Do you want to be a beekeeper? Package bees are an option. The term package bees refer to the containers used to transport thousands of the little honey-makers. Once released, package bees act like a swarm to build a colony from scratch. Of course, it's not always that simple.
The queen bee is essential to the hive's survival. She begins laying eggs in the spring as soon as the workers start bringing home the pollen, and she continues to produce offspring until there's no more sweet nectar, sometime in mid-fall. In nature, honey bees break off into a swarm when it's time for a new queen to replace the old. They also split when their numbers become too large. The current queen takes a loyal band of workers with her to find a new home, thus becoming a swarm. Meanwhile, workers left behind prepare for the birth of a new queen.
The Hierarchy Of Honey Bees
A queen bee can lay as many as 2,000 eggs per day and does so for two to three years. She exudes a pheromone known as queen substance, which aids the hive in keeping track of her, and much more. Queen substance effectively makes the other females, the worker bees, sterile. If the queen goes missing or isn't emitting enough queen substance, the workers will take measures to raise a new queen from the youngest larvae. Without the pheromone around, a few workers may be able to get pregnant, but they tend to give birth to drones whose only job is to procreate.
You can see how this could become a problem, as the balance of workers would be thrown off. Without a sufficient number of worker bees, there would be no wax for the honeycombs, no nectar or pollen gathering for honey production, and no one to clean and guard the hive.
Why Use Package Bees?
Package bees are less costly than using the alternative "Nuc" system, which is an already functioning colony complete with a laying queen. Another way is to find a swarm to capture and train, but that could prove challenging with no experience. Package bees contain two to four pounds of bees that ship inside a wooden or plastic framed box, with screens on two sides. A feeding can filled with sugar water provides sustenance while they're en route. And, an impregnated queen, with a few worker bees, remains in a separate wooden box with a sugary candy cork on one end.
Package bees aren't related; they were raised in hives, removed, and poured by the pound into shipping boxes. There's nothing established with package bees, unlike the Nuc, where the brood was raised and transported together. Or the swarm, who broke off from their colony to start a new one. Package bees will need time to acclimate to their environment as well as each other. Introduce the queen slowly, so the workers have time to get used to her.
How To Install Package Bees
It's fairly simple to install package bees. First of all, you want to make sure they're calm and hanging on the side of the box in a cluster. If the bees are agitated, you can use sugar water to settle them down.
Have a piece of cardboard handy to cover the opening after you remove the syrup can and queen bee container. If worker bees are covering the queen bee's container and they're easy to move, it means the workers accept her. If the workers are hard to move or biting at the box, they'll need more time to warm up to their queen.
You Must Feed Your New Bees
Package bees need food when you introduce them to their new home. They're shakey and sluggish after shipping, and it takes a good month with you making sure they have a steady food supply to get them up to speed. You make the syrup with one part water and one part sugar.
On the first day after setting up your hive, check to make sure the bees are eating the syrup, and the entrance to the hive is clear. Also, check for pollen on the forging workers' legs. The brood should eat through the candy top of the queen's box and let her out within four days. If you see eggs in the center of the frame, then things are progressing nicely. On the other hand, if there are no eggs, you need to locate the queen, but be careful not to disturb the workers. Once you've located the queen alive and healthy, wait a few more days.
Make sure to continue feeding with the syrup. Once the queen begins laying eggs, add a pollen patty. If the queen hasn't laid eggs within two weeks, replace her. New bees should start to surface by week four.
How Much Do Package Bees Cost?
It will cost anywhere from $110 to $300 for package bees. Also, you must realize that the cost of bees is only a fraction of the cost to get started. You will also need to invest in many pounds of sugar, as well as a hive. Once you cover the initial costs, upkeep is solely dependent on the health of the queen and her brood.
How We Reviewed
We looked at the various ways to start your beekeeping hobby and determined that package bees are the most cost-effective way to get started. Then we examined a variety of apiaries and found that the Italian honey bee is the easiest bee to manage when you're starting. Next, we picked a few apiaries to consider based on their quality, reputation, location, and shipping services. Finally, we looked to online reviews to find out what customers think.
Olivarez Honey Bees, Inc.
OHB has a good reputation and has raised bees in Northern California for over 50 years. Currently, they operate commercial apiaries in Montana and Hawaii’s big island, as well. The company takes pride in offering the highest quality bees and the best customer service in the industry. OHB manages over 16,000 colonies and distributes bees to their partners across North America. The company uses specially equipped climate-controlled trailers, hauled by drivers who are trained bee handlers, to ensure safe and comfortable travels for our productive friends.
