May 5, 2022

Installing Package Bees in Inclement Weather (072)

Package season is about over for 2022. Perhaps thankfully too, depending on where in the country you live. Installing packages does not always go well or as depicted in bee books or Internet videos. Sometimes, the weather just does not cooperate. In...

Package season is about over for 2022. Perhaps thankfully too, depending on where in the country you live. Installing packages does not always go well or as depicted in bee books or Internet videos. Sometimes, the weather just does not cooperate. In this week’s episode, Jim talks with Jeff Ott from Beekeeping Today Podcast about installing packages in bad weather.

When you order and pay your deposit in January and February for your packages later in the spring, you envision they will show up on a sunny, warm Saturday. The birds will be singing and the flowers all in bloom. The reality can be way different when the call or email arrives saying the bees are “arriving two weeks early,” and to, “please come pick them up between 6-8:00a this Saturday…”

A quick glance at the weather app calls for rain, sleet, and a high of 38-degrees (Fahrenheit) on Package Day!  What do you do?!

Jim and Jeff discuss two different ways of approaching the issue of installing packages in bad, in climate weather… and then… following up -  releasing the queen.

How do you install packages when it is not a Chamber of Commerce weather day? Do you dump and run? Do you do a gentle release? Do you let the workers release the queen? Do you keep her confined until you are certain they’re ready to accept her? Or… do you quick release her with the new package?

Let us know!

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 72 – Installing Package Bees In Inclement Weather



Jim Tew: Listeners, I intentionally bought two packages this year of bees that I didn't need. I bought them because the weather was going to really be bad and I thought that I needed to know the pain that some of you would be feeling, so I tried to introduce those bees during cold weather. Jeff, have you ever done such a thing?

Jeff: Hey, Jim. Thanks for inviting me to the show today. Yes, I have, much the same way. All the packages when we ordered packages this year, they said end of April, beginning of May, which is good for this time of year. All the packages were early this year. We got our packages in mid-April and that's a very cool, wet time of year to receive packages and nucs in this part of the world.

Jim Tew: Let's talk about it, Jeff. Jeff Ott is from Beekeeping Today podcast. I'm Jim Tew, I come to you about once a week to talk to you on anything beekeeping on our podcast on Thursday morning.

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 host Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world and an engaging and an 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.

Jim: Jeff, when they come in, it's always a party, isn't it?

Jeff: It is.

Jim: There's all that excitement, there's all those new bee people who don't know they should be anxious. They've waited and they've waited, they ordered, they've read and hear all these bees - that excitement is infectious.

Jeff: The anticipation is really fun. In fact, when I went to pick up packages, I took my recorder and for Beekeeping Today Podcast, I did some field interviews with beekeepers as they're waiting to be handed their packages of bees. It's infectious and a fun atmosphere.

Jim: The thing that is so peculiar about it is that  - I don't want to be the old guy - the one who always lived those 25-30 years ago, but it just brings back so many good feelings, when everything about beekeeping was a mystery and oddly, in a way, it still is, Jeff.


Just a mystery you grow accustomed to is so much time passes. I got those that day and I knew straight away. I didn't have the luxury 30 years ago of such intricate weather producing systems. You can almost tell - to the minute - some of these weather apps, what some algorithms are going to tell me the weather is doing.   Every algorithm I had a few weeks ago was for a cold, snow, rain, sleet. Nowhere in that weather algorithm that it mentioned a good day for releasing packaged bees.

Jeff: [chuckles] It's kind of the opposite on package pickup day, it was sunny, and it looked really nice. Then temperature dropped through the floor that night, it was nasty. What happened? You picked up your bees and was it a good weather day that day?

Jim: It was a good weather day that day. It's one of those days that you just can't believe that the predictors are going to be correct about how dire things are. I had been forewarned and I got them home. Right on schedule, the clouds darkened and everything that they predicted would happen, happened. What I paid the money for was to review and to clearly remember the anxiety that you feel when those bees are out in your dark shop on the floor, where it's reasonably cool but not cold.

You're in the house watching braindead television, the whole time you're thinking, "One of those feeder cans empty? I wonder if I should raise the temperature in the shop a little bit. Are they okay or not?" It's $270 or $290 I paid for them, it's meaningful money. The first thing I want to bring up to the listeners is that it's okay, it's normal. It's natural to worry about those bees when they're in that package, that is not a normal condition for wild honeybees to be contained in a screened package.

Jeff: Right. The whole packaged bee process is a unnatural form too. We won't go into that in this episode.

Jim: There's a lot of things that are not natural in our bee world that look perfectly normal to us as humans managing bees. This package thing, what a trip that must be for bees trying to figure out what's happening to them. They don't know the other bees in the package necessarily. They've never seen this queen and who's the crazy guy in the white suit here. There's a lot of mystery about that.

Jeff, I don't shake packages out much anymore. I was taught in my earliest days in warm, warm blue sky at Alabama, just to shake the bees out. It's abrupt, one and done. Shake them all out, clean things up and put the empty package away and go home.

Jeff: What do you do?

