Amid the excitement of becoming a new beekeeper, you have a lot of things to do. Equipment and supplies are a must. Once that is completed, you need one more thing – honey bees. Several methods are available for procuring live bees. Let’s explore the advantages and disadvantages of buying bee packages.
How Buy Honey 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.
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There are many reasons that so many beekeepers choose this method of acquiring bees.
In part it is due to the ease of shipping bee packages – in normal times. Yes, you can have them delivered right to your door!
What are Package Bees?
The term package bees (also called packages) refers to a small container filled with honey bees. The “box” is a temporary traveling box that allows the bee family to be moved to their new hive.
Packages do come in different sizes but 3# (3 pound) is the most common. This 3 # package contains roughly 10,000 honey bees.
Honey bees are social insects that cannot survive for long individually. Therefore, you buy them in groups.
Over the years, bee experts determined that this is a sufficient number to start a colony in the spring. However, you may find 2# or 4# packages for sale too.
Can You Just Buy a Queen Bee?
Yes, you can buy a new queen bee for a colony that needs a replacement. This is called “requeening a hive“.
However, you can not purchase a queen honey bee and expect other bees to join her and begin a hive. Bee life just does not work that way.
How Bee Packages are Made
Commercial beekeepers combine workers from several different colonies when creating bee packages. Going to a bee yard with very strong colonies, the queen is removed from each one and set aside.
Then bees are shook from the frames into waiting packages (wire and wood etc). Once the required number are collected, a queen cage, with a new queen, is added to the package.
This practice helps to ensure that you will receive a young mated queen. But, it takes some time for the bees to accept this new queen.
During the days required for the “candy plug” to be consumed, your package members are coming to accept the queen.
What to Expect Inside Your Bee Package
The transportation box containing a package can be plastic – especially if it is shipped to you via regular mail. It will contain many ventilation holes to prevent over-heating.
However, traditionally transportation packages are made of wire and wood. The box is a little bigger than a shoe box.
Cluster Inside the Box
Inside the box, a large mass of honey bees hang in a clump. It is very interesting to see for the first time. They are in a transition state because this is not natural for them.
If the temperatures are cold, they will cluster tightly together – just like they would in the hive. When the weather is warmer, the package individuals will not be as tightly gathered.
Those you see will be a mixture of workers and some drones. Inside this mass will be your queen honey bee in her small queen cage.
The Package Queen Bee
Each bee package should contain a young, mated queen. She travels inside a small queen cage that contains a candy plug in one end. Normally, a few worker attendants are in there with her.
Don’t be alarmed if one of the attendants is dead. Some die every day – as long as the queen is okay – you should have no problem.
Why the Queen Bee Travels Separately
When you order a package, the queen bee is unknown to the bulk of bees inside. If the queen was loose, she would likely be killed. Though you will occasionally find a live queen loose in the package.
Inside her queen cage, are a few worker attendants that came from the same colony. It is their job to feed and care for the queen until she is released and accepted by the new colony.
A Can of Bee Syrup
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 very tiny holes on the bottom. This allows the bees to feed during their journey to their new home.
Advantages of Buying Bee Packages
- widespread availability
- less risk of disease and pests
- less expensive
- easier for new beekeepers to handle
Ordering Bee Packages Early
One of the biggest advantages of buying package bees is availability. Bee packages are generally ordered in Winter and delivered in early 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 colonies for pollination, early blooming trees and plants won’t wait. If you are gardener who wants beehives in place early, packages are the most common method.
Packages are easy to order and availability is not a problem if your order is placed early. In most areas, one should place an order by early January to ensure the best chance of getting the pickup date desired.
Less Risk of Disease
Buying bees in a package is one of the safest way to obtain new colonies. You are only buying the bees and not any honeycomb. This reduces the risk of obtaining Wax moths or Small Hive Beetles hidden in the wax.
Most package producers treat the package for varroa mites before shipping but you will still need to check varroa levels and monitor your colony throughout the season.
Package Bees are Less Expensive
Because we often recommend starting with 2 bee colonies, package bees offer a smaller investment than full sized hives or purchasing a nuc hive.
Cost can be a factor in that first year of beekeeping when you are having to buy all of your equipment and tools. Take the time to ask all the questions you have about packages and any guarantees before ordering.
Small Colony Easier for New Beekeepers
Another important advantage of working with honey bee packages is that the small colony is easier for new beekeepers to manage.
By the time the colony grows larger and more defensive – the beekeeper will have developed some experience handling the hive during hive inspections.
Disadvantages of Buying Package Bees
- all packages are not created equal
- when ordering for shipment – know the refund policy
- plan to feed your new bee package to encourage buildup
Choose a Reputable Seller
Buying honey bees in any form is not without some peril. They are living creatures and transit is a dangerous and stressful time.
All bee packages are not created equal in quality. Most suppliers give good measure but it is not impossible to get a package that has fewer members 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.
Understand the Risks of Shipping
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.
In recent years, bee shipments have become more problematic. Drive to pick up your bee packages whenever possible.
FAQ About Package Bees
Packages of honey bees are sold in several different sizes.
The most common size is the 3# package containing roughly 10,000 bees.
Order bee package in late Winter for Spring delivery. Bee Packages are usually only available during Spring.
The beekeeper who misses the Spring delivery season may have to wait until next year to get started.
The main disadvantage of starting a hive with a package is that the colony starts with nothing.
This new colony has a lot of work to do. They have no built comb or brood to help the hive grow. It takes time for the colony to develop.
Packages are normally available earlier in the season than full hives or nucs. The desire to get colonies early is not always related to impatience.
For some, early hive setup helps the colony have time to become established before Winter.
Yes, honey bees have a life span. In any hive, some members die every day. A few hundred dead bees in the bottom of the box is no reason for concern.
If you have more than 1″ of dead in the bottom of the package, you should speak with your bee supplier.
Your bees will suffer from less stress if you install them into their new home as soon as possible.
Keep your package in a cool dark place until you are ready to take them to the bee yard.
Installing the package promptly is best as that gets them into a natural environment.
Some beekeepers like to wait until just a few hours before dusk to put bees in a new hive.
The answer to this question has a lot of variables. The biggest factor being your location.
In some regions, a hive started from a package may not produce honey for the beekeeper until the second year.
Final Thoughts on Buying Bee Packages
Buying bee packages is a good investment for many beekeepers. Though a bit slower to get started than a bee nucleus colony, package bees can sometimes outperform a nuc hive by the end of the first year.
Once your package arrives, 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.
In many regions, don’t expect a colony made from a package to make honey until the second year. They need the first season to become established but the future rewards can be sweet indeed.