Friday, April 27, 2012

Presenting a Package of Bees

A rite of spring for many beekeepers is ordering new bees either to replace a hive lost over the winter or to add to an apiary.  One way to accomplish this is to order package bees - a package of bees that typically is delivered by US Mail.  Think of it!

Since we had started our bees from a different method, I just had my first look at a bee package a couple of weeks ago thanks to Jean and Dick Vose of the Knox and Lincoln County Beekeepers Association in midcoast Maine.  They played postoffice, in a way, and acted as a distribution site for people who had ordered package bees from a nearby commercial beekeeper, Rick Cooper, and gave a demo on how to 'hive' the bees, or install them in their new home.  

I can truly see why postal service workers would be wigged out by having to distribute bees in this way.  The package is a box with screening around the sides that hardly seems enough to keep the mass of bees safely inside.  It is outfitted with a metal can that contains - or contained - sugar solution for feeding the bees in transit.  Somewhere in the protection of the thousands of bees inside is a smaller package that contains the queen and a few so-called attendants, worker bees who feed the queen and groom her, the only really royal treatment the queen gets.  She is more accurately described as an egg-laying slave.  Such is life for the queen honey bee, the life of the hive, the most important individual bee in the hive but who makes no decisions, no royal decrees, no proclamations, but whose health is monitored as closely if not more than that of any head-of-state.  She is tucked inside the screened-in box and will soon be released into the dark safety of the hive box when the beekeeper picks up the package and transports the buzzing throng to its new home.

Package bees contain three pounds of bees - about 10,000 - 12,000 bees. They will get the hive set up and going until the queen starts laying eggs which then take about three weeks to develop and emerge as the next generation.  And they don't need any instructions.

 Here are a few photos from the package pick-up....

Jean Vose sprays hungry bees with sugar syrup while Susan Smith-Riedel looks on.

Package bees.  In right segment see small white area of new comb!
Closer look at bees in package.  
Removing the syrup container from demo package.

Jean demonstrates queen cage.

Empty hive body ready for bees!

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