Jim: I put a shell on. What's a shell? It's just an empty deep, there's nothing in it. I want a deep because I've got more room to handle the package. Everything goes inside that shell. I lay the package on its side, I put the queen cage just outside of the opening on the top bars, then the feeder can. I do silly things. I take two common soda straws that I've saved from a fast-food meal and then I knock one or two more holes in the feeder can, so the syrup comes out a little bit faster. I put that feeder can on top of those soda straws, so the bees have some clearance to get underneath to take the feed and I put that right in the general vicinity.

No bees are shaken out, I try to keep the bees not flying much at all. I lay the package on its side, set the feeder up, put the queen right in the entrance there, then I probably put some fondant someplace close by, just because I'm a worrier.

Jeff: When you set up the shell and you lay the package on its side, you've already taken out the queen and the can, the syrup can?

Jim: When I was telling you that, I was thinking, "Boy, the devil is in the details."


One of the things that's really a pain to do is to get that feeder can out. You can't grip it with anything. Now, let me tell the listeners there's two broad kinds of cages. There's that plastic cage that I really tried to come up with any other use, that's a nice cage. I'm thinking, can you grow orchids in this thing? I've tried to use it to go under beehives, they don't stand the weight. There's got to be some other use for these nice plastic packages. They are the newer models, the ones that most of the old people are accustomed to are the wooden package.

What I've learned to do since I've got about 500 of these packages that you save every year, like you're going to do something with them, I really do it. I keep about 20, the others I just have to dispose them. I've just gotten brutal. Just jam the hive tool through the side of that wire package and push that feeder can out from the bottom. That way I can hook it and yes, the package is ruined for any subsequent use, but it wasn't going to have any use anyway. That's a problem.

When you get the queen out, what are you going to do? Work as quickly as possible, for the time being, lay that lid back on the package to keep the bees from flying out. Any bee that flies out, it's for the most part, kind of disoriented. They are disoriented, lost, maybe a better word. I like to put that lid back on the package after it's opened up. I check to be sure the queen's alive. The bees are going to be probably holding on to the cage. At that pivotal moment, I need to know if she's alive at that moment. Normally, thankfully, she is. I don't take the cork out of the queen candy plug cage; I lay it down, right there.

Jeff: That was my follow up question because I've had queens show up with both a candy plug, and or just a quick plug and the beekeeper has an option to either put a marshmallow in the end or just a quick release of the queen. What's your preference? We're talking about cold weather now, too.

Jim: In this cold weather specifically, what is cold? Our Canadian beekeeper friends, if we have any listeners, probably chuckling at us right now. I suspect people in Minnesota are chuckling at me here in Ohio, calling what cold weather is. Cold weather to me, it is pretty brisk, I thought it was cold. It was around 28 to 30, it was snowing, cold, rain, sleet.

Jeff: That's cold for bees.

Jim: This is not good package weather. That may be worse somewhere else, but it's still my $300 here that I'm dealing with, so I want this to survive. I get both kinds of queen cages. In one case they actually give me a little tube that has sugar fondant packed in it and then when you're ready to release the queen, you pull the cork out and put that tube in. As we will discuss in a few minutes, you tell me when you think we're ready, when what do you do with that queen after you've waited how long?

Kim and I have talked about this, we've agreed on things. We've disagreed on things. How long do you wait with that package queen? How long do you worry? In that chair that you sit in when you're watching TV, worrying about those packages, after the packages are open, then you sit in the same chair, probably watch a different television program and worry about the caged queen. Are they covering her? Did I leave them close enough to the cluster that they'll cover that cage over? Is the cage too big? Is she freezing right now? All you can do is the best you can do, right? Jeff, reassure me here.

Jeff: Absolutely. I think you have to make a decision and go with it and say, "Well, either it's going to work or it's not going to work, but I've made a decision and they're on their own at this point." I think I always go back to the axiom-- oh, it's not an axiom, but just that we overmanage our bees and if we just let our bees be bees, they'll take care of themselves.

Jim: I want to take a minute, get my thoughts together. Let's hear from our sponsors and then we'll talk about releasing those queens.

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Jim: It depends on the weather, Jeff, on how long. I don't want to leave the queen confined a day longer than I have to, but neither do I want to release her a day sooner than she should be released. What day is that? I don't know, is part of the challenge of beekeeping. You give it your best shot. Normally, after six days, I figure that she may have been with that package two days before, two days in transit, six days in the package. She's been in that cage a long time.

This is where it gets dicey with me. I don't know why, but I open the cage. Yes, on rare occasions, I've had queens come out of that cage, like their rear ends were on fire and take off, they're gone. Then you get to write articles about that. Where is she? Where is she? More often than not, they just run right down into the colony.

Jeff: Right.

Jim: At this point, someone like you should say, Jim, why don't you just let them chew their way out?

Jeff: There you go. That was my follow-up question. Why not use that little bit of that died up marshmallow?

Jim: I’m waiting to tell you that I don't trust them. Sometimes you think, "Well, they'll go right in. They'll eat like crazy and they'll release that queen." Sometimes the fondant has gotten harder, and it may take four or five days, it can take a long time for the bees to eat through that fondant. If I go back and check that's okay, you can have a look. She's still in there, they haven't eaten her out yet, but the whole purpose for this discussion today is that it's cold.

