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Buyer Beware

I hate to be a curmudgeon (can you be one of those at 44 years of age?), but I have to whine about something that I encountered tonight. It is more evidence to me that you have to be really careful when buying your bees.

I attended the Richmond Beekeeper’s Association tonight to listen to some talks by 1st year beekeepers and a discussion about mentoring the new beekeepers. During the conversation, someone mentioned a deal that they organize for new packages in the Spring. Effectively, someone collects the orders and picks up a huge load of packages to be delivered to members of the club. All well and good.

In the process, someone (not me, although I do agree with this philosophy) mentioned Nuc’s and how they can be more expensive, but you’re getting local bees that have lived in the area. This is really only one of many reasons, but that was the reason mentioned (and it happens to be the primary reason that I purchase Nuc’s when I am in the purchasing mode). They subsequently mentioned a gentleman who might have Nuc’s available for sale this year. I have had a couple of folks who read the blog contact me about Nuc’s, so I wanted to check this guy out. As mentioned last Summer, I was not at all pleased with the Nuc’s that I received from my bee supplier in Varina and no longer recommend the fellow. I was hoping to find another good source that I could recommend.

As we started talking, I asked him about how he manages his bees. He looked at me quizzically (in retrospect, that was a dumb question to ask) and I explained that I wanted to know if he used chemicals and which ones he used. That was the real question that I wanted answered, but I was a bit off my game after my initial vague question, and went on to mumble several other questions so as not to seem like I was some nut who was going to harangue him for using chemicals on his bees. One question (which I assumed that I already knew the answer to) was “and, for example, how do you choose which of your queens you raise Nuc queens off of, how long have these queen lines been in the area, etc…’ Much to my surprise, he immediately stopped me and shook his head. “I don’t use my own queens. I order my queens from Georgia and put them in my own bees.” I have to say that this is one of the last things I expected to hear.

Now, to his defense, he is getting bees ready far in advance of regular Nuc’s. He’ll probably have his ready at the end of March (most local Nuc’s won’t be ready until May). In addition, he should have a queen that has already been accepted by the bees (you can’t guarantee this with a package.) But, after a couple of months, you basically have a bunch of bees from Georgia. The whole genetics of this Nuc turn to ‘non-local’ right off the bat (well, with a couple of months anyway…) My beef with this is that many (if not most) folks recommend Nuc’s because you are getting local bees. And by ‘bees’, they mean the queen too!

Again, I feel like a whiner, but I can say that this is not what I mean when I say ‘Nuc’. It is another example of ‘buyer beware’ when it comes to purchasing Nuc’s.

6 comments to Buyer Beware

  • Mike Huffman

    I am concerned about your statement about someone selling nucs with Georgia queens.. I have been offered a spring nuc fron a local beekeeper.. I wanted a local swarm for a new hive I am building. Would you e-mail the persons name so I can verify he is not the beekeeper I am buying my bees from. thank you for your beekeeping posts on you website. I am just across the james river from you in Hopewell. Mike

  • Hey Mike – I’ll email you the name of the fellow when I get home tonight (or certainly sometime this weekend, if my old body hits the sofa and I snooze off.)

    take it easy,


  • Doug Ladd

    This is not all that uncommon in other areas, but i wasnt expecting it around here to be honest, but again its basically a settled and started package…

    The only way for VA to avoid packages is large scale overwintering of nucs. Zia Queens in NM sells her overwintered “tested” nucs for a little more than $200 due to the increased labor and the fact they have consumed all the winter losses etc, so they have alot invested versus a spring nuc with a new queen which hasnt proven to sustain a viable colony for any length of time.

    I am planning on selling nucs maybe next year if my grafting goes well this year and things work out with living bees. I am thinking of doing it two ways, early overwintered nucs $175 and typical new queen nucs for $100.

    So far i have healty bees ad queens on their second year with new ones all the time and i maybe able to even supply Russians as well if people want them. along with some TBH nucs…

    But the jury is still out on the pricing, numbers, etc. But we have to get away from buying bees fro afar unless you know your bringing in NEW genetics that you want like Zia Queens, Russians, etc. Overwinter you nucs and make tons of splits…

  • David Stover

    I might take exception to one comment about the Nucs you got from Varina last year. Last summer was a very hard season on bees. Nucs were hard to establish and from a Varina beekeeper who sold nucs I have heard that he really was wrestling with whether to even sell some of these hives to people as they were just not growing as they should. I realize that they were sold to you and maybe they should not have been but beekeeping is not a like buying a sweater from Target. It’s not an exact science and things don’t always go right as you well know. If those nucs make it through the winter I bet they will be very gentle and healthy bees this year.

  • I definitely respect your opinion, David, and certainly agree that you cannot be guaranteed that any Nuc will survive or thrive. But, the problem with my provider was not what the bees did AFTER I purchased them. It was with the fact that one Nuc was only a single frame of bees with another half frame of partially drawn wax and a bit of pollen on the day that I purchased it. Although I am fine if you and other folks are good with this, I simply cannot abide it.

    I have experience with four Nuc providers in the Richmond and Northern Virginia area. I have installed (mine and friends) 13 Nuc’s to date. I have never once received a Nuc in such poor shape as that one (it died, of course.) Of the other two Nuc’s that I received (in early June, mind you) from my previous supplier, one was sufficient and one was 2 frames of bees with one additional frame of honey/drawn wax. The former is a good hive, the latter is a Nuc that I have in one of my overwintered double Nuc’s (and it took a lot of effort, brood from other hives and so forth, just to get to where it is today.)

    In conclusion, I wholeheartedly agree with you that once you get a Nuc, there are no guarantees. But, a ‘frame of bees’ is basically buying a queen, which should not be the same price as a Nuc (nor should it be advertised as a Nuc.) I think that a newcomer to the hobby would not be in the hobby long if he or she received such a Nuc as their first hive.

  • Rachel H.

    Wow, the more I read of your adventures (and misadventures) with the bees, the more thankful I am that we had the blind luck to stumble across you back when we were looking to buy a NUC and take a class in preparation for this Spring!

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