As much as possible we try to increase our number of colonies by splitting the colonies that survive in the Spring. However, some winters, such as this past winter prove to be disastrous with regard to our bees successfully making it through the winter. In cases like this we replenish our stock by buying new bees. This year we ordered six 3 lbs packages of Russian hybrid bees from the Walter T. Kelley company in Kentucky. We understand they actually get their bees from Hardiman down in Georgia.
In any case, today we received and installed these packages successfully in our apiary here in Hudsonville. Package bees consist of a wooden screened cage with around 3lbs of bees, a queen in a separate queen cage with a few attendant worker bees, and a tin can of sugar syrup for the bees to feed on while in transit.
Installing the bees into their permanent hives, is actually fairly straight forward. We mist them from a spray bottle with either clean water or a light syrup, remove the cover, feeder, and queen cage, and then simply shake the bees into the hive. Once all of the bees are successfully hived, we then remove the cork on the candy end of the queen cage, so she will be chewed free and released into the hive within the next day or so. The queen that ships with the package is actually not the mother of the bees in the cage! Commercial package bee operations simply shake 3 lbs of bees into the cage and then insert a mated queen they’ve raised separately in her own small cage within the larger package. It takes time for the bees to accept her as their new “foster” mother. Of course, within a 3.5 weeks or so if all goes well, lots of new bees will be hatching out, and these are in fact daughters of the new queen.
Later this Spring we hope to pick up some additional baby nucs from a local commercial beekeeper, which will replenish our bee yards. It seems that many beekeepers have had the same difficulties we’ve had last summer, and bees are actually very hard to come by. If you’re thinking about becoming a beekeeper its always good to order your bees way ahead of time. If you wait till Spring its likely you will be without bees.