May 20, 2021

Plastic & Wooden Packages (022)

Plastic & Wooden Packages  (022)

Honey bees are purchased from commercial operations in business to sell bees to beekeepers. They can be sold as complete eight or ten frame hives with a queen, frames with comb, bees and brood and some stored food. Or, they may be sold as a 5-frame...

Wood or PlasticHoney bees are purchased from commercial operations in business to sell bees to beekeepers. They can be sold as complete eight or ten frame hives with a queen, frames with comb, bees and brood and some stored food. Or, they may be sold as a 5-frame small colony, traditionally called a nucleus colony, or more commonly a Nuc, with a queen, comb, food and bees. Bees can also be bought in bulk – by the pound, traditionally in a container of some sort, without frames or comb. A queen accompanies the bees, protected in a wooden or plastic queen cage.

For over 150 years the containers used to ship the bees from the seller to the purchaser was a box with the top, two sides and the bottom made of wood, with the remaining two sides covered with wire screen so the bees inside had adequate ventilation. A feeder can of sugar syrup is fastened in the box to provide food for the bees for the several days. Once received, the beekeeper removes the feeder from the opening in the top and the bees dumped through this opening.

Plastic PackageA new shipping box is now available and popular with some package producers. Made of plastic, it had the same dimensions as the traditional package, but all sides have tiny ventilation holes and the walls, top and bottom are thick enough that the bees inside can’t reach through and sting someone holding the container, like they could through the screened containers. These, too, have a feeder provided inside with an opening on top. However, one end of the package is attached so it can be opened and the bees removed easily through this much larger opening.

There are other significant differences between these two commonly used “packages,” in how they are handled, the feeder can, how the bees can be removed, and what to do with the package when the bees are gone. Is this new package better, the same, or not as good as that decades old wood and wire box?

Kim and Jim discuss these differences, both good and bad, in this segment of Honey Bee Obscura.

Creating Packages


Be sure to check out the selection of Honey Bee Obscura Video Moments on the OneTewBee YouTube Channel, including this one on hiving a package in the rain!


This episode of Honey Bee Obscura is supported by the three generations of beekeepers at Leibengood Family Apiaries, providing Georgia certified, southern raised bee packages and queens to central Ohio each Spring!


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


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 22 – Wooden & Plastic Packages


Jim Tew: Packages are similar to swarms, only a lot different.

Kim Flottum: Well, you have that right. I helped a friend of mine put it in a couple packages this week.

Jim: How did that go?

Kim: You really want to know.

Jim: Let's talk about it. Hi, I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: Today we're going to talking about installing some packages and some of the things that work and some of the things that sometimes don't work on Honey Bee Obscura. Thank you for listening in.

Opening: 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. 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 honey bees.

Jim: Kim, about this package thing, what happened?

Kim: He got packages from two different places, and one of them was that new plastic package, and the other one was the wood box with the screen on the sides.

Jim: Yeh, the traditional package.

Kim: I've had both, of course, you've had both. What it did was gave me an opportunity, because almost always when I'm dealing with packages, I'm the one dealing with them, but this time I got to watch. It made a difference. I saw things that you don't see when you're doing the hard work yourself.

Jim: When you're the one in the thick of it, making your own decision.

Kim: Right. It was an educational experience for me because I was watching him and I'm going to say okay, the next thing you do is, and he didn't do that, he did something else, and I'm going in, but it worked.

Jim: He didn't follow the rules, Kim. There's beekeeping rules that have to be followed, otherwise, you do it wrong.

Kim: Absolutely. Well, one of the things that I noticed right off, was of course, the white plastic packages, and they're fairly new and a lot of people don't have them yet. A lot of people do, but a lot of people don't have them yet. It got me to thinking what's the advantage, if any, of one of these over the other. We've been using that wood-- I think A.I. Root invented the wooden package with the screen sides, I really do.

Jim: I didn't know that. I didn't know that.

