The most common method is through another beekeeper. Some beekeepers sell hives or four frame nucs. Queen breeders sell queens and nucs. Some beekeepers give away bees to start a new person off. Look through the trade and exchange advertisements - bees for sale. Bee clubs advertise bees for sale. The National Beekeepers magazine also carry adds.
Look at the condition of the woodware. Use a screwdriver to determine the timber is sound. Has the hive been opened recently - is it clean and tidy, are the frames easy to remove? Are the frames light in colour, minimum drone comb, adequate honey supplies, has the queen got a good laying pattern, and most importantly are the bees flying well on a warm day? They must also be bringing in pollen.
If a beekeeper is giving up, normally the hives are not in a very good condition and will require a bit of work, replacement frames and woodware. Don't pay too much for an old hive. Sometimes you are just buying the bees, as everything else needs to be replaced. When purchasing a hive second-hand it is vital that you sterilise the hive i.e. frames, woodware etc first as it may carry disease which could spread to other hives and areas.
Note: Concern has been expressed in some quarters in regard to the legality of top bar hives. The NBA is liaising with AFB NPMS Management Agency to gain a ruling on whether top bar hives meet PMS regulatory standards.
You should look to pay approximately $150 for a four super high hive. This can be higher or lower depending upon condition and supply and demand.
Get a Bill of Sale (BOS) as it's the only way of protecting you as the buyer or the seller, and will help if disputes need settling. The BOS should state who owns the bees, who the purchaser is and when the money is due. Provisions should be made if diseases are found within so many months. Hives purchased during the winter should be guaranteed until their first inspection or November.
If AFB is found, will the hive be replaced or will the money be refunded? The chances are very low at 0.5% of apiaries have diseases but it is worth covering yourself. Brands and registration marks on hives should be removed before the sale.
In terms of payment it is best to pay half at the beginning of the transaction and the rest later - after 1-2 months or after your first disease inspection. The agreement must be in writing, signed by both parties and dated.
If you already have hives, quarantine the bees and equipment for at least one season to make sure it doesn't have BL. If it is present, spray the frames with sugar syrup and put them on the hives to clean out. BL will normally show up within a month if it's there but can take up to 18 months.
To catch a swarm, put out a bait hive, a single super with one or two old frames (the rest foundation) inside and an entrance no wider than 2.5 cm on a shed roof. A swarm is attracted to the hive by the smell of the dark frames and bee's wax.