Bees can be shipped to you in the mail, which is both clever (or at least thought to be a decade ago) and a little bit scary for everyone involved. At a commercial queen raising company in Georgia or one of the other southern states, a newly mated queen is put into a wooden-framed, mesh-sided box with a feeding can and 3 pounds of her nearest and dearest. All in all, it amounts to 10,000 possibly cranky bees in a flimsy looking, open air crate, appearing ready to burst out in an angry swarm at the slightest provocation (or so it may seem to the average postal worker.) Unless you have a local beekeeper willing to sell you a 'nuc' (a 5 frame starter hive) or a local bee supplier who stocks package bees and isn't too terribly far away, ordering bees through the mail is a good (and sometimes lone) option. It's fast, easy, and barring any disasters, convenient, although it is now generally considered to be stressful for the bees.
Bees came into my life via a 4 A.M. call from the local post office on a school night.
"Mr. ONeal, we have several, uh, boxes of, erm... bees here."
"Bees? OH! They came already? That's exciting!"
"Uh... yes sir, it sure is. Since you're up, do you think that you could come and pick them up? The bees... the bees are attracting other bees."
"I'll be there as soon as I can."
Our phone was loud, so my parents were already awake. We rushed to put on clothes, jumped in our shitty Dodge Caravan and booked it to the Post Office.
I had never even been into the back of the Post Office, and any other time I would have been terribly curious about the sorting machinery and other mechanical contraptions hiding in the dark and murky depths of the sorting room, but I... I was on a mission.
They really were attracting more bees! On the outside of each crate a 5 or 10 bees were crawling, communing with their trapped brethren, but a quick brush of our hand dislodged them and sent them flying, to the dismay of the locals. We picked up our bees and walked out of the Post Office like saviours, the postal workers all breathing sighs of relief.
I called in sick to school and got to work.
Notes for the aspiring beekeeper:
These days, many beekeepers prefer not to order bees through the mail for a variety of reasons. The containers they ship in really are cheap (but surprisingly strong!) and if the feeding can comes loose, it can and will squish every bee in the box. I've had that happen to me, and it was sorely disappointing. Plus, package bees are open to the vagaries of the USPS. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night may stop the postal service, but the bees sure won't be happy about it and the stress from the shipping process may make them more susceptible to infections and parasites.
A better option for many is to source the bees locally, from a local bee supply house (BetterBee and Dadant both have upstate New York branches) or a local beekeeper. Not only will the bees generally be bred locally and thus be suitable for the local environment, but they'll be less stressed starting out, which is good for everyone involved.