Jeff: Right.

Jim: Every time I open that bee colony up, that with all those packages, no brood to replace them and the workers go flying out, they're probably not going to find that package again. They're probably going to die, so in all cases do no harm. At that moment, I have decided that I want to open it up, release her and be done with it.

Jeff: This year, it was cold, and it was spitting rain when I released the bees, and I did shake them out gently. I wasn't trying to get dirt out at my shoe, but I was gently shaking them out because I knew they're cold, disoriented and I left the queen in the cage with a candy plugger with a marshmallow. Because I wanted to get them closed up, out of the rain and get them settled because I figured the longer I had them open, the more they were flying around, the worse off for them. I'd rather pull the band-aid off quick and get them closed and get it over with, as opposed to-- this is my approach, right or wrong.

The one trick that I also include, so that later in the evening or later in the day that I was wondering about how the bees were doing, as you know, I have sensors on my bees. I was able to sit there and monitor and over the next several days or even to now, monitor the temperature of the beehive, to know whether the bees are maintaining heat. Then if it's just maintenance heat, maybe 60 degrees, maybe 20 degrees above an ambient or something or whether they were popping it up into the brood-rearing temperatures. I knew even though it was cold outside, because we got into a three-week cold snap after, we're basically still cold. After the packages showed up, that I could monitor the temperature and as the temperatures reached up into the brood-rearing temperature, I was confident that the queen, I knew that she had been released because I did do a quick check three days after I installed the packages.

The queens were released. I pulled the packages, quickly popped up the top back on because it was still cold and rainy. But I could follow the temperature of the brood nest and I knew that she was active because they had the brood temperature up. I said, "I don't need to pull that hive apart to make sure she's laying because right or wrong, my figure, if they're keeping it up to 92 degrees or so in the brood chamber, that they had eggs in place, and she was doing her job."

Jim: After listening to that, my inclination is to say, no fair, no fair.

Jeff: [laughs] I don't know.

Jim: I don't know all those things about my beehives. I don't have that sophisticated technology in place that I do envy. It sounds really interesting and space age and I guess you're doing all this with an app on your phone or on the computer?

Jeff: Yes, both. All the above.

Jim: That's really an interesting system.

Jeff: It is and it's a cheating way of dealing with the bees and this cool, wet weather is I can inspect the bees, check up on them, I guess I should say. Check up on the general health, I can get up a 10,000-foot level idea of how they're doing by just looking at how they're maintaining heat, compared to the ambient temperature, without having to open them up in this cool, wet weather that we have in the Pacific Northwest.

Jim: All right. I'm going to put that down as possible Christmas gifts suggestions, but I did do other things.

Jeff: Yes, please.

Jim: I conscientiously chose that expanded polystyrene equipment. I have some of that, so one of the things I thought I wanted to do was help keep my hive insulated as much as I can. The second thing is not in any book that I know of, not that I'm that clever, it's just that I'm that desperate. There's a difference.


I'm experimenting with this Mylar sheets, the emergency blankets. You can put one in your shirt pocket, they're cheap. I saw a television show last night and a woman in a car wreck. They wrapped a Mylar sheet around her, an emergency blanket. I cut those in things up and I put them around strategically and I lay an old towel over everything. I hoped that by using an insulated colony and by closing down the entrance and by stopping the draft that would pass through the colony, that somehow, I would keep the bees warmer in that box. I didn't know what else to do.

Jeff: How are the bees today?

Jim: Right now, I don't know because, Jeff, after five or six beautiful days, it went back below freezing. I got the queens out. I went back in, I found both the queens a few days later, so I think I shouldn't have done, but in the beekeeping profession, I just couldn't stay out of the hives. I did see the queens out, both of them and then the weather took a turn down. Right now, all the maple blooms, apples, the orchards, are having to have heaters in their orchards because they got four or five days are back down to 25 or so. I think they're okay. Anytime I try to look inside the hive, I cause this confusion, bees come flying out, they come out the entrance and then I've done more harm than good. I must hope that I left enough food stored there and that they're okay.

Jeff: It's a big topic. It's a fun one, though.

Jim: Can we leave it like this?

Jeff: Yes.

Jim: If they're okay, we'll talk about them again sometime. If they're not okay, we're never going to bring this subject up again.

Jeff: We'll analyze to the death, everything we did wrong and hopefully, share our knowledge.

Jim: My total intent was to introduce packages in cold weather the way other people were having to do it. Not that I'm special, but I wanted to understand what we were all going through.

Jeff: Thanks a lot for inviting me in today, Jim. This has been a delightful conversation and one I hope that we'll both be able to use next year.

Jim: I hope so too and thanks to you and thanks to everyone who's listened all the way to this point. They deserve some an award. Leave us a comment, if you want to talk to us, we'll try to get back to you. See you, Jeff. Bye-bye

Jeff: Thanks a lot, Jim.

[00:20:45] [END OF AUDIO]