Preparation of Package Bees

Australian beekeepers are being more familiar with the use of package bees to make up new hives or to replace losses incurred over the winter. How are these package bees produced?

The package bee supplier has to ensure that the beekeepers whose bees are to be shaken have sufficient bees to allow beehives to be shaken, and also have ensure that enough newly mated queens are available ahead of time for each pallet.

In the weeks prior to the supply date, the beekeeper suppliers are hard at work preparing their hives.

A. The Package of Bees

Bees for packaging usually are shaken from the upper part of strong colonies, so that mostly young adult bees will be included. The hive lids are set slightly askew and the hives are smoked heavily at the entrance to force the young bees from the brood combs up into the top supers. (Fig.1) The bees are both blown and shaken through a funnel into the packages or into a “shaker box” until about 10 pounds of bees have accumulated; then several packages are filled from the shaker box. It usually takes about 4 hives to provide enough bees to fill the shaker cage. (Fig.2)

Fig.1 Smoking the hive to force young bees into the supers

Fig.1 Smoking the hive to force young bees into the supers

The package also contains a young queen that had started laying prior to being caged and shipped. The queen is kept in a small wooden cage with one screened side. The caged queen is well-protected during transit and fed through the screen. This contact with the bees improves her acceptance when the package is hived.

Fig.3 Transferring  bees from the cage into the packages.

Fig.3 Transferring  bees from the cage into the packages.

The hole at the top of the package is then sealed with a lid and the package of bees then joins the other full packages on the pallet. Groups of packages, spread apart to give