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Package bees - what to expect?


#1

Hi, so I’m a newbie and looking to buy my first package of bees (I’m in Australia).

I’ve seen some places that advertise that they guarantee a pest-free package, and some that don’t. I asked one of the latter whether they do and they said that sometimes a package will contain small hive beetle (though all the other things are only ever spread on the equipment).

I suspect that this may be the case even for the ones that guarantee (though maybe they’ll replace if you do find it)… but thought I should ask first.

What would you expect for a package of bees?


#2

We are Lucky in the UK we can have free inspections done on the bees. Mine were inspected the day I collected them. I went 'round with the owner and inspector - it was very useful but also my bees are pretty darn good.

I have counted 15 Verroa from my hives since June, and apart from very low pollen and nectar this year they seem very healthy.

I would go with and inspected NUC, this may save you down the line


#3

There can never be an ironclad guarantee, I like packages as the chances of disease are very minimal, they generally come from reputable operators doing this for a living, I have never had any issues with the packages in Australia. Anyone can make up a Nuc and sell it and sometimes disease is transferred on the comb which may lay dormant until the colony is stressed. That said, a Nuc will give a few weeks head start on your hive.


#4

Cool thanks - this sounds good to me.

I’d like to go for Nuc - but I’m not getting my flow hive until December… so I figure I get a package in a brand new super in mid-October and it’ll probably only just be ready to put the flow frame on top by Dec… which works better, I think.


#5

Make sure you get your name down for a Package as there is a large demand this year and if you are going through the Hornsby Beekeeping Supplies then get your gear early as they are running low and the next shipment is a couple of months away.


#6

ok, thanks that’s good advice :slight_smile:


#7

The starting up is the tricky part, once you are setup you can create your own colonies. Let me know how you go, more than happy to point you in the right direction. I hear of Nucs for sale from time to time as well as the odd swarm in which you can re-queen to bring them back from the wild if needed.


#8

Since it is impossible to kill every last pest, the people promising “pest free” packages are lying.


#9

Is there something that could/should be done with a package of bees to help prevent introducing pests into the new hive with the bees?


#10

They come with the bees. You are not introducing them…


#11

I just mean is there a treatment or technique to intercept them from going from the package into the hive.


#12

If there was a way to do that the package people would have done it.


#13

Not necessarily… I see what you are saying, but many businesses cut corners to save time and money even though it is not a “best practice”. So I just thought if there was anything else I could do to help out I’d be happy to do it when they arrive.


#14

Hi Adam, there are some basics with packages:

  • closely inspecting for any dead bees at the bottom of the package as an indicator that somethig may not be right
  • any mites on the bees, this could be really difficult to spot inside a package & most likely unavoidable in some regions
  • are there any bees that are shaking, deformed wings or just don’t seem right
  • isolate your bees in a different part of the yard to avoid contamination or robbing while they are trying to buildup their colony
  • don’t spray your package bees down with anything (sugar water or water)
  • don’t use external feeders
  • install your package using the No Shake, No Smoke method to ensure the least amount of stress
  • inspect them regularly paying particular attention to the individual bees for signs of illness/disease

Apart from the above, I am not aware of any other methods to intercept disease or illnesses.


#15

Hi Adam, picking up a swarm can also be risky. Chances are if an apiarist has bees to sell, his hives are reasonably healthy. You wont have to worry about shb until the bees start making brood, the same thing goes with foul brood disease. If your comfortable with antibiotics, you can treat your bees with that if you have any concerns. If you have mites in your area, I guess you’ll have to work on your mite strategy from day one.


#16

Chances are the swarm is from an unmanaged but successful colony. Chances are a package is from several medicated hives propped up and protected by chemicals. I would prefer the swarm any day of the week. Failing bees seldom swarm.


#17

A swarm could also be the result of SHB damage, the hive may have weakened out for some reason (possibly disease), the shb took over so the remaining colony took off. There’s lots of possibilities & risks. If someone is concerned about all the risks, beekeeping may not be for them. I’ve never purchased packaged bees. I bought 3 hives 27 years ago, that’s the only bees I ever paid for.


#18

i think that given my region and the propensity for Africanized bees and the fact that it will be a backyard hive, I feel safer starting back into the hobby with a package. I do like the idea of local bees that are used to the climate and the region and are adapted to it. I just weighed the options and took the one that I felt worked better for me and my situation.


#19

@JeffH From my understanding bees are less likely to swarm if they have been weakened by a small hive beetle infestation as their numbers are reduced and they lack the strength.

Package bees can be a great way to start I just got a package a week ago, so a little early to comment on the how these guys go in the longer term. After watching @Michael_Bush install one and talk about it, I went home and put mine in their new home. Once the hive was set up and in place it took all of about 10 minutes to put them in.
I’ve checked my queen now and she has made it out of her little cage and the bees seem to be happily coming and going from the hive and have built some comb.
@rodderick has done a good detailed article on installing bees on this forum:
http://forum.honeyflow.com/t/installing-package-bees-without-shaking-or-smoke/1508

The method I used was a little simpler, although not quite as gentle:

  1. Setup your brood box with wooden starter strips and put in a good location (somewhere they can stay as it is not a good idea to move your beehive around the yard)
  2. Open the hive pull out about 4 frames
  3. Slide out the feeder from your package then pull out your queen cage placing something over the hole so not too many bees fly out.
  4. Pull the plastic cap off the queen cage so the bees can chew away the candy plug and place the queen in the bottom of the hive (in cold climates it is best to pin the queen cage to the underside of one of your frames so the bees can all huddle and keep warm there).
  5. Cut one side of the mesh off the package an give it one short sharp shake to land all ( or most) of the bees into the brood box.
  6. Put the other frames back in and place the lid on the hive.
  7. Place the empty package close to the entrance but not blocking their flight path so any remaining bees can walk into the hive.

A bit of an over simplification but that was the general idea. Hopefully we will have a video up of Michael installing a package of bees soon. There are plenty of youtube videos some are good but some advocate spraying them with sugar water and smoking them, I think this puts unnecessary stress on the bees.


#20

The dead bees you find after shaking bees in were already dead on the bottom of the package. You do not damage bees shaking them in. You DO damage them if you spray syrup on them. You set them back a lot of you leave the box in to avoid shaking them. But yes, the “cut the screen method” is simple and works great if you don’t need to save and reuse the box.