OHBees raises Italian, Carniolan, and Saskatraz queens and bees. They also have infused the "Minnesota Hygienic" and the "VSH" traits with their Italian bees to strengthen disease and mite resistance. Their locations provide the bees with the best environment and most ample sources for pollen. For example, the vast almond groves near the Northern California location provides a nutrient-rich diet to build up the bees for the brooding season.
Once the bees finish pollinating, they move back to the garden. Beekeepers shake the last of the package bees into their boxes, and the rest of the hive move to Montana to spend the summer gorging on prairie flowers and alfalfa, preparing for winter. Package bees are available in late April through one of OHBee's distributors, such as Bee Maniacs, in Deerpark Washington.
There are a few reviews online via Google confirming that OHB does indeed breed queens that have gentle offspring and are prolific honey producers. Customers give the apiary a 4.6 out of 5 stars. Beekeepers also appreciate the customer service, mentioning the help they received getting started. Yelp yields a 5-star rating, with limited reviews. Comments revolve around the high-quality customer service.
Sunnybee Honey Farm Package Bees
Sunny Bee Honey Farm is a fully stocked supply store located in Auburn, Washington, that promotes producing honey with non-migratory hives. They're a fully stocked supply store, and they work with beekeepers from beginner to professional.
The 2019 package bee list starts well before distribution in mid-April, so if you're interested in purchasing package bees from Sunnybee Honey Farm, make sure to email your name, address, and phone number, as well as how many, and which package bees you want to purchase. Prices release in February. There are two options. First, there's Italian queen. Second, there's the Carniolan queen, mated with an Italian drone. Prices include three pounds of bees, the newly mated queen, sales tax, and cage deposit.
Sunny Bee Honey Farm has a handful of Yelp reviews, giving the company a 5-star rating. It's a small operation, and customers find the owner helpful and full of information. Not only is she willing to let you pick through her vast knowledge about beekeeping, but she also keeps her prices reasonable.
Mountain Sweet Honey Package Bees
Located in Toccoa, Georgia, with apiaries throughout the state, Mountain Sweet honey started out as one man's hobby and grew into the number one honey bee shipper on the east coast and in the Midwest. They have a loyal customer base and operate with a small staff of 19 customer service and shipping agents.
Mountain Sweet Honey's Italian bee package includes a screen box, sugar water container, and three pounds of assorted nurse bees, forager bees, guard bees, and drone bees. The mated queen bee has a few helpers in her own box. The company also offers discounts on orders of over 25 package bees. Ship dates are set in advance and sell out. Call their customer service agents to schedule for delivery in March, April, and May.
Customers on Google rate Mountain Sweet Honey 4.0 out of 5 stars. Most of the raves are regarding the beginners' beekeeping class that provides a ton of information and hands-on experience. Other comments are a mixed bag ranging from good to poor customer service. There are notes about receiving dead bees and having them replaced promptly, and a couple of customers who reported dead bees without getting a response. The overall impression is that you may receive dead bees from this distributor, and it could go either way as to whether or not they'll respond.
Draper's Super Bee Apiaries
Located in New York State, Draper's is 7 miles from the junction at Route 287. The company was founded in 1974 by Bernie Draper, and he passed it on to his son, Bill, who owns it today. Draper's ships package bees on a first ordered first shipped basis. So, order as soon as possible to ensure spring delivery. Most Italian package bees ship through priority mail unless you request otherwise. For example, if you live in California, they can ship next day air. Draper's may also use different package bee producers to meet orders at a location that's closer to the customer. Dead packages or queens are to be reported immediately, photographed, and confirmed by the post office.
Package bees with an Italian survivor queen are the most popular strain at Draper's. The queens who survived in a colony that withstood considerable mite damage theoretically makes the brood more resistant to mites.
With a 4.0 out of 5-star rating on Google, you'd think that the reviews were mostly good. They are, but the bad is regarding customer service and pricing, and that's not good. Many customers complain about not getting any indication of when their package bees shipped. And since there's no tracking number, it's impossible to, well, track the shipment. There is also very little indication of how much the bees cost, and shipping charges seem to be on the high end.
Who's The Queen Bee?
The Italian queen bee is our pick for the bee to start your apiary because of their gentle nature, prolific breeding, and strong honey production. As far as where to purchase your bees, if you're fortunate enough to be in one of Olivarez Honey Bees' partner's areas, then order your bees from this company. They have an excellent reputation, reliable experience, and fantastic customer service. Sunnybee Honey Farm is also a good choice in Washington State.
The bottom line is that if you order package bees to start your apiary, it's best to get them from a local source to cut down on shipping time, and so the brood will have an easier time getting used to their new home. Also, you'll want to make sure you get on the list in January to receive your bees by the end of April, regardless of where you buy your package bees.
No matter where you end up buying your bees, as long as you follow the directions and care for your little flying honey-makers, your new colony should be, ahem, buzzing along nicely in no time at all! Good luck!