Kim: That's how far back it goes. It's like, if it hasn't changed, is it because it's perfect, or if it hasn't changed, is it because nobody really cares because it still works more or less.

Jim: Or, has it not changed because it's just beekeeping? We do things the same way for ever.

Kim: We do that.

Jim: In many ways, some of the things we do forever are the nuances that we all enjoy. This plastic package thing Kim, for those people maybe who have not gotten a plastic package of bees, that sounds funny. Tell me how to describe it, what to tell people, how does it work?

Kim: Well, it's the same size as the old wooden screen one, dimensions are essentially identical. It's got the hole in the top for the feeder can. What it does have that the wooden one doesn't have, is that you can open the end and let the bees walk out or gently pour them into the hive rather than shaking the heck out of them to get them out of that feeder can hole.

Jim: Which do you like better so far?

Kim: Without a doubt, I like the plastic package better, but it's got some downfalls. One of the downfalls is that it's plastic, and we aren't doing this planet any good by making more plastic. The recycle issue of it bothers me a bit.

Jim: I understand. It's what? Not recyclable?

Kim: That's a good question, I don't know, where does it go? What do they do with this plastic that people who send them to you won't take them back? Because they're worried about what could it be contaminated with while you had it in your garage all summer. They don't want them back, so it's a one-way trip.

Jim: I can't blame them for that. I wouldn't want them back either. I can't blame them for that.

Kim: The other thing, the people who helped develop them, they figured out real quick that the labor costs and making a package is way less than for the wooden package, but the materials cost more. The plastic costs more than the wood in the screen, but the labor to put them together is less for the plastic. In the long run, they tell me that it costs less to produce a plastic package and the wooden screen one because of that imbalance.

Jim: And the fact that you don't have to put them together.

Kim: Well you do.

Jim: The way that works out is quite nice if you're trying to save money on assembly and whatever.

Kim: The thing I like about the wooden screen package, it's how I learned how to keep bees.

Jim: It's the right way isn't it, Kim? It's the right way.


Kim: You can get stung through that screen. You can't get stung through the plastic, the holes are deep enough that a bee can't get at you through them. You can dump them out, rather than shake them out. The guy that I was with this week had a double overtime getting the can out of that wooden cage. Have you ever had that?

Jim: I am just waiting for my opportunity to talk about that. Yes Sir. He's was like, "I will just pull this can out the way Jim Tew said there and shake the bees out." 20 minutes later, you get that can out of that cage. By then you are exasperated and the bees have had it with you and they wonder what they've done wrong to end up in your domain. Yes, I've had that issue with that thing, Kim.

Kim: Well, I watched him wrestle with this for quite a while, I don't know, not 20 minutes, maybe 10, but that's 10 minutes that should have been 2 at the most. When he finally got it out of there, of course, then there's the queen hanging down there and in that old wooden queen cage. The thing about the wooden queen cage, is that a Benton cage, is that's what it's called?

Jim: That was the original name I think, a Benton three hole cage.

Kim: The thing about the Benton three hole cage, or at least the one that came with him. Is if you're going to put it between frames so that the queen is facing between frames instead of burying her in the frame behind, the cage doesn't fit. You have to take the frame out to make that cage fit like that.

Jim: Well, see, the good thing is you stand that frame by the beehive and you leave it there and then at night the raccoons have something to keep themselves busy with. Because otherwise you got to police up all those extra combs, those extra frames and do something with them until you put them back in. You are 100% right, you can't get that cage in.


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Jim: Kim, it was raining. When you get your package, you think it's going to be blue skies and happy days and you follow steps one through five and everything worked. It was raining when I installed mine and I think it was about a week ago last Monday. I just laid the queen cage on top, and then I put a empty deep around it and then that night, I had trouble going to sleep thinking, I should have put something over I should have put something over it.

The next day I went out and laid old towels on that cluster because you think I'll snap out the frame like Kim is talking about. Then it causes all kinds of dis-consternation and package bees are flying and it's still rainy and cloudy and I'm doing harm. I gently laid a towel over them, so right now my packages are back there, queens are confined and I'm in the worrying stage right now.

