After losing both of our hives last fall, we have been without bees on the farm for about five months. The long-awaited package pickup day finally arrived last Friday and we picked up our three new packages of bees from our trusty local bee guy. Because we got the packages home late on Friday, we installed each package into its respective hive on Saturday afternoon. It’s been two years since we’ve installed packages, so we referred to our favorite reference Beekeeping for Dummies and everything went super smoothly. All of the packages appeared to be full of happy, docile, inquisitive bees, and each queen cage contained a beautiful queen. Did you know that one three-pound package of bees contains approximately 10,000 honey bees?! Each package also contains a small box or plastic container that houses one queen bee with a handful of attendant worker bees – this is called the queen cage. The queen cage has a hole in one end that is plugged with hard candy which prevents the queen from leaving the cage right away. The purpose behind this is so that the workers can get used to their new queen’s pheromones and not want to kill her. The attendant bees in the cage with the queen as well as the workers outside the cage will eat the hard candy over the course of about a week until there is a hole large enough in the candy for the queen to leave the cage. This week-long time span allows the queen’s pheromones to disperse throughout the entire hive. Once the queen is released from her cage, she has free reign of the hive and should start laying eggs into empty cells shortly thereafter.
As soon as we installed the packages, the hive entrances were all pretty quiet. About thirty minutes later, the orientation flights began and the bees started acclimating to their new homes. For the rest of the day, there were curious bees buzzing all around the property trying to map out and scout their new location. Luckily our flowering mystery trees are still in a nectar flow, so the bees have been able to take advantage of an easy nectar source right away. We have also been feeding the bees a 1:1 sugar syrup to promote immediate food storage as well as brood rearing once the queens are released. Speaking of feeding the bees, I realized a few days before picking up the packages that we only have two hive top feeders for three hives. I can’t believe that I totally forgot to order one for the third hive during all of this time that we’ve been waiting to actually bring the bees home. Fortunately, we saved some frames of capped honey and uncapped nectar from last year in the freezer, so one of the three hives is being fed the actual real stuff from the frames, whereas the other two hives are being fed sugar syrup from hive top feeders. I have since ordered another hive top feeder that is supposed to be here within the next few days. However, we took a quick peek into each hive the other day to gauge the bees’ sugar syrup and nectar consumption and we are happy to report that they are eating at a normal rate and that they are all starting to store additional nectar. So depending on how things look by the time the third hive top feeder arrives, we may not even need to use it right now.
One big difference between our packages this time around and our very first packages is that these packages were installed into hives with frames that are full of wax comb from our previous years bees. This is a huge advantage because instead of having to use all of their energy and resources (honey) towards drawing out and building new wax comb, these bees can hit the ground running and focus on filling the pre-existing comb with nectar and honey as well as focus on raising brood once each queen is released and laying. We will be visiting the bees again over the weekend to verify that all three queens have been released from their cages and we will also look for eggs – the definitive sign that the queen is present and laying. If everything looks good and the bees have continued to store nectar like we saw the other day, we will probably give each hive a refill of sugar syrup and an additional super of empty frames and leave them alone for a few weeks. We are so thrilled to have the bees back, and so far it seems like the new apiary location is the perfect spot. Stay tuned for more bee updates soon!