Does anyone else out there refuse to purchase bees?
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  1. #1
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    Mar 2016
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    Default Does anyone else out there refuse to purchase bees?

    I am a fairly new beekeeper (4yrs) and still can't bring myself to spending $100-$150 for bees. To give some background, a co-worker of mine got into beekeeping by attending some beginner classes and purchasing a couple nucs. After successfully having them die over the winter, he proceeded to repeat this process for the next 4 years never being able to overwinter a hive successfully. He is financially secure and the cost of equipment and bees was no hardship, he just enjoys having the bees around. So as a challenge I said to him, "You must be doing something wrong, with bee college and 'premium bee stock' you should be a shining success." His reply was, "Do you think you can do better?" (this is all in the friendly spirit of busting balls). Immediately I went into action.

    With my frugal attitude I immediately started researching and reading about bees online and figured out what I needed to do to get me some free bugs. At the same time I began building hive boxes and a bee vac out of scrapwood from work. In the process I found a local CL ad for a honey extractor a bunch of books, 12 supers, 6 deeps (all w/frames), tops, bottoms, honey bears, veil and smoker for about $400.

    With my budget blown, it was time to find some bees. With a few ads on CL, I got 2 swarm calls and 2 calls for cut outs. Please keep in mind, I have never been to a beekeeping meeting, bee school or nothing, just me and the good old internet. The swarms were just like the intenet indicate they would be, I climb a tree, shake them into a box and viola! I am now a beekeeper. The cutouts were on old beat up barns so I figure if I screwed them up I was the only one who would suffer (I didn't even have a bee suit).

    I ended up going into winter with 3 hives of "free-bees" (one of the cut outs absconded) and 30 LB of extracted honey.

    In the spring only one hive survived, but to my delight, one more hive than my friend. I officially "won" the unwritten challenge.

    I have never had an issue with getting free swarms and now get paid for cut outs. I love my mutts, I extracted 200LB honey last year to pay for my hobby and went into winter with 11 hives with 9 survivors in the spring. I have only a logical bias towards local survivors which nature has culled the weak. I do not use chemicals and only feed the bees honey from cut outs.

    Am I crazy or are these imported purchased bees harder to manage than the local survivors?

    I love the free-bees.

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  3. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2015
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    Gresham, Oregon
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    Default Re: Does anyone else out there refuse to purchase bees?

    I started beekeeping late last year and didn't have the proper ammount of time to study on how to aquire free bees. I ended up buying a package and a nuc, both were shipped from California where as i am living in northern Oregon. Both failed to make it past fall. In my newbie opinion I would think that local bees are much more resilient and it would definitely make sense that feral bees are even more so. That's my goal this year. Swarms/Cut outs or bust!

    Great story and congratulations on the bet!

  4. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2014
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    Kraków, Polska
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    Default Re: Does anyone else out there refuse to purchase bees?

    I liked the story too

    Here in Poland we often disscuss on the subject of "local ferals vs bred queens". I wintered 34 TF collonies (first year TF), 27 survived, 7 died - 5 of them were with bred queens (buckfasts). The other two were collonies that probably died because of my mistakes. My mutts survived (however they were not free, I bought them with swarms or overwintered collonies).

    congratulations on Your success

  5. #4
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    Jul 2013
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    Morro Bay, California, USA
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    Default Re: Does anyone else out there refuse to purchase bees?

    In my region, many "free" bees are patently AHB. I get plaintive calls from newbees in August who have bought into the "local survivor" mantra, and now have homicidal bees that they cannot approach.

    Fortunately, AHB have a strong tendency to abscond in the late summer dearth, and the newbees issues with the homicidal maniacs often resolve when the "pet" bees fly off and inhabit some neighbor's soffit.

    If the bees are AHB, requeening early (and via an introduction screen) is often the only solution to creating newbee and suburban landscape adapted colonies.

    In my area, you get what you pay for.

  6. #5
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    May 2015
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    Champaign, Illinois
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    Default Re: Does anyone else out there refuse to purchase bees?

    Good story. You're on your way to becoming a good beekeeper. I urge you to read up on splits and queen rearing. If you like free bees then you're going to love raising your own free bees. Learn to catch swarms, do cutouts, and raise your own new colonies and you'll never buy bees. You'll be selling them to your "bee haver" friend/rival in no time.
    Internet credibility is an oxymoron

  7. #6
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    Jul 2013
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    Pleasant Shade, TN
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    Default Re: Does anyone else out there refuse to purchase bees?

