June 10, 2021

Package Queens (025)

Package Queens  (025)

Packages arrive with a queen and together are installed in a hive of some kind. In a few days to a week the queen is released from her travel cage by either the bees or the beekeeper. Then the evaluation of that queen, and the bees, too, begins. How...

USDA QueenPackages arrive with a queen and together are installed in a hive of some kind. In a few days to a week the queen is released from her travel cage by either the bees or the beekeeper. Then the evaluation of that queen, and the bees, too, begins. How good is this queen? And when should I be able to decide if she needs replacing. A week? 2 weeks? A month? And how do you decide?

There are some basic parameters you can use to evaluate her performance. You can look at the egg laying pattern she is producing, measure how many eggs she is laying each day, and note if most are workers and only a very few, if any, are drones.

Experienced beekeepers can, because of lots of practice, estimate the amount of brood in the colony after a quick inspection, and can determine if she is producing what she should be producing depending the time she has had. Returning in a week, there should be a week’s increase in the amount of brood noted. And how much is enough?

But what if she isn’t producing well? Spotty pattern? Hardly any brood - basically an unorganized nest? And when does she cross the line of being very new, to being very unproductive?

Package queens can be tricky to work with, and Jim and Kim look at the ways to measure how she is doing, and what can be done with a queen that’s only a C+ instead of an A+. There are several ways to make this work for the colony and for the beekeeper.


We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of 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 www.betterbee.com


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

Copyright © 2021 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura


Episode 25 – Package Queens


Kim Flottum: Hey, Jim, how are those packages doing you got a while back?

Jim Tew: Kim, I'm glad you asked because, overall, I’m happy with them. No event problems releasing them, and all seem to go well, but the queens are not the same, Kim. I've got one queen that's really not up to the job, then I got another queen that I'm worried about, so there's queen issues.

Kim: They're not as good as some of your other colonies?

[background music]

Jim: No. Just by having a look at them, I wanted them to be up to the job. Two of them just weren't carrying the load.

Kim: Hello, I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: And I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: We're here today talking about Jim's queens and his packages that he got this spring.

Intro: 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 honey bees in today's world in engaging and informative discussion net 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 honey bees.

Kim: Jim, what you're telling me is that you think it's the queens.

Jim: I'm sure it's the queens.

Kim: Okay.

Jim: Kim, the queen gets blamed for everything, and she gets credit for everything, doesn't she? She's just a standard bearer of the beehive, but these queens- I got five. I bought five packages, all five were accepted, but there's two that just aren’t winning the popularity contest, and one of them is outright losing the popularity contest.

Kim: The population isn't big enough. Are you counting eggs per day?

Jim: Do you have a technique for doing that? I don't have a technique for counting or estimating eggs per day. I do an overall review, but--

Kim: By the time we've been at this as long as you and I have, that's pretty much all we need to do, is pick up the frame and look at it. If you're just getting started here, I can tell you a way. It's kind of laborious, but you'll get faster at it. You go to your hive, you take your phone, and use the camera. You take a picture of every frame that has sealed brood on it. That's both sides. Then you take that camera home, you pop open a beer, you sit down, you put those pictures in your computer, and you pull up every one of those pictures, and you count the exact number of sealed brood cells you took pictures of.

Jim: Oh, wow. That is going to be tedious.

Kim: It is.

Jim: It will be very exact, though.

Kim: You get faster. The third time you do this, you'll be pretty fast. What you do is, you take that number of sealed brood cells that you just counted, and in 12 days- and if you can do it, do it the same time of the day, in 12 days, you go back and you do it again. You take a picture of every frame that has sealed brood on it, both sides. Then you take the first number, and from that number, you subtract the second number. The difference will be how many eggs a queen has laid in those 12 days. You divide that number by 12, and you've got eggs per day.

Jim: I don't doubt that for a minute. That is a precise technique.

Kim: It is.

Jim: Good job.

Kim: You get really fast at it. By the fifth time you've done this, you'll be up there where you are now by just looking at that frame and go, "This should be about half full and it's only a third full."

Jim: Kim, is this a training program on learning how to estimate bee populations, or is this--?

Kim: No, it could be, yes. [laughs] What are you going to do about those queens that aren't up to snuff?

Jim: I don't know what I want to do. Right now, I need to admit that it's real early June, the 2nd, 3rd day of June. I'm probably going to let them go along for a while and let the bees continue to vote. Right now, the bees are voting by building several queen cups. One of them had an egg in it. You know all kind of questions about that. Why is the queen doing that? “Hey, goofball, by putting that egg in that cell, you're killing yourself in the long run”. I've just got all kind of ideas; this is not going to work. I'm better off maintaining control, but this is what I anguish over, Kim. Just because I go buy another queen doesn't mean that she's going to be any better-received than this one.

