Honeyflow.com | FAQ's |

Mann Lake Bee Packages - Get ready for the Bee Bus shipping container!

Part One - Ordering and Shipping

We lost a hive last year to Varroa (started treatment a couple of weeks too late) and then we lost a second hive in February to incredible storms with horizontal rain and 70mph winds. It was too late to order a nucleus locally, so we were delighted to read that Mann Lake is starting to supply shipped packages of bees. Even better, the packages are bred by Olivarez Honey Bees. We have bought their queens in the past, and they are unfailingly high quality and gentle.

This post will be long, as we came across a lot of speed bumps and difficulties, but it might help you if you ever place an order with Mann Lake for a package. Having said that, I would definitely order from them again in the future.

Many US beekeepers will know that it is incredibly hard to find a supplier who is willing to ship bees. It is allowed by the US Post Office, but most other carriers (FedEx, UPS etc) will only ship queens, not packages. One thing to keep in mind is that the Post Office doesn’t handle many bee packages, so you may have to deal with terrified USPS employees! :blush: Anyhow, hats off to Mann Lake for providing this service, and I really hope that they continue to do so in the future.

We placed our order in mid-March. It was incredibly difficult to find the estimated shipping date on the web site, and it doesn’t tell you when you order. However, if you click on the photo of the bee package you want to order, a list appears:

Our estimated date was April 1st - more fool me? :smile: Mann Lake promised to send a tracking number once the bees shipped, and they did so on the final invoice. Our final ship date was April 3rd - a Wednesday, with shipping time of 2-3 days. Meanwhile we looked at the installation instructions and photos on the Mann Lake web site - all traditional wood and wire mesh boxes and instructions for those, as you have probably seen on countless YouTube videos. The tracking number kept showing “Label Created”, but never showed the package in transit. We decided to be patient, but when it got to Saturday April 6th late morning, and still no bees, we started to worry. If they had shipped on the 3rd, and we had to wait until the 8th, there may be a lot of dead bees.

So we called Mann Lake on Saturday 6th, and a very helpful lady told us that our tracking number was wrong. She gave us 2 new ones, but told us that her system just confirmed that the bees were handed to USPS, but there was no information about where they were. She suggested we went to our local Post Office - Saturday at 11:45. We ran! We gave them the tracking numbers, and the most senior person was unable to work out what was going on. She also scolded us for having them shipped Priority Mail (live animals are always meant to be Express Mail), even though we had no control over shipping speed. She told us that we had to go to the City Post Office and ask for a supervisor.

OK, we had a couple of hours before the main sorting/city Post Office closed, so we raced off to see what we could do. Suffice it to say that after about 40 minutes of searching, the main office had no idea where our packages were, and thought that one tracking number may be “unused” - i.e. never shipped. Discouraged, we drove all the way back home. We were just considering what to do next, when our mail carrier (who had already delivered our mail 4 hours earlier) came running up our steps and told us that the Supervisor wanted us to go back to main office, as a truck had just arrived with our bees on it.

With more excitement than a couple of 5 year olds on Christmas morning, we raced to the main Post Office. After about 15 minutes, we were presented with a moderate-sized plastic box. We were expecting 2 wood crates. The USPS staff were clearly terrified of the buzzing, and had put the package in one large plastic mail carrier box (the corflute type) with another box on top. I asked if I was allowed to take it out and carry with my bare hands, or if that was against regs. They gave permission, so I did so, and they looked amazed! :smile: These plastic boxes are so well designed, I doubt that a stinger could reach through any way, but the bees weren’t in a mood for stinging, they were just confused.

Another 30 minutes was spent in the Post Office (bees now in an air-conditioned car) looking for the second package. I have to say that the USPS staff were extremely helpful and courteous, but confused about why we had a second tracking number. Finally, they promised to call us if they found the second package of bees.

So we headed home to start the installation. Part 2 will describe our adventures with that. :blush:

6 Likes

oh how exciting! Are you going to change up your treatment schedule to keep on top of the Varroa? I’m excited for you!