Kim: The cage that came in the plastic package was the plastic cage in of itself and it fits so nicely between two frames and it had openings all around it. No matter where you put it, bees would have access to the queen and that just makes things so much easier.

Jim: It certainly does, because one of the things that I don't know how to talk about, is the anxiety of the bees covering that cage, is she close enough, or is it warm, did they pull back into a cluster? Should I be feeding? What do you do with the eggs? Where do you put this valuable Queen that you can't really get a replacement for soon enough, where do you put her in that cage? in that hive?

Kim: That's the $64 question there. I think that's what a queen cost anymore, isn't it?

Jim: If it's not, it will be but don't get me going on that, I'm in trouble already.

Kim: It was a good experience watching him and being able to objectively see the differences in the cages and the differences in the styles. The techniques that you had to use to get bees out of that box and into your hive and make it work for you. I still think the plastic cage for me works best, but the wooden cage is the standard of beekeeping industry and it's probably not going to go away.

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Jim: I want to tell you, you know I haven't rehearsed this, so I'll tell you point-blank. I am exactly 50-50, some aspects of the wooden cages are traditional and I am accustomed to them. The freshness and the differentness of the plastic cage made this whole package bee business a little bit more exciting, it was different and whatever. When all is said and done, I can't tell you that I like one better than the other. I am going to say this without preparing you that I was going to say it. For the last two years, I have just taken those wooden cages and just ripped that screen.

Up until then, I thought, "Well, I'll reuse this package. This will be useful. I'll put a swarm back in it, I'll do something." I have this collection of wooden package cages. This time when I couldn't get that can out, I just stuck my hive tool right through the side of that screen, caught the bottom of that can, and use my hive tool as a pry bar against the bottom of the cage and pushed that can out from the top. The screen is ruined then, but I'm releasing the bees anyway, so it popped up fine.

I guess if I added one thing to this, is that there are suggested common ways for releasing these bees, either shaking them or releasing them slowly. When you're standing there, and it's your bees, and it's raining, and you're working by yourself, you do whatever it takes to keep this project moving along. Because something's got to be done at that moment and you may find yourself having to make up rules at the moment.

Kim: The only question I can come up with is, what have you ever done with a wooden wire package after you've got the bees out? How many do you have them sitting in your garage that have been there, oh, seven years?

Jim: Kim, the same thing as me saving propolis. Every time I scrape propolis off, I squeeze it into a little ball and I save that because one day I'm gonna have a use for all these propolis balls. I do have about a dozen old package cages and then sometimes I like to leave them outside so they season for a while. Maybe after a year or two, they get that seasoned look when they're sitting out by the edge of the bee boxes back there. Then finally when they're just too far gone, you just toss them.

The only thing I've ever done with them Kim, is that I do have a little bee vacuum that needs a package cage or two to vacuum bees into it. If I had three cages, that would be one or two too many. I don't need a dozen which is about what I have right now. The good thing about the plastic cage you can stack those outside and they'll sit there forever. They don't take on the weathered ambient look that the wood cages take on. I'm back where I started, I'm at 50-50 on this. Either one worked about the same for me.

Kim: As long as I can still get bees from people, I guess that's what counts.

Jim: Yes. I enjoy the package things. I'll wind it down on this. It's a little bit like a swarm but in many ways not anything like a swarm.

Kim: You got it.

Jim: The fanfare, the people, the excitement, the new beekeepers, all the bees in the air, and the horse-trading going on and money changing hands and bees being bought. It's a real happening on that day when you pick your packages up. For a beekeeper, it's the clear arrival of spring. We'll give ourselves a year, and right about a year from now we'll probably have pretty much the same discussion all over again-

Kim: Okay.

Jim: If you're up for it. I enjoyed talking about it.

Kim: Take care.

Jim: All right. Bye-bye.