New Packages Absconded and Hive Relocation

Howdy All,

I recently installed 3 packages on March 24th, 2023. Two of them absconded and I hope maybe someone can share some insight to what I may have done wrong and what to do at this point with the leftover bees that remain.

Before last week, in my 2 years of beekeeping, I’ve installed 4 packages myself. My first hive absconded with my Flow Hive set up. I think the reason they left is because the kit comes with foundationless frames so there was a lot of room in the deep with just empty frames and it was hard for them to maintain an appropriate temperature for brood. They left a wee bit of comb with eggs inside. When I installed the second package in the same Flow Hive weeks later, my mentor gave me some of his drawn frames to insert to make it “more homey” and they stuck around.

Last year, I installed 2 packages in brand new regular hives and was pretty nervous about absconding happening again. I left the queens in their boxes but after a few days, I let them both out since it appeared the colonies were drawing out comb on the wax foundations and were eager to get started. They stayed and both had great seasons.

Last week on March 24th, I received 3 packages. Two of those packages I installed in my rooftop apiary. For one hive, I released the queen from her box immediately, the other was kept in her box. I kept an eye on them for the rest of the day but something seemed off about the hive I released the queen from. The next day it rained, so two days later (yesterday) I checked on them and half the colony was gone. The other hive had an overwhelming amount of bees swarming the queen box. I wonder if some of the other bees joined this colony? They were relentless is swarming her box and part of me also wonders if this was not a good sign and what should I have done differently? I released her and later that day they left and the other bees from the other hive had left as well.

The boxes I installed these two packages were new. Unlike the other boxes, I didn’t coat them in paint. Instead I used an oil (only on the exterior) that I typically use for sealing my wooden cutting boards. I also used old frames from a dead out hive that had some dead bees in it. They died from the cold, not from mites.

These two packages were installed next to four hives that are doing well, I’m wondering what happened to all the leftover bees that did not leave with the swarm (if that is what indeed happened). Do they join other colonies nearby?

On a side note, I relocated my hives last week due to roof construction using the method of closing off the hives at night, waiting over 24 hours and then reopening. There is a cluster of a couple hundred bees that returned to the original hive location. I caught them and rehomed them with the few hundred bees leftover from the absconded packages. Now I don’t know what to do with this small cluster of bees that I have leftover. Part of me wants to give them a frame of eggs from a well off hive and hope they can make a new queen. Part of me wants to add them the existing hives, but I don’t know if I would risking them attacking the queen. I don’t want to take away resourced from a hive for a cause that might not make sense.

The third package I installed in my backyard into my Flow Hive. I released the queen immediately and she went in between the frames obligingly and at the moment, that hive appears to be doing well. But it’s still too early to tell I guess.

Any insight is appreciated and hoping to learn from making expensive mistakes.

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Hi Tamar, I think your mentor had a good idea of giving the bees a hive that feels “more homey”.

Respectfully, how would you like to be placed in a house containing dead bodies? you would probably abscond as well.

As small as they are, it’s amazing how smelly dead bees get over time. Also any bee bread in those frames could get smelly as well. The result being an overwhelming smell that will drive bees out of the hive. The only thing that could hold them is fresh brood, & a lot of it.

You could smear the entrance with 1 or 2 drops of lemongrass oil, to cancel out any odor from the oil you coated the outside of the hive with.

In relation to the leftover bees: I would give them a frame of brood, containing eggs, with a good covering of nurse bees. If you can find a frame of mostly sealed & emerging bees, that also has some eggs, that would be ideal because the bees can make an emergency queen, aided by the nurses. Plus the emerging bees will add to the population, & reinforce the nurses.

Because you are in the start of spring, your strong colonies will quickly replace any brood you remove from them. You could probably donate a frame of brood to the weaker colonies, say once every 7-10 days.

A good way to introduce nurse bees to a weak colony is to shake bees from brood frames (minus the queen of course) onto a sheet on the ground. The older bees will fly back to their original hive, leaving the nurse bees on the sheet. After a few minutes & all of the older bees have left, it’s just a matter of placing the entrance of the weak hive adjacent to the bees on the sheet. Almost instantly the nurse bees will enter the weak hive, where they will be welcomed. You can shake bees from multiple hives into the same spot, where they will join as one, giving a greater number.

I hope some or all of this helps, cheers

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Welcome to the forum :cherry_blossom: You’ve made some great observations and are asking a lot of very good questions. I agree with @JeffH’s points and wanted to add some further thoughts.

This is a very good point that I think other newbeeks getting ready to install a package in a brand new hive in cold climates should think about. A package is basically an artificial swarm, with the power to build comb with astonishing speed given a strong nectar flow and stable temps, or to simply leave and install themselves in a home of their own choosing as yours did that year. Feeding is crucial for fueling comb-building but also for keeping warm, whether or not you have drawn comb to add. In our region I would definitely put some insulation around the top and outside of the box for any package or split given the freezing overnight temps and small windows of only slightly warmer ones later in the days at this time of year.

Here’s your answer to your own question about another key aspect of ensuring a package will stay put:

These bees stayed, and then the next year your two new packages didn’t, because given what you described, you seem to have let one of the queens out too soon and the other out to a clearly hostile group of workers. All package bees are meeting a new queen for the first time, basically out of nowhere instead of raising her themselves or being brought up with her already there. So they need time to get used to her, and things go badly if she’s exposed to workers who haven’t accepted her. What you saw and described as “swarming” is called balling - when workers surround an unwanted queen in order to bite, overheat and kill her. Those bees had not yet processed the fact that they were no longer with the original queen in the colony they came from, and regarded the package queen as an intruder. Close observation of worker behavior and careful timing is a must for deciding if and when to release a new queen.

Which you’ve now observed and are now that much more experienced with :+1: