The beginner can start beekeeping with a stock, a swarm or a nucleus.
A stock is a full or nearly full-sized colony already on combs with a laying queen, brood of all ages, and stores. It is an expensive way to start and a beginner lacks the experience to carry out the necessary swarm-control procedures, so it is not advisable.
A swarm is a variable number of adult bees which have left a hive with a queen but without combs and brood. A prime swarm may consist of thirty thousand bees and will have a laying queen at least one year old. Smaller swarms, which leave the parent colony after the prime swarm, are called casts and contain virgin queens.
Swarms may be available without payment but there is always some risk in taking in a stray swarm. If a prime swarm is available from known bees, this is a good way to start.
The bees are ready to begin wax making and if put on to frames of foundation they will soon draw out combs. In a good season an early swarm might give a little surplus honey the first year but it cannot be expected.
A Nucleus is a small colony of bees on three, four or five frames with a young laying queen, brood and stores. This is a good starting point because a beginner will more easily learn to spot the queen and to examine frames in a small colony, which will develop as his experience does. It will build up to a full-sized stock by the winter, ready to store surplus honey the next season.
Whoever supplies your bees may, if he be local, help you install them in your hive; if not, an experienced beekeeper may lend a hand. The beginner’s first experience of handling bees alone should not be the transfer of a nucleus or the hiving of a swarm.