    There are some great posts in this thread and even better concepts. My story is similar to the OP's, at least when it comes to how I have acquired bees. I bought my first colony as a nuc and they prospered. But with swarm calls, cut outs, and a couple swarm traps here and there, I went from 1 hive to 30 in 2 years and that was just doing it in what little extra time I had. Needless to say, I was not anticipating anything close to that. It just "kinda happened". The reason I did things that way is simply because I enjoyed it and still do. I wouldn't say that I am against buying bees but rather Im too independent to do it whether I have the money to purchase bees or not. But not everyone is like that and I by no means expect them to be. Besides, I also don't want to be against buying bees if I anticipate on selling bees. Not everyone is in the situation to acquire bees by swarms or cutouts. Purchasing may be their only option. Can purchased bees be difficult to keep? Most certainly! But so can feral bees if one doesn't know what they're doing. Finding and keeping bees for a year or two is EASY. Maintaining a long term operation is a different story altogether and is where the rubber meets the road in beekeeping whether as a sideline or commercial business. It's just like anything else in life in that respect. Lol, I guess AHB would be a good reason to purchase bees as well! Good thread...
    A man is worth just as much as the things about which he busies himself- Marcus Aurelius

  8. #7
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    Default Re: Does anyone else out there refuse to purchase bees?

    Oh, and one other thing! There are NO free bees. Figure out what an hour of your time is worth and record how many hours are involved in self acquired bees. The amount has a tendency to be astronomical!! That includes building, acquiring, and maintaining equipment. Not JUST going out to catch a swarm.
    A man is worth just as much as the things about which he busies himself- Marcus Aurelius

  9. #8
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    Mar 2016
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    Kendall NY
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    Smile Re: Does anyone else out there refuse to purchase bees?

    Quote Originally Posted by JWChesnut View Post
    In my region, many "free" bees are patently AHB. I get plaintive calls from newbees in August who have bought into the "local survivor" mantra, and now have homicidal bees that they cannot approach.

    Fortunately, AHB have a strong tendency to abscond in the late summer dearth, and the newbees issues with the homicidal maniacs often resolve when the "pet" bees fly off and inhabit some neighbor's soffit.

    If the bees are AHB, requeening early (and via an introduction screen) is often the only solution to creating newbee and suburban landscape adapted colonies.

    In my area, you get what you pay for.
    I completely understand the AHB scenario is major game changer. Fortunately for my area, in the Northeast, it is not a concern unless they have been imported as a package or nuc (further enforcing my local bee desires). I'm sure if I lived in a different region my outlook would be a bit different.

  10. #9
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    Rib Lake WI
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    Default Re: Does anyone else out there refuse to purchase bees?

    No such thing as free bees near me sure there are a few beeks around but to find a swarm that has over wintered and has swarmed again without help not here.

  11. #10
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    Mar 2016
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    Kendall NY
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    Default Re: Does anyone else out there refuse to purchase bees?

    I completely agree there is no such thing as "free bees", as you stated, time is a very valuable thing and I am in no way implying that how I do things is right wrong or indifferent, just curious about other's experiences. Needless to say, I still have to keep my hobby self sustaining on the financial side or the CFO (aka. wife) will put the smack down. I just really enjoy doing the bee thing, I have met a lot of great people I would have never met if I wasn't into it. As for turning it into a major operation, that's not my intent.

    "Free bees" reminds me of ads on CL for a "Free Horse"; no such thing as well. Thanks!

  12. #11
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    Mar 2015
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    Kamloops, BC, Canada
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    Default Re: Does anyone else out there refuse to purchase bees?

    My "local" bees have been stronger coming out of winter compared to queens brought in and are more ready for the spring flow that is starting. My queens raised locally have overwintered better in nucs compared to imported queens that came from Saskatchewan.

    I bring in some queens for some genetic diversity every year, but base of my stock is more and more local.

  13. #12
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    Default Re: Does anyone else out there refuse to purchase bees?

    Quote Originally Posted by DR Beers View Post
    "Free bees" reminds me of ads on CL for a "Free Horse"; no such thing as well. Thanks!
    Oh there is a such thing as free horses, They usually cost you far more in the long run. And it does not cost any more to maintain a quality horse than it does a free one!

  14. #13
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    Hamilton, Alabama
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    Default Re: Does anyone else out there refuse to purchase bees?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tenbears View Post
    it does not cost any more to maintain a quality horse than it does a free one!
    Same is true of bees. Costs the same to maintain a dink as to maintain a colony that produces 200 pounds of surplus honey.
    NW Alabama, 47 years, 22 colonies and growing, sideliner, treatment free since 2005, 14 frame square Dadant broodnest

  15. #14
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    Default Re: Does anyone else out there refuse to purchase bees?

    From my perspective, losing hives is easy, and for the most part it's not the bees fault.... lets disregard the treatment vs non-treatment argument, but if you properly manage your hive(s) and go into Fall and Winter with a strong healthy colony with a good amount of stores there's really no reason to expect them not to make it. That being said, sometimes weather plays a factor or genetics when the bees brood up too early or too much then get a sudden cold snap or consume an unreasonable amount of stores in winter. I guess my point is, blaming the bees or thinking the strain of bees has anything to do with someone who buys bees year after year after year is giving the person way too much credit in their beekeeping skills no matter what amount of classes or clubs they go to. Having a certain strain or local bees might help them in the short run, but honestly I'm betting it's their lack of being able to apply what they've learned and evolve their beekeeping methodology that is ultimately the issue. I lost a lot of hives last year, and yes, if they were more mite resistance it would've have been so bad, but ultimately I always have to blame myself for losing a colony.

