I must confess, my favorite event of beekeeping has got to be opening up a successfully wintered colony in early March, but running a close second is introducing package bees to their new home. It’s one of those rare moments in life when the counter-intuitive is actually the thing you want to do:
- Put Bees in Your Car. Yes. Find a local supplier of bees (or have them shipped to you), wake up early and be the first person at their shop, pay the remainder of your balance and then put them in your car. Here in Seattle I visit Jason and Heather at Sherwood Honey and Rachel and Jim at the Beez Neez to get my bees. Don’t let them get too hot, as that happened to me last year and it stressed them out. Drive home with the windows open.
- Put a Package of Bees in Your Friend’s Hands. Once they realize what is happening, it’s usually too late. They’ll stand there with out-stretched arms for a few moments and then ask you to do something with them.
- Put Bees on Your Kitchen Table. Packaged colonies are usually introduced around dusk, so put them someplace where you can admire them until it is time. It needs to be cool, so if you plan on holding the package for a couple days, put them in your basement or garage.
- Entertain the Idea of Letting Them Escape. Bees travel a long way to get to Seattle. Some come from California and some come from Wisconsin. There is a little can of sugar-syrup in the top of the package. Turn the package over, letting the can slide out part-way into your hand, and feel the weight of its contents. You are so close to liberated bees! If it’s empty, drizzle some sugar water on them through the screen.
- Tell Your Friends NOT to Wear Protective Gear for the Introduction. It’s definitely a time to celebrate, so call your friends over and kids love it. I wear a veil and give one to whomever is actually doing the introducing, but everyone else will be just fine.
- Put the Queen in Your Pocket. When the moment comes, and you have your bottom board, hive body, frames, inner cover, feeder jars, and cover exactly where you intend to keep them, gently bang the bees to the bottom of the package. Turn the package on its side and remove the syrup can. The queen is in the little box hanging from the center. Take her out, admire her, and put her in the pocket over your heart so she doesn’t get chilled.
- Bang on the Package! Remove four of the frames and spread the remaining six to each side inside the hive body. Vigorously dump the bees into the hive, shaking them, even banging the side of the package to get them to roll out of the hole. Don’t worry; they’ll be fine, and you won’t get stuck there wondering how to get all the bees out.
- Introduce the Queen. Take her out of your pocket. Give her a good look over because unless you go looking for her, the next time you see her will be a real gift. Notice how slender she is… pretty soon she will be royal and matronly. Holding her over the mass of bees on the bottom of your box, remove the cork from her mini package, and let her crawl out and join the colony. Sometimes she won’t go through the little passage, and you’ll have to pop off the screen with a knife. Don’t let her fly away….
- Let Them Do Their Thing. Close up the frames gently around the bees, adding the others to the outside of the cluster. Put on your inner cover and feeding jars, put a hive body around that, and then put a lid on it. Wish them well.