1 Like

I wish we could. We got back from a trip last Fall (October) to find a hive ravaged and a load of crawlers on the hardscaping around the hive. We had already treated them in July and August. We immediately started treating again, but 3 weeks later, they were goners. Very sad. :sob: :cry:

2 Likes

Part Two - Installation Hiccups

We got the package home and both were in great shape, even though they had been in transit for 4-5 days. Lots of bees walking on all surfaces of the “Bee Bus”. So we park the packages in a sheltered shady spot (shed with outside temps in the mid 60s Fahrenheit) and open the shipping envelope which has instructions. The instructions are for a wood shipping container. To add to the confusion, they are written by Kelley, not Mann Lake. Very confusing, until you realize that Mann Lake recently bought Kelley. :blush:

OK, well the instructions have a link to instructions. Of course the link is also for a wood package. :thinking: Back to looking at the package. It has “Bee Bus” stamped on the outside. Never heard of it, and it looks impregnable. We didn’t know this, but the “THIS WAY UP” label was on the bottom of the package - somebody in the Post Office can’t read. Of course it was sticky from food leakage too, and feral foragers were collecting on the outside to get a free lunch! On a more leisurely inspection, it looked like two packages were zip-tied together. Very difficult to see. So we rotated the package through 90 degrees to upright, and went indoors to search for decent instructions.

The first hit I found on Google from the manufacturer of the “Bee Bus” was helpful, but worrying. We found some instructions on separating the two packages, so we did that first - not worrying after doing it, and not hard. However, when I clicked on the “Bee Bus” video, I was horrified at their handling of bees. OK, commercial guys may have different standards, but this was something else:

I wish I had seen this one instead. Scroll down to the video link at the bottom right:
http://bee-pros.com/beeBus.html

For the bees, we did the installation almost as shown first video for the first hive. However, the queen cage was a surprise. The instructions described a plastic JZBZ queen cage. There were alternate instructions which described a wood queen cage with candy. When we extracted the queen cage from the Bee Bus, her cage wasn’t what we were expecting at all. It was a California mini-cage:

Well fine, but we thought there would be candy in the escape hole. So we pulled out the cork expecting to have candy in the tunnel. WRONG!!! Result, unmarked queen flies off into the sunset. Hot dang!!! I was so depressed (because I removed the cork, so it was my fault), I was willing to give up beekeeping right there. Well, we still had another package to install, but by now I was so discombobulated (and it was 6:45pm), I couldn’t handle another installation.

So we went out for dinner instead. Part 3 will be “How it should go” :smile:

1 Like

Part Three - How It Should Go

OK, we regrouped on Sunday. We now knew how to open the package. We knew that the queen cage had no candy in it. So here is what we did, step-by step. Be warned, there are many steps, but if you have to do this yourself, this should help a lot.

