Package Bees the first summer
Across the Carolinas, many beekeepers buy package bees each year to fill up boxes from lost winter colonies or to expand their bee yard. Package Bees are also the starting point for many new beekeepers. Though some people recommend purchasing a nuc (nucleus hive) to give your colony a headstart, many beekeepers prefer package bees and actually say that packages can out perform nucs during the season.
If you are installing your package on new foundation, your bees have a lot of work to do before they will be self sustainable. As the beekeeper, it is your responsibility to tend to the maintenance issues that will keep your packages on a good growth trend to full functioning colony.
Are you keeping the feeders full ?
Feed your bees well. If you have a lot of blooming nectar producing plants in the area, your package bees may actually slow consumption of sugar syrup or quit all together. Sugar syrup left in the feeder too long can grow cloudy or even mold. When the natural nectar dries up as the summer grows hot and dry, colonies that had been ignoring your feeder may suddenly consume the syrup at an alarming rate. Bee Well Honey recommends feeding your colony until the bees have “drawn out” on all 10 frames in the hive body and at least a shallow supper. We want the shallow supper to be full of honey before the end of fall. Don’t neglect proper feeding during this first summer. Always, remove the feeder when adding honey collection suppers for yourself.
Check your Queen periodically
Bee Well Honey always reminds you to check your queen status a few weeks after installing a package of bees. We want to see the queen present and a good brood pattern. What is a good brood pattern ? A nice area of capped brood with few empty cells in the area, brood of similar ages grouped together, not an overabundance of drone brood and drone brood should be on the perimeter of the nest area not in the middle.
If you have trouble finding your queen, don’t panic. Keeping a marked queen in your hive does make it easier to locate her on a frame with thousands of bees. You don’t have to look for the queen everytime you inspect your colony. In fact, you may be disturbing the bees unnecessarily and causing them stress. Instead look for signs of the queen, if you see a good brood pattern with fresh larva and eggs chances are your queen is just fine. Check for her presence at least once a month throughout the summer. If your colony swarms (yes packages CAN swarm their first year) you want to make sure the colony is successful in requeening itself.
Mites & Pests
By mid summer the varroa mite population will be climbing. Research and decide on a varroa management plan for your hives. There are several different methods for evaluation and treatment. Doing nothing for mite control is not an option for most of us. Mites can weaken your colony even if they do not cause the collapse of your hive completely. You will need to implement your plan in mid Summer to allow for healthy winter bees to emerge in the Fall.
We want our Spring Bee Packages to have a good laying queen, a plentiful population of healthy bees and a full food super come October. Do you best and remember that beekeeping isn’t always easy and sometimes the beekeeper who does his/her best will still experience hive failures. Don’t give up, beekeeping is a learning process that takes time and patience.
Happy Bee Keeping – Bee Well Honey