One of the biggest things about keeping bees is knowing how to get them. Not just any bees, but bees that you can manage. Now that means something different to every beekeeper depending on what goals you have. I have a friend who has a hive he has never done anything with and he has had them for years. They swarm once a year and seem to thrive but that kind of hive is not workable to me. The second you approach it you are greeted with a lot of angry bees.
I once found a hive for sale that was 4 deeps high. The guy was moving and wanted them gone so I was able to pick them up for the price of a package of bees. I have a yard here where I put all new hives until they are at a health level I like, then they can be a part of the production hives. More of a quarantine area you may say. So when I picked up this hive I realized it had not been touched in years, it was true survivor stock and boiling with bees. As I broke apart the boxes it was dark and with a good bit of sugar water in a spray bottle we kept them mostly in the boxes. Once the boxes were reassembled on the truck the stragglers quickly returned to the hive. The next day I went to break up the hive a bit thinking a split or two would help them become manageable. The number of angery bees was overwhelming! They covered my truck and made the job quite hard. Using a couple borrowed hive locations I was able to split that hive up and to this day it is part of my best bee stock.
Every year I get a few new hives of bees. In some areas a package is great but for me up here in the north I prefer a NUC. A NUC is a box of bees typically three frames of brood, a frame of food, a empty frame, and a laying queen. It gives me three week head start on a package. A package is just three pounds of bees in a box with a queen. Plus with a good strong early May NUC I can often get a honey crop to offset the cost of the bees.
I tend to get my bees from local Amish farmers. The ones I deal with don't treat there bees much at all, if any. They are a mutt breed bee that just plain survives. I find this gives me good hardy northern bees, if it makes a huge difference I have no idea. I will tell you this though, more often than not those northern bees will give me a good honey crop the first year and they rarely have health issues. If they are a bit testy I may re-queen them with one of my more docile queens but that is all I do. Now for the sake of full disclosure those bees tend to be full of mites. I treat them in the quarantine yard and get them all clean and healthy before bringing them into my other hive yards.
The last thing I will admit is I get a couple Nucs from one of the "bee jockey" guys each year. I have one guy I have used for years and I enjoy working with him. The bees he gets are no doubt from the south. They are a few weeks ahead of ours and I often rob them of extra brood to bump any slower hives I have just starting here in the north.
Swarms! Ok, a lot of true old time beekeepers don't really seem to care much for swarms but to me, I love them! I catch them re-queen them and use them as I would a package because I truly think a group of bees that swarms will swarm again unless you make a change. The queen in that swarm may be one or three years old, you just don't know. But by putting in one of my queens I know exactly what I have. Late season swarms will be wintered and treated as a single deep with a sugar board ,(lots of sugar on the top), this will help it through the winter.
With all of these hives up here in the north I try to get every last working day I can! I feed them in the spring heavy with pollen and syrup. This will get the numbers up and ready to make honey. The second I put on my honey supers I stop all feeding so we have nothing but all natural goodness in our honey. Then once I harvest I feed them again to help them build back up the honey I have taken. Then before winter I put on a sugar board even though I am pretty sure I am doing it more for myself than the bees. The thought of a few hundred of my little bee buddies hungry and cold in the winter bothers me, so I do my best to be sure that they are taken care of the best that I can. I will even check them in the later winter months and add any feed they may need.
This week it will reach mid 40's I will take a look into the hives and add feed to any that look a bit light.
Good luck and Bee good!