  1. Prepare 8 frames of drawn comb (we have had enough hives in the past that we had spares). If you don’t, make up enough frames of foundation or foundationless frames to fill the size of box you are going to use.
  2. Measure the Bee Bus. For an 8 frame Langstroth deep, you can put in 2 frames of drawn comb. That is it. No more. Honest. If it is just foundation (or foundationless), you may be able to squeeze more in. If you have a 10 frame box, you may get 4 frames in, but I can’t lift that size so you need to measure for yourself.
  3. Do not use smoke. Packages have no stores to gorge on if you smoke them. They just panic. Besides which, they are 90% nurse bees who are not looking for a fight, and they don’t have anything to defend yet. Smoke is gratuitous punishment for no gain. :blush:
  4. Lift up the tabs which hold the syrup feeder in the cage - they are hard to see if you are aged 50+, but they lift easily with the corner of a hive tool.
  5. Slide the feeder panel cover off and discard (recycle). Take a breath or two, you are going to need it. :smile: You will not have let any bees loose at this point.
  6. Tap the transport package box sharply but gently on the ground about 3 times to shake the bees down. This is for their own good. You are about to lift the feeder can out, and if there are bees on it, their legs may well get damaged as you lift = death for those bees. They will be far less traumatized if you tap them down first by bumping the carrier box on the ground, making sure that the feeder is at the top.
  7. Lift out the can and set on one side while holding the queen cage in place with a thumb. The cage has a flexible metal tab which slides into the top of the package box, and when you pull the feeder can out, you can slide the queen cage out. For these current Mann Lake packages, be aware that the queen cage has no candy and no attendants. Once you remove the cage, you are committed to taking care of the queen yourself. It doesn’t matter what the printed instructions say, please check on the candy/attendants/queen cage structure before you go any further.
  8. Put the feeder can back in if you need any time to think or plan (we did need time).
  9. Attach the queen cage to the hive wall side of frame number 2 with a rubber band (frame 1 is up against the hive box wall). Put the mesh side of the queen cage down, so that bees can come up and feed her. Put the frame into the hive for now.
  10. Go back to the package. We tapped down the package once more, then put the whole plastic box into the hive box with only 2 wood hive frames inside the wood hive box. We lifted the feeder can out of the package after putting the whole plastic box inside the hive body. We then put an inner cover on top, and let everything calm down for an hour or so. When you do this, the package bees go out and explore the frames, and by the time you come back, more than half should have taken themselves out of the shipping box.
  11. If there are a lot of bees left in the box (there were for us), work out how to flip the latches to open the ends of the box. It isn’t intuitive, so make sure you align your hive tool with the long side of the box - don’t go in parallel to the end panel! :blush: Then just gently shake out any remaining bees - we had about 2,000 left (enough to coat 2 sides of a Langstroth deep frame). There were only about 300 - 500 dead bees in the bottom of the package. Hard to tell really, but it looked incredibly high quality to us.
  12. Deal with the queen. I used a one handed Mann Lake queen catcher for the next step. I don’t like having unmarked queens. I am in a very urban location, and if my hive goes feral, my neighbors get VERY upset, very quickly. The queen shipped with the package was not marked. She was also in a cage with no attendants and no candy. Here is the catcher that we use for this queen:
    https://www.mannlakeltd.com/one-handed-queen-catcher
    The method that we used was to have David hold the queen cage mesh side up. I had the queen catcher and a marking pen pre-loaded with paint. The queen catcher screen was about 50% open. We held the queen cage over the package hive, just in case she fell out of the cage. When the queen walked away from the cork plug, David levered it out with a pocket knife and I immediately pushed the wood cage up to the opening in the plastic queen catcher with the plunger fully retracted (plenty of space for her majesty). I then put my thumb over the opening while I slid the mesh back across the catcher. Tricky but possible because this is a good piece of equipment.
  13. Mark the queen. Now the queen is in the catcher and the pen is ready, so I gradually advance the foam towards the soft bars of the catcher. Finally the queen is immobilized, I and put a beautiful fluorescent green spot on her thorax.
  14. While she sulked at the paint assault, we rearranged the frames to normal spacing, as we had spaced them out previously to make room for her cage.
  15. About 10 minutes later, we put the queen catcher very gently over the largest concentration of bees. They were very interested and not at all aggressive towards her, so we retracted the flexible screen, and within 30 seconds, she was happily diving into the frames of her new hive.

Part Four will be about “What happened with the one that went all wrong?” :blush:

2 Likes

Welcome to your new home little bee bus bees. :+1::grinning::honeybee:

2 Likes

Novice beekeeper here. Eagerly awaiting Part 4.

1 Like

Part Four - What happened when the queen flew off

Monday morning we called Mann Lake and asked to speak with a manager. David carefully explained all of the problems to a very helpful manager named Jenna, and explained that because of a faulty description of the queen cage, we had lost one queen. She listened to all of our comments and feedback very carefully. She immediately offered to ship out a replacement queen the same day. We were amazed! What service!!

Next day, the UPS guy runs up our front steps with a live queen in a special shipping box. She came direct from Olivarez honey bees. Unlike the original queen, she was in a California 3-hole cage with 5 attendants and candy. She was just beautiful - lively, and with a superb green dot on her thorax. No need for my clumsy marking attempts! Many thanks to Christina P at OHBees who organized the shipment. That team really rocks.

Later that same day, we opened the hive with the queenless package bees. It was still full of busy golden yellow bees, working hungrily at the feeder bucket we had put on top of the inner cover. We removed the cork from the candy end of the cage, and used a darning needle to poke a whole almost through the candy. We probably could have direct released her, as the package had been separated from their previous queen for 3 days. However, we didn’t want to risk it, and opted for a candy exit.

We put the cage with mesh facing down on the face of the third frame, and unlike the ohbees.com video (https://youtu.be/7PJLIDYgqGw), we also secured it in place with a rubber band.

Watching the bees for a couple of minutes, they were happy to see the queen and immediately began trying to feed her. There were no signs of aggression, like biting or attempting to sting, so we replaced the frame and closed up the hive.

