BEEKEEPING IN THE NORTHEAST - An account of my beekeeping, not a treatise of expertise, but for friends & family who wish to keep bees vicariously through me, and for the occasional apiarist passer-by.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Packaged Bees: Advice from Maine Cooperative Extenstion Beekeepers

Winter honey bee losses are greater than expected this spring 2014, so if your only option is to replenish your hives with packaged bees brought up from the south, here are some tips passed on by Maine's Cooperative Extension Beekeeper Instructors:

Inspect package to make sure bees are clinging together and to the queen cage. These bees are unrelated to each other and unrelated to the queen. A hearty cluster around the can of feed and the queen is a good sign she is giving off the pheromones of a well mated queen and the bees are uniting into a colony.

My first experience with packages. 5 were purchased. This one had bees scattered through the box, unwilling to exit. The hive eventually got going but after a few weeks of looking relatively good, absconded. Out of five packages, three absconded, one died by fall. The fourth, lavender on the end,  made it through winter like a champ and flourished into a second fall but were killed by yellow jackets as winter set in.
These bees have come from commercial beekeepers who have already been to the California almond fields and elsewhere. They have mixed with every parasite and virus out there. THEY NEED TO BE TREATED. Without treatment losses statistically will be 50% during the season and another 50% of the survivors will not last the winter. Powdered sugar treatment is proving to do more harm than good. Contact the NH-DOA for latest approved treatments. Talk to Chris Rallis. He's a beekeeper and hates to treat so he'll know the least intrusive method.

Feed, feed, feed, these bees! Get them to expel anything in their guts in making wax so new baby bees they will be feeding, have a better chance.

Re-queen in June. A package is only as good as the queen and these queens often come from the same diseased stock as the package. Try and find a queen bred from local, overwintered bees. Sources follow.

Lucky enough to find a nuc? Ask the breeder if it is made from a package and a queen from over-wintered, open bred, stock. Most are not, so you'll have to treat them like a package from the south. At least you know the colony is united and the queen laying.

Over-wintered nucleus colonies are becoming more and more available as new trends in beekeeping take hold. Order them early, letting breeders know you are interested late fall or winter to make sure you have good hives starting out in May.

A few sustainable Beeks on YouTube and who sell over-wintered, disease resistant bees in nucleus colonies: Troy Hall in NH; Mike Palmer in VT; Erin MacGregor Forbes of Overland Apiaries in Maine; Dean Stiglitz in Mass.

Queens from northern stock Google: NH - Troy Hall, Plainfield, NH, but there are other queen breeders out there, like Dean in Mass and Palmer in VT.

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