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My package bees are a bust: what now?

May 06, 2019 2 Comments

My package bees are a bust: what now?

It is common in early May to hear the cries of disappointment from people who bought their package bees from a hardware chain or other retailer not focused on beekeeper education and support.

Many companies will have supplied new, inexperienced beekeepers with packages of bees, which contain a couple thousand bees and a live queen. Beekeepers shake these packages into a new hive and add the queen. If fed syrup and pollen substitute until natural sources become available, these packages can grow well and explode on the dandelion flow.  

Four common issues

However, package bees are inherently delicate.  Here are four common pitfalls encountered in the first month:

  1. Queen is dead on arrival
  2. Some or most of the bees died en route
  3. Queen goes missing in action in first two weeks
  4. Bees build supersedure cell to grow a new queen around 21 days.

After the long anticipation of waiting for new bees, the disappointment is natural when nearly one third of package customers experience 50% loss.  In our experience, only half of all package bees grow well enough to make the main nectar flow in July/August. It’s a risky way to start beekeeping, unless you are provided with comprehensive information and support. A safer way for the beginner is to start with a 10-frame kit containing queen and bees. 

What can you do if your package seems to be going downhill?

Some solutions

Queen is DOA: If your queen is dead on arrival then either add a new queen from the supplier or shake the bees and new queen into another hive immediately.

Many bees have died: If you don’t have enough bees to cluster and keep the queen warm, then you will need to use the queen to requeen another hive and shake what bees you have left into the same hive.

Queen is MIA in first two weeks: You will observe a couple of things. The bees will raise a new queen from an egg that the original queen laid before they killed her or she died.  However, the bees will be weak until the offspring of the new queen begin to hatch six weeks later. If the bee cluster is currently small (less that your palm width) then they won’t make it. You may also observe that the bees have no brood, eggs or queen,  but are busy and easily annoyed.

In all these scenarios the best course of action is to purchase a five-frame nuc and add it into the hive as soon as possible. This way, the package bees will immediately lend a hand to the new nuc and the hive will grow quickly.  This will need to be split in two weeks to make a new hive, which helps recover the cost of the package.

Bees build supersedure cells: Adding a five-frame nuc is the solution once again. With package bees, supersedure cells are common. Supersedure cells are the bee’s way of replacing what they think is an inferior queen.  The reason they think she is inferior is population age imbalance. The bees are aging and have no emerging brood for 21 days in the new hive. As the bees age, their ability to feed the queen decreases. She slows in laying in response, and thus the bees wrongly assume she’s at fault.  Once the bees are determined to supersede, it’s impossible to dissuade them without restoring balance of age among the bees.

We are here to help you

We hope you find this information useful and invite you to contact hiveworld.ca at any time for solutions and support. Also, our Meet The Beekeeper nights on the east side of Edmonton are free. Participants should register online, and at the same time sign the online waiver if they are attending for the first time. Bring your own bee suit and gloves, or pick up whatever you need at hiveworld.ca or at our retail store, 5418 - 136 Avenue, Edmonton.

In the meantime, don’t forget to subscribe to our Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels for all the latest news and tips.  

We're Canadian, we’re beekeepers, and we have the courses, mentor support and supplies you need - free shipping on everything.




2 Responses

Hive World
Hive World

May 09, 2019

Hello Frances,
Sorry for your loss,
Lost of people are in the same situation – you are not alone
The bees starved. The bees will not to go to a hive top feeder if the weather is below 10c
Not sure where you got your hive top feeder but, they are designed for the fall not a new installation.

Frances
Frances

May 07, 2019

Hello, I’m new to bee keeping and not having any luck. I placed two new packages into 2 new hives on April 25, the day before the spring snow storm.There was plenty of 1:1 sugar syrup in the hive top feeder. I left them alone for 10 days but sadly when I checked the hives there was 100% dead bees inside both hives. All clustered together in the centre frames. Feeling discouraged and want to know where I went wrong before deciding to try again. Any thoughts about why both hives died
I appreciate your help.
Frances

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