May 12, 2022

Final Thoughts on Package Bee Season (073)

Final Thoughts on Package Bee Season (073)

So you have already put in your two packages (you did get two, right?) and a few days, or maybe a week later you checked them and…..something’s wrong! What can go wrong with a new package? Kim and Jim chat a bit about the things that can and for...

So you have already put in your two packages (you did get two, right?) and a few days, or maybe a week later you checked them and…..something’s wrong!

What can go wrong with a new package? Kim and Jim chat a bit about the things that can and for some, will go wrong with new packages.

First check, the queen’s dead in her cage. Get a new one, find some brood from another colony, join with another colony? All work, but which is best?

After a week you check and… bees! They all left! Where did they go and why did they go? Maybe they just moved over to that colony next door that has brood, food and a queen. Or maybe they just left. What now?

Sometimes about half of them will drift to that colony next door, so you have a colony that’s really strong and one that’s really weak. How do you fix that?

What about a queen that’s released and isn’t laying? Do you replace her? If not, how long do you wait and see if she’ll start, or not start?

Kim and Jim take a quick look at all of these things that can go wrong. If you've had any or all of these experiences... you have our condolences!  Listen to this episode today as maybe they can help you fix your package this spring.

If you like the episode, share it with a fellow beekeepers and/or let us know by leaving a comment in the show notes. We'd love to hear from you!


Thanks to Betterbee for sponsoring today's episode. Betterbee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, Betterbee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at


Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Photos copyright © One Tew Bee, LLC

Copyright © 2022 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 73 – Final Thoughts on Package Bee Season



Jim: Listeners, the package season is winding down but it didn't come without its annual excitement in some areas, it's always enjoyable. What happened to you, Kim, any updates?

Kim: You say, "Enjoyable," and every year, somebody somewhere has the worst thing that can happen. You'll get that phone call or you'll go out to your bee yard and you'll see it. You know the things that can go-- You had one last year.


Kim: I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: We're coming to you from Honey Bee Obscura, where we talk once a week on all things beekeeping. Today, we want to talk about the good things and the bad things about the package season just passing. It was mostly a good event. Wasn't it, Kim?

Kim: It was.

Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media. The folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura, hosts, Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world in an engaging and informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, long-timers, and those just starting their journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honeybees.

Kim: Once you get that, you go to get the package, you get it home, you get a couple bees in the car and things get exciting, get it out to the bee yard. You have everything ready, you've opened the top, you dumped the bees in, everything looks good. You put the cover on and you walk away. A week later, you come back or two days later, you come back and--

Jim: And you can number down to what? about 10 to 12 things. Kim, this year's big, big obstacle that Jeff and I have talked about was how cold it was, and the weather was restrictive. It makes everything on that list even more of a listed item because the coldness exaggerates and exacerbates everything.

Kim: It does. It makes it hard for the bees to get to food. It just makes it hard for the bees. One thing that I'm going to say fairly common, but common enough it needs to be mentioned is that you've got this queen in a cage, you've got the bees and the hive, you put the queen down between the frame, right in the middle of the brood nest, and you close it up and you come back in three days and she's dead in the cage.

Jim: Yes. You know that moment, been there, done that kind of thing when you stand there and you realize, "She's dead, she's not even moving there's going to be no resuscitation of this insect. No heroic measures will bring this bug back." What are you going to do then? Okay. You got a broodless, small 3 pounds or so at the most of bees that have no hope of anything but a certain death if you don't step in and take over. At that point, what happens, Kim, the devil always become what's in the details. Did you buy more than one package? If you bought more than one package, then you're obviously going to combine it.

Kim: Yes. If you're lucky and you know somebody that's got Queens that lives next door, you can make that work. If you got to drive 20 miles to get another queen, and that's the day off from work or whatever, however, you're going to make it work. You got to get those bees back to a queen, one way or another.

