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.
However, package bees are inherently delicate. Here are four common pitfalls encountered in the first month:
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?
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 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.
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What should you do if your bees have died? First thing you should do is look at your hive and see if you can detect any moisture, disease or anything else that may have caused your colonies demise. Do your best to take any samples you need, photos and get a second opinion from a fellow beekeeper, mentor or us!