One of the most common ways for beekeepers to establish a honey bee colony is by purchasing a package of bees. Commercial beekeeping operations prepare the packages, which can be delivered by truck or shipped. The package is a wooden box with screened sides for ventilation. The box includes one queen bee housed in a cage, roughly 12 thousand worker bees, and a can of sugar syrup. The queen often shares her cage with five or six attendant bees to feed and care for her. The can of sugar syrup is slightly perforated to allow it to drip to provide food and moisture for the bees while they are housed in the package. Prepared in the Deep South, packaged bees are often shipped across the US in April and May. The packages are made-up of bees shaken from the frames of numerous production hives. The caged queen and her attendant bees are taken from queen mating nucleus colonies after the queen begins to lay eggs, indicating that she is successfully mated. At the time that the package is produced, it cannot be considered a colony. The bees become organized as a colony after they get accustomed to the queen’s pheromones. To prevent the disorganized bees from merely flying away before they become a colony, I like to confine them in the hive.
This week I assisted several beekeepers install packages of bees. In today’s picture Mary Phillips and I block the entrance to three hives with clover to temporarily prevent the bees from leaving the hives. Mary sprays the inside of the hive and the surfaces of the frames with sugar water scented with spearmint and lemongrass essential oils. The can of syrup is removed from a package, and we inspect the queen in her cage. We expose the candy plug that the bees will chew through to release the queen from her cage. Feeders supply the bees with syrup to help them secrete beeswax they use to build honeycomb.