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! 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? 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! 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.