  16. #15
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    Saltair, OH
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    Default Re: Does anyone else out there refuse to purchase bees?

    Congrats on the big win and for getting things figured out! I'm also in Year 4 of keeping bees and this year I refuse to buy any more bees. Ive never treated with anything but I've gone through about $1200 worth of Georgia package bees, and I've learned the hard way they don't survive Ohio winters. It's been really frustrating and I almost gave up. After the first 3 years bees all died except for 1 local nuc that last year I used to make my own queens from, and then trapped 2 swarms. I went into winter with 10 colonies and so far I'm coming out with 7. The ones that died out? Yep, packages.

    Beekeeping is LOCAL and I've come to the conclusion that I can get hardier survivor bees for free by making my own Queens and trapping swarms. This year I'll use that survivor stock to make more queens and try to capture more swarms. Life is good.

  17. #16
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    Default Re: Does anyone else out there refuse to purchase bees?

    I got my best bees from a neighboring beek who raised his from local swarms he caught and selected the survivors to breed from. Been doing it for years. He never buys bees and his are well-cared for. I traded him for a nuc and wow.
    Internet credibility is an oxymoron

  18. #17
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    Greene, (Upstate) NY. The Great USA
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    Default Re: Does anyone else out there refuse to purchase bees?

    SHHHHHH! Im trying to sell some nucs!!!!!

  19. #18
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    Roanoke, VA, USA
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    Default Re: Does anyone else out there refuse to purchase bees?

    JWChestnut, I didn't realize that AHB were as far north as beautiful Morro Bay. Condolences. Reparations are in order.

    And all -- it took 5 years but a large swarm moving in is a thrill.
    4 years, 5 hives

  20. #19
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    Default Re: Does anyone else out there refuse to purchase bees?

    Quote Originally Posted by JRG13 View Post
    From my perspective, losing hives is easy, and for the most part it's not the bees fault.... lets disregard the treatment vs non-treatment argument, but if you properly manage your hive(s) and go into Fall and Winter with a strong healthy colony with a good amount of stores there's really no reason to expect them not to make it. That being said, sometimes weather plays a factor or genetics when the bees brood up too early or too much then get a sudden cold snap or consume an unreasonable amount of stores in winter. I guess my point is, blaming the bees or thinking the strain of bees has anything to do with someone who buys bees year after year after year is giving the person way too much credit in their beekeeping skills no matter what amount of classes or clubs they go to. Having a certain strain or local bees might help them in the short run, but honestly I'm betting it's their lack of being able to apply what they've learned and evolve their beekeeping methodology that is ultimately the issue. I lost a lot of hives last year, and yes, if they were more mite resistance it would've have been so bad, but ultimately I always have to blame myself for losing a colony.
    First off, I want to say I appreciate your perspective and my perspective may be different but that does not make anyone right or wrong. I am a firm believer in the quote: "The sole false opinion is the one that claims to be the only one".

    From my perspective, mother nature knows what she is doing and will correct herself when things get out of balance. We might not like the things she does, but she is the ultimate ruler and will "take back" the things we medal in to the point of disrepair. In a small micro chasm, beekeeping has these elements. Bees have existed in nature for many years without treatment and human intervention. Its only when they fail to perform the way we have trained them do we show great concern for their well being. I have lost colonies due to my lack of education and inexperience, BTW these were some of the greatest learning experiences in my development with respect to bees. I believe it is the arrogance of human beings that we all believe (myself included) we can control nature. I don't believe it is always mismanagement which results in the loss of a colony. Sometimes nature does what it does and it isn't something we did wrong. logic dictates that not all colonies need to survive or we would be overrun with bees. I am not so callus as to allow a colony to die when I know a simple intervention on my part could save it. On the other hand, when a situations are too far gone, I have to accept that nature is taking it back, or maybe I did something wrong. We all know the simple act of beekeeping is interfering with nature, I just try to keep my intervention to a minimum.

    Where I have seen people who enter the hobby get led stray is they gather all their information from commercial or large scale beekeeping operations. These operations require a much different mentality and method of operation than a person with a couple hives. The big guys have to deal with different problems than a hobbyist, they also need to be successful for their livelihood, so they are trying to get the "best bees" out there and have to treat, feed, transport, re-queen and the list goes on. For a hobbyist, there is a great amount to be learned from the big guys, they have seen it all and done it all, but it needs to be looked at with a reasonable perspective. A simple comparison would be a person who has a couple pet dogs to a person who breeds champion show dogs. Both are raising dogs but their needs and management will be remarkably different.

    Just food for thought.

  21. #20
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    Default Re: Does anyone else out there refuse to purchase bees?

    On the flipside DR Beers.... with the little friendly competition, you partially attribute your success to the local survivor bees..... yet you know nothing of their origins, but this could be moot. How do you know that you didn't win just because you're already a better beekeeper than the other guy, w/o classes etc...

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