Jim: To at least something that can become a queen. If you know the ones who always my heart hurts for the most are the brand new beekeepers, first year, first season, first package, first hive. What they've got is maybe two packages. In many instances, one package, 10 frames of foundation, and a nice quietly painted brand new beehive, and a dead queen in a cage. You are looking at a story that has no happy ending possibility.

They've got to find someone in a bee club and at the very least borrow a frame of open brewed. That's going to be a long torturous process to get the queen drawn out from that but it's possible. Make that 30-mile drive you talked about, I think you said, "20," I'm thinking 35 because it's a 35-mile drive for me, dash up someplace and get a queen. You could go showing up and saying, "The queen died," and see if they'll stand by it, but normally, package producers don't guarantee the queens anymore, do they?

Kim: Well, something called the taillight guarantee, as long as I can see your taillights, I guarantee that queen. After that, she's yours.

Jim: There's no reason to go back in time. They used to stand by the queens more when queens are more plentiful and they were not so difficult and expensive to raise as they are now. I bet you more often than not, they just can't cover the mistakes. The new beekeepers everywhere it can make. What's the options that the beekeeper have, the new beekeeper? You probably got to go back and buy another queen and you need to do it quickly because those bees are not getting any younger and they're not being replaced. Every day that passes, you've lost more and more at the original, roughly 3 pounds that you put in.

Kim: Yes. Let's get those bees to a queen somehow, either get them into another hive that's got a queen, get some open brood in there so they can raise a queen, or go get a queen someplace or somehow, but I'll tell you something that's even more dramatic is you go out there after three or four days, and you take a look and there's nobody flying out the front door and you take the cover off and that colony is empty that they have absconded left, gone.

Jim: You're just going straight for the throat on this list, aren't you? A dead queen was bad enough, but at least you've got a remote chance of doing something. We talked about a few of those things you can do, but if they absconded, you've just got a box of equipment that you can use. Sometimes, you can make it into a flower planter or it has limited secondary uses, but an empty beehive is just that. That brand new box is not even a good swarm trap if there's not some drawn comb in it. If those bees absconded, you're basically just probably starting over next year or finding a friend who will sell you a split or something. Why about they abscond? Who knows, Kim?

Kim: One thing to consider on this and I've had it happen to me is they absconded, but they went right next door to a colony that I had sitting there. Suddenly, I had a colony next door that had twice as many bees in it. That can happen. They may have left the one you put 'em in and gone to some place that seemed friendlier. Maybe they're in established colony that had the odors and the food and things that they were used to. If you don't have another colony or they didn't go to that one and they're somewhere in the woods, I'm going to say this carefully, kiss that one goodbye.

Jim: [chuckles] Okay. Give me just a minute to think about this and get my thoughts together while we hear from our sponsor.

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Jim: What if you can kiss it goodbye, partially too, Kim? This happened right now this year and I haven't addressed it, but I will, is that they drift some. I just bought two packages this year. I bought them. I told 'em, and I've discussed in other segments and other articles that I basically bought the packages because I knew how bad the weather was going to be. I just needed to stay in shape with gritting your teeth and worrying. I got my money's worth on that, but after all, a sudden done, queens are released, feeder cans are off, and the colony is on its own. It's running now. One's about half the size of the other. Now, I've got other bees in the yard. They could have drifted other places, but the other package is considerably larger, but now, I don't want to fix it if it's working. Let everything stabilize, let that queen establish herself as the domain queen, get a brood nest going. Then when everything is alive and well, and everybody seems okay, and the clover bloom is well underway, then it'll be a more appropriate time to make some changes to equalize the brood and the population so that those colonies are much more similar.

Kim: Yes, that works. You just look at it and go, "Well, next year," which is something beekeepers tend to say a lot. [chuckles].

Jim: You know that list I told you 1 to 14, next year, it'll be 7, 9 and 12. This year, it was one, six, and three on the list that caused you grief. It's an artificial swarm, Kim, is all it is. When a beekeeper hives a swarm, every swarm is unique. We got to standardize the package swarm because we know when it's going to come and they go pick it up, it's got a queen inside, you don't have to find her, like you do on the natural swarm sometimes. All we're doing is hiving uneasy swarm, but that doesn't mean it's an easy swarm to hive every time. There's variables that are included in this.

