that hives vary greatly even when they are the same breed. Some just do better than others.
You might want to try several hives of each of several breeds and see what happens. Or ask around and see if there is a prefernce in you locale.
I live in northeastern PA, and it gets warm enogh to start here about April 10, or there about. I started out with both nucs and package bees. With nucs, you get a five frame head start, both with comb, and some brood, and that can be important. We tend to have a spring drought around here, and flows are low, but even out later. The best thing I can say, is start when the dandolion is starting to bloom. That would be a good time.
The best time to buy / order your bees is by the end of January. This will ensure that your bees will be deliveried /ready when you want them. If you wait till spring to order them you may well be on the end of the list.
I guess I didn't think clearly about what your question was exactly. Yes, you need to order them in the next month or so to be delivered later. Most people who ship bees know pretty much when the best time to send them to you is. Here it would be sometime in April. But some years I wish I had gotten them earlier and some years I wish I had gotten them later.