Buying Honey Bee Packages
Amid the excitement of becoming a new beekeeper, you have a lot of things to do. Equipment and supplies for the bees and yourself are a must. Once that is completed, you need one more thing – Bees. Now is the time to explore how to buy honey bees. Several methods are available for procuring live bees. Let’s learn how to buy bee packages.
In the United States, thousands of bee packages are sold each year. It is the most popular way to obtain a new bee family for your hives.
This is due in part to the ease of shipping bee packages. Yes, you can have them delivered right to your door!
What are Package Bees?
Bee packages or package bees are just that. A group of honey bees contained in a small package. This is done for ease of transportation and a common way to obtain new colonies.
Honey bees are social insects that cannot survive for long individually. Therefore, you buy them in groups.
A package of honey bees contains roughly 10,000 honey bees. This is a 3# package and is the most popular size sold.
Over the years, bee experts determined that this is a sufficient number of bees to start a colony in the spring. However, you may find 2# or 4# packages for sale too.
Purchasing “package bees” is the most popular method of buying honey bees in the United States. The bees arrive in a wire and wood box. The box is a little bigger than a shoe box.
Inside the box, a large mass of bees hangs in a clump. It is very interesting to see for the first time. The bees seem to be waiting.
A large silver can is included – it contains bee syrup or sugar water. Bees can not survive for very long without food.
The syrup can has a couple of tiny holes on the bottom. This allows the bees to feed during their journey to their new home.
The Package Queen Bee
Well, you can not have a bee colony without a queen bee. So, each package will contain a young, mated queen.
When you order bees in a package, the queen bee will be protected inside a small queen cage. She must not be loose in the package.
This queen bee is unknown to the bulk of bees inside your new package. If the queen was loose, she would likely be killed. Though you will occasionally find a live queen loose in the package.
Commercial beekeepers combine worker bees from several different colonies when creating bee packages.
Once the required number of bees are collected, a queen cage is added with a new queen. This practice helps to ensure that you will receive a young mated queen.
It takes some time for the bees to accept this new queen. During transit they are in a state of confusion. This is why the queen is contained in a small safe box.
Inside her queen cage, you will see a few worker attendant bees. They came from the same mating colony as the queen. It is their job to feed and care for the queen.
In one end of a package queen cage is a mass of white queen candy. This sugar substance will slowly be eaten away.
During the days required for the “candy plug” to be consumed, your package bees are coming to accept the queen.
Less Risk of Disease
Buying bees in a package is one of the safest way to obtain new bees. You are only buying the bees and not any honeycomb.
Most package producers treat the bees for varroa mites before shipping but you will still need to check varroa levels and monitor your colony throughout the season.
Advantages of Buying Bee Packages
One of the biggest advantages of buying package bees is availability. Bee packages are generally available early in the Spring. This is an important consideration for some beekeepers.
If you live in a region with an early honey flow, you want to get your hives set up and ready to take advantage of the bloom.
For those needing bees for pollination, early blooming trees and plants won’t wait for bees to be available.
If you are gardener who wants bees, early packages are the most common method.
Package bees are easy to order and availability is not a problem if your order is placed early.
In my area, one should place an order for bees by early January to ensure the best chance of getting the pickup date desired.
Because we often recommend starting with 2 bee colonies, package bees offer a smaller investment than full sized hives.
Disadvantages of Buying Package Bees
Buying honey bees in any form is not without some peril. Bees are living creatures and transit is a dangerous and stressful time.
All packages are not created equal in quality. Most suppliers give good measure but it is not impossible to get a package that has fewer bees than you expected.
Choose a provider with experience and good reputation. Ask a lot of different beekeepers who they recommend.
No business person can please everyone but longevity in business means that something is being done right.
When ordering bees, be sure to understand the replacement policy of the seller. It is their job to give you a healthy start in beekeeping.
However, they can not control every step of the journey. Understand the company policy regarding, late deliveries, dead package queens, refund, etc.
Once your package bees arrive, you will want to get them in their new home right away. For more tips and ideas, check out my post on – Installing a Package of Bees.
Monitor the development of your colony but don’t open the hive everyday. The bees need time to settle down and adjust.
New packages can leave the hive if the beekeeper is too intrusive. And yes, even when you do everything right, occasionally the bees will leave.
In many regions, don’t expect a package of bees to make honey until the second year. They need the first season to become established.