Learning about Package Bees

While many people buy package bees every year, I want to approach this from a beginners point of view. To do this, you first need to know what package bees are and how they differ from Nucs or other colonies of bees.

To do this, we need to back up a bit and cove just how a package of bees are put together and marketed. When we think of bees, the first thing that comes to mind is the fact they are a collective making a colony. Each has its duties to serve the collective. By those standards, package bees are a failure right out of the gate. At many of the schools, I have been to I hear the success rate of packages as low as 50%. Can we improve on the odds? Or are half of the packages going to fail no matter what we do?

bees in a top Bar hive after installing a package this was the second day after they left the crate on their own this drawn frame came from a different hive (photo by Chris Erwin)

To begin with, packages are bees that have been shaken out of a hundred different hives into a holding box. Then sprayed down with sugar water and scooped up, weighted, and put into creates. The queen came from a different part of the bee yard usually from a small mating box and added to the package in a bee protection cage. At this point, the bees are from random hives and the queen is unaccepted. So it’s no wonder things can go wrong. However, back to the question can we improve our odds of success.

Yes, you can improve your odds. Pick a good hive location. I will cover this in a different article. If possible buy or see if you can acquire a drawn-out frame, you only need one at this point. The drawn-out frame will give your new queen a place to start laying quickly. Once the hive has eggs to take care of the hive will start to become a colony. If your queen doesn’t have any attendant bees in the cage with her, you can remove the cork or cap depending on her cage and hang the cage from the drawn-out frame. If the other bees are trying to feed her, she is being accepted if they look like they are fighting her she needs more time to become accepted. Usually, they are a sugar block on one end of the cage. The bees have to dig her out; this gives her time to become accepted. If she does have attendant bees in there with her, the cage should be placed horizontally so if the attendant bees die they won’t block her from getting out of the cage. You can do that by using a rubber band, to hold the cage, don’t place the cage with the screen side to the frame; this will block her from being fed while she is being released.

You should place the package in the hive open and let the bees come out on their own rather than shake them out of the crate. Add sugar water to an inside feeder to give them an easy start to building new comb.

The one thing you have going for you is bees want to be a colony; it is in their nature to band together and become a collective. Once they have eggs and an accepted queen you have a much better chance to get your new hive off and running.

I will be covering Nucs in another article. If you have an article you would like to publish, please go to the writer’s guidelines and follow the instructions.

I will be producing a video this spring of installing a couple of packages in a nature preserve. Your comments are welcome.


Beekeeper Magazine

Chris Erwin/Author


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