Within about 20 minutes, the noisy buzzing which is typical of a queenless roar had settled down to a peaceful hum. They seemed to be very happy with their new monarch. Magical moments. :smile:

Final thoughts

  1. This installation was complicated by a lack of accurate instructions. Mann Lake’s manager, Jenna, was exceptionally receptive to our feedback, and promised to use our suggestions to improve the experience for future customers.
  2. Mann Lake immediately put right the accidental loss of our queen. Very impressive.
  3. The bees are gorgeous, very gentle and the packages were very healthy. I would thoroughly recommend Olivarez Honey Bees, especially for new beekeepers.
  4. We are delighted that Mann Lake has decided to take on the challenge of shipping packages. As we live in southern California, there is always a risk that local sources of bees will be partly africanized. We really hope that they continue to provide this resource, and recommend anyone who wants a nice package to consider Mann Lake’s offerings.

Sorry for the marathon thread, but I wanted it to be useful for anyone who comes across a Bee Bus package, and for new beekeepers looking for a reliable source of gentle bees. :blush:

4 Likes

Thank you for the encouragement. Sorry it was so long! :smile:

2 Likes

It isn’t too long at all!

I live in Texas, and some of the local beekeepers have told me that almost all of the local hives have some AHB genetics. We purchased a nuc locally and haven’t had any problems (I don’t even wear a veil when I lift the cover off the hive to feed, and our hive completely ignores my very curious 9 year old observing very closely), but even as a brand new beekeeper I’m aware of the issues. I noticed Mann Lake was selling bee packages (and queens if I’m willing to drive), so I was wondering how that experience would go.

We’re thinking about starting another hive next year if this one works out for us. It’s always good to have options… (Though if people keep talking about swarms in the Nextdoor app, I may have to see if I can catch one in the now vacant nuc box…)

2 Likes

Well, now you have all of the gory details! :smile: At least the packages come with nice queens. I have been buying Olivarez (and Big Island) queens for a couple of years, and they are always good quality, gentle queens. If your hive turns nasty, I highly recommend them for requeening. They ship them using a rapid delivery with UPS, so the chances of them arriving in great condition is very high.

The only caveat is that they are very popular, and you may have to wait a month or two to get a queen. Also, their web site often shows Sold Out, but if you call, they can give you an estimated ship date.

Oh and by the way, welcome to the Flow forum! :blush:

1 Like

Thank you!

Yeah, the advice I’ve had here is the moment your hive gets “hot,” requeen as soon as possible. It’s great to have a resource for that, if I find myself in that position.

1 Like

What are AHB genetics?

1 Like

Africanized Honey Bee. Makes for some aggressive hives around here, though some people claim they are resistant to varroa (I don’t know, I’m too new to mess with that).

2 Likes

They are also complicated. :blush: It isn’t just one or two genes, and there is a concept that mitochondrial types (not just the genes in the cell nucleus) can influence the aggressiveness of AHB too.

The reason that they may be more resistant to Varroa is that their larval stages are much shorter than European honey bees, by about 2 days. It means that queens can emerge very fast, but of more relevance to Varroa, the shorter stage to emerging of drones (21 vs 23 days from egg laying) messes with the Varroa life cycle in a major way. Add to this workers emerging after only 19 days, and Varroa has trouble maturing with the pupae.

2 Likes

That makes perfect sense though I thought AHB was going to be like the All Hated Beetle or something. :joy::joy::joy::+1::honeybee:

3 Likes

They made super bees. To bad they are killers.

Oh, I have All Hated Beetles too. Weather was awful today, but I’m getting into the hive tomorrow to have a look and squish any interlopers I find, and oil traps are on order for delivery this week.

Plan to install those next weekend and try my first suger roll at that time as well.

Thankfully my bees are pretty docile. This is all new to me, so…

I’m not sure they’re really killers in most instances. There are people that just deal with the aggressive tendencies, always wear full bee suits, and swear their hives are vigorous and making tons of honey. They may have a point.

Hmmmm. Be careful what you wish for! When your veil goes black from bee bombardment and multiple stings go through your leather gloves, it isn’t much fun. My hubby got around 60 stingers in a sock, once they found a way to his ankles.

:thinking: