Thursday, March 23, 2017

SPRING, A TIME FOR PACKAGES – OR ? by beekeeper Grandpa Jack

Spring, a time for packages – OR ?
With the approaching spring, comes the anticipation for beginning and experienced beekeepers to start anew, increase their numbers or replace deadouts.  One of the long standing ways of doing this, is to purchase 2 or 3 pound packages of bees through the local beekeeping supplier.
This is a long standing way of obtaining bees for the upcoming year.   Bee purchases have been on the rise over the last several years along with the price.  A three pound package of Italian bees with a mated queen is presently around $130. Looking over some old invoices, the price of that package in 2014 was $106.  That’s a 24% increase in just 4 years.  I don’t remember what it was in the 60’s, but can only imagine that the amount would be laughable today.
When considering packages for 2017 what are some of your risks ?  You have paid good money for approximately 10,000 bees and you are looking forward to the coming season.  Hopefully they will get fully established and maybe even make you a little honey.  But beware of the risks.
A study done by the ‘Sustainable Agricultural Research and  Education’ (SHARE)  sheds some light on some of those risks.  I have included the following link, so you may take a look at what the research center discovered.
Based upon their studies, a three pound package with the queen that came with that package has a 28-45% chance of making it into the next season (2018).  On the other hand, the packages that were requeened by a northern queen had a 75% chance of survival into the next year.
Northern queens and bees are survivors.  They have come from hives that made it through the winter.  They are acclimated to the northern climate and the extremes that our weather can provide.
The package of bees that you are buying is not from this area of Wisconsin or even the Midwest.  Our weather is not favorable to shaking bees into packages for resale the last part of April.  The bees that come from those packages are either coming off almond pollination or from our southern states.
I am not implying that package bees are not an option.  Just know what the odds are, and hopefully you can lean those odds in your favor by knowing the risks.  Package bees are not your only option.  Local beekeepers with overwintered colonies or nucs are an excellent source and you are buying local overwintered bees that have a proven laying queen that are ready to explode.  They will cost a little more, but your risk is considerably lower and you will usually have a honey harvest the first year.
As years pass by, it is very apparent that the African Honey Bee (AHB) is making its presence known throughout the west and south United States.  More mention is made on Beesource of the problems that they are causing.  So far, the AHB has not acclimated to the northern states, but many feel it is just a matter of time.  The cross breeding of the AHB and the European Apis Mellifera (our species)  is happening.  The timeline of their movement north is uncertain.
What are the odds of purchasing bees that have been mated with an  AHB drone ?  A virgin queen will fly out to drone congregation area’s to be mated with 10-15 drones.  The question of “who’s your daddy ?” become surreal.
The other option is bait hives.  Free bees that have over wintered in your area,  have a laying queen, and are just looking for a new home.  What is not to like about free survivor bees.
It is unusual for a package of bees to swarm the first year.  They will be busy establishing their colony and gathering reserves for the following winter. If everything goes according to the plan. The bees that you are going to catch in your bait hive have likely made it through winter.  That’s why we call them survivor bees.   They swarmed from an existing hive that became well established.  Remember, bees do two things.  They make honey and more bees.
Bait hives are inexpensive to make and you can have a lot of fun doing the trapping.  I must warn you , that it is habit forming.  There is nothing like getting free bees and knowing that these are local survivor bees.
For those that subscribe to the American Bee Journal, there is an interesting and informative article in the April issue.  Dr. Tom Seeley of Cornell University has also researched and published articles and books on bait hives.  For those that might want a refresher course and a little information on how you can make your start to the 2017 beekeeping season a little more interesting.  Make sure to come to ECWBA  meeting, Saturday, April 8th


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