Kim: I'll tell you a variable. Here's a good one is-- I'm sure a lot of people have seen this happen, you pick up two packages and you go to the package store and you get two and they look identical, and everything was fine and the feeder can serve about half full. They've got food and the queens moving around in the cage and you get home and you get 'em installed. You come back in three days and both queens have been released. The bees got them out of the cage, but one queen is laying already and she's got part of a frame full of eggs and a little bit of brood, the other one is just walking around, not doing anything. She's not dead. Maybe she's laying, maybe she's not, but she's not laying nearly as much as the other queen that you picked up the same day. How long do you wait to see if she's going to start?

Jim: I think you're setting me up. I think I told you I had that situation. It's one of those nights that you lie there recounting all the things you've done, thinking, "Was this the right thing to do? Should I have done something differently?" It's that beekeeper second guess that you do around a quarter of midnight at night when you can't doze off. My second-guessing was, "Should I have left that queen in there?" She was doing exactly what you're saying. She had a spotty pattern, and I intended to go back and to tell the package producer, "Well, that didn't work. She's not laying correctly."

See if I could shame them in to something, but I said, "It's a 35-mile drive, one way for me. It just didn't work out." I told you. We've discussed. It was cold, the spring, and messy, and snowy, and I just never made the trip, but she was holding the fort, but I meant to replace her after about 10 to 12 days of seeing that she's just not performing. After that, the season progressed. I went about my business, grass was growing last season, and that colony began to explode. It was one of the ones that was a real late bloomer.

It's one of mine that wondered the best this year and is already tried to swarm this season on a queen that I intended to replace. You ask a fundamental question that I don't have a fundamental answer for, how long do you wait? Well, if she looks like a good queen, if she carried herself regularly, if she had a nice full abdomen, and she had a nice retinue around her, I would wait longer. If she was a skaggy queen, undersized, the characteristics that didn't just list, I would probably rush that 35-mile trip up a bit. There's no clear answer, Kim. You're never going to have every colony perfect. This is just never going to happen. You're always going to have the good ones and the needy ones. You always work on the needy ones because the good ones are okay.

Kim: What I heard you just say, "You can't have every colony be perfect." I'm looking for the day when I can have any colony be perfect.


Jim: The thing is while we're reminiscing and pining about this, perfection is just for the moment. A perfect colony is not going to stay perfect. It's going to lose a queen. It's going to swarm. The season is going to pass. It's going to get hit with infestation of varroa populations. When you have that beautiful colony that looks like it's near perfection, you need to make a lot of pictures.

Kim: I was going to say take a picture because it ain't going to last long. We're sitting here yapping about packages, but these are the things that happened to packages, not the good things, but the things that aren't good. You got a dead queen or the queen dies right away or she isn't laying or the colony absconds. All of these things can happen and be ready for all of 'em because they're all going to happen to somebody listening out there.

Jim: Yes. Someone's going to have something happen that we weren't expecting. We have done this package thing for a long time. The beekeeping industry, the beekeeping system has a good handle on this. I guess it's like some medical procedure. This should be the outcome, good chances of this being the outcome. These are some of the things that can go wrong, but we're ready for them. Whatever goes wrong, you deal with, but one of the fundamental reasons that we always say by two packages is that you've got something to use as a tool to help the other one if it didn't make it for whatever reason.

Kim: Good advice. Have two, one can help fix the one that doesn't go as well as you think. We're running out of time here. I think we've covered a bunch of stuff that can go wrong with packages. Good luck with yours this year.

Jim: Thanks a lot. If someone had something go wrong, they want to tell us about something unique, a tree fell, a thunderbolt, or who knows what, let us hear from you. Write us. We always appreciate you interacting with us. All right. I am going out. I truly am going out later today and check those two packages, specifically. I'll get back to you some other time. To you and everybody else, goodbye.

[00:16:10] [END OF AUDIO]