Sometimes you think, "Maybe if you just subsidize that colony with brood from other colonies and let them raise their own queen, it'd be one they feel better about." Please tell me.  I'll take your advice. Do you go buy another unproven queen and try to introduce another foreign queen to these bees, or do you take brood from those who accepted their queen better, subsidize that colony while it's queen-less as they build a new queen? Otherwise, by July, 1st of August, this is going to be an undersized colony going into winter.

Kim: You got a third choice here. You can either let them raise their queen, you can go buy a new queen. No matter which one of those you do, save that queen. Make a small split from that colony, maybe a frame or two from a couple of other colonies, and then you have a nuc in your bee yard all the rest of the summer. That nuc will provide you with a queen if you have to have one right now, it'll provide you with brood, it'll provide you with food. It's a bee supply store in your bee yard.

Sponsor: Betterbee is pleased to sponsor today's episode of Honey Bee Obscura Podcast. For over 40 years, Betterbee has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment, and knowledge needed to succeed. Because many Betterbee employees are beekeepers themselves, they understand your needs and challenges, and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions. From their colorful catalog to their supportive beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast, Betterbee truly lives up to their tagline of beekeepers serving beekeepers. See for yourself at betterbee.com.

Jim: I like the idea, but I missed part of that. I take this bad queen out of this packaged colony. Do I take from some other colony to make up this nuc?

Kim: I'd take one, maybe depending on the population, one or two from her colony, one or two from another colony or another couple of colonies and put it in a 5-frame nuc and let them get adjusted.

Jim: I like the idea. I can't take more than one frame because this colony is already underachieving, but I can parasitize one frame. What I've done is along the same line, but a different thing, instead of putting them in a 5-frame nuc, I put them in an observation hive.

Kim: Wow. There you go.

Jim: In a way, that's just a nuc with glass walls to me.

Kim: Yes, that doesn't grow very fast, so you won't have to be taking bees off all the time.

Jim: It doesn't grow very fast, you're right. I'm off the subject now with observation hives, but mine's 9-frame, but that thing gets full of bees. It's a mess to work, but nonetheless, I like the idea of keeping old queens-- I wouldn't kill that queen anyway. I don't know what I'd do with her, but I'd put her in a nuc or something. Saving a bad queen is like saving an old spark plug. Sure, it used to work a little bit, and if you put it up on that shelf in the barn there, it might get well if it lays there long enough. If that queen was a great—maybe…  (pause).

Kim: Wait a minute. You mean they won't?

Jim: No, they don't, but you never know when you might need a spark plug. The battery thing might change all that, but that's yet another subject as these vehicles go battery-powered more and more. I've got to figure out what I want to do because this thing has to be helped, it's got to be subsidized. A part of me remembers like last year or a year before, I had a queen dead in the cage when I got the package, and I just combined this. I had a 6-pound package on a queen, and that conglomerate accepted the queen, turned into a mega colony, and then I did split my bees back out later in the summer.

I guess a third, or fourth, or fifth option here is to combine them. I like the nuc idea, get my nuc out of the deal, and then just combine the two pounds of bees I'm estimating that are left, boost another colony up, feed it, pump it up, and then just before robbing starts, I have to pull those over here in their hives, split them out again inside and get them ready for winter with what's left on the fall flow coming up.

Kim: Wouldn't it be nice if everything just worked when it came, you didn't have to fix it?

Jim: Oh, what would I do if that happened, Kim? Why would the bees need me for anything in the world?

Kim: There's that. [chuckles]

Jim: Just because I bought five packages, I have learned a long time ago, that doesn't mean that you expect to get five queens all just alike. Packaged queens-- Don't be beating me up, package producer, but sometimes packaged queens can be notorious. Everybody's pushing the season, it's the early season, people are pushing hard, demand is great, and you got to make work with whatever queen you happen to get. Sometimes it's not as good as you'd like. Other times, Kim, I got to say, it's better than you'd like. It works both ways.

Kim: Just be glad they didn't come up in that UPS truck.

Jim: Yes. [chuckles] That's true. That's true.

Kim: I'll check back in a couple weeks; see how they're doing. Let me know how it went.

Jim: They're going to be doing great, Kim, because I got too much money invested in this, and my wife knows all about it. I can tell you right now before you ask again, these bees are going to be great.

Kim: All right, I'll take your word for it.

Jim: All right. Check back in, I'd like to talk about it because I like working packaged bees and nucs. They don't sting me so much and the honey is easy to extract. 

Kim: [chuckles] Take it easy, guy.

Jim: All right. Bye-bye.

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