Hiving the Package Bees

The phone rang early yesterday, around 7:30am. The caller id said “US Government”, so as my wife answered I thought “either the Feds are after us for something, or else my package of bees has arrived”. Fortunately, it was the latter!

It still amazes me that bees can be ordered and delivered by mail. But my cousin, who works for the USPS, assures me that’s not unusual, and that bees aren’t the oddest things that come through the post office. Any rate, I was there as soon as they opened to pick up the newest inhabitants of Happy Acres. I’ve been wanting to get back into beekeeping, and now it was official.

 

package of about 10,000 bees

The bees are shipped in a little mesh cage that has a feeder can of sugar water in it to give them something to eat during their journey. First thing I did was to spray them with a bit of syrup I had mixed up which was about half water, half sugar. Their buzzing lowered a few decibels as they began cleaning up the sugar.

 

the queen bee with her attendants, both inside and outside

The bees in the cage are mostly worker bees. There is one queen bee, and she is in her own little cage, with a few attendants in there to care for her. The reason for the separation is that the workers and their new queen are unrelated and the workers need time to accept this new queen as their own. The queen cage is plugged with a little piece of candy, and by the time the bees eat away the candy they will have become used to the pheromones released by the queen, and ready to accept her.

 

Bee hive with one deep hive body for startup

To install the package of bees, the beekeeper has to remove the feeder can and queen cage, then shake the ball of bees down from the sides of the package so they can be “poured” into the hive. The first and only time I ever did this before was 20+ years ago, before the internet was invented. It was just me in my bee suit with the bees, back in the south forty, hoping I was doing it all correctly based on what I had read in books. These days there are Youtube instructional videos like this one at Mother Earth News. And there are great web sites and blogs with informative posts and photos like this one that the folks at Curbstone Valley are putting up about their beekeeping experiences.

 

the beez and me

So what’s different this time around? Yesterday, it was me in my bee suit with the bees, back in the south ‘half-acre’, but feeling a lot more confident than I was 20 years ago! I chose to suit up yesterday with veil, jacket and gloves, even though that might have been overkill. Package bees are usually pretty docile, since they have no hive to defend, but I need to get used to working in the outfit for the visits in the future where the bees will possibly be a little more agitated. And working in veil and gloves definitely takes some getting used to.

 

starter foundation in frame

I’ll feed the bees sugar syrup for some time while they build up the colony. And I’ll wait for several days before opening up the hive again. Then I will check to make sure the queen got out of her cage, and then remove the queen cage. After that it’s a matter of checking on the hive every week or so to see how the bees are progressing. The bees are starting out with frames full of bare foundation, and they need to build comb on it so the queen can start laying eggs and raising new workers. I put the queen cage between two of the frames, with the candy end pointing down.

After shaking out the bees several times, there were still a few left in the cage, so I put it on the ground near the opening to the hive. An hour later, all of them had come out and found their way in with the rest of the bees.

 

bee hive after installing the package bees

The whole process of hiving the bees took about 15 minutes, including the photo ops. Thanks to my wife for getting the shot of me holding the package of bees. Since she doesn’t have protective gear (yet), she didn’t go down to the hive to see the rest of the process.

It looks like me and the bees got off to a good start yesterday. I’m hoping in time it will develop into be a real sweet relationship!

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16 Responses to Hiving the Package Bees

  1. Daphne Gould says:

    Congrats on the new bees. How exciting.

  2. Marcia says:

    I’m impressed! WoW!
    You make it look so easy. I had thought about having bees when we built here 5 years ago but have chicken out. I even went to some classes. I’ll get a vicarious thrill watching yours instead.

  3. How exciting and fascinating! I’ve always been curious about bee-keeping and will enjoy seeing your pictures and reading your stories about your adventures with the hive!

    I am amazed that bees are sent through the mail – who knew? And the Queen gets her own little travel compartment…wow. I don’t blame you one bit for wanting to fully suit up this time around! Can’t wait to hear more about the bees!

  4. Congrats on your new residents at Happy Acres! I remember getting one of those US Gov’t calls when our chicks arrived. So glad your Queen cage came with the candy plug already installed, and you didn’t have to fuss around with mini-marshmallows. They worked fine, but it was a little stressful worrying about accidentally letting the Queen out while they were installed! I’m sure the Queen will love her new home, and it will be interesting to see if some of your harvest yields increase now you’ve added a bee hive to HA!

    • Villager says:

      I took some marshmallows with me, since I didn’t know the arrangement with the queen cage. But then I forgot to take a screw or a nail with me to grab the little cork that was protecting the candy plug. Fortunately I was able to easily find a nail in the shop despite wearing the veil and gloves.

      I still need to work on my photography skills. Trying to get a good image of the queen , holding the cage in one hand and the camera in the other, proved to be quite impossible. Of course she wasn’t exactly standing still and posing for me either!

  5. Deb says:

    Congratulations on the bees! My father used to keep bees, so you’ve brought back some fond memories … Thanks!

  6. GrafixMuse says:

    Congratulations! This will be a fun adventure. I am looking forward to bee hive updates.

  7. I remember I was at the post office a decade or so ago and I kept hearing clucking, but I thought that “certainly there aren’t chickens back there.” Turns out there was! The mail clerk told me that chickens are shipped through the mail fairly frequently. My brother raises tropical fish as a side business and he ships them as well (although I think via UPS).

    The bees are very exciting! It’s something I would like to do, but it seems that learning how to successfully beekeep never makes it to the top of my priority list. Plu, I’m not so sure my dog would be very enthused about a hive in the yard…

    • Villager says:

      My cousin mentioned that snakes are also often mailed. Hope they don’t put the chickens and snakes too close to each other in the mail room!

  8. Kelly says:

    Bee-utiful! The walkthrough was fun- enjoy those bees and keep us updated.

  9. Emily says:

    Love reading about your new bee adventure 🙂

  10. Prairie Cat says:

    Oh how cool! I look forward to reading more posts about your bee-keeping adventure. I am thinking of getting bees… eventually. I think I’ll just keep track of your progress for now and see if the endeavor is worth the golden, syrupy deliciousness after all is said and done.

  11. Robin says:

    How exciting! I just love the beez and me pic! Keep us posted on what’s buzzing around at HA!

  12. Congrats on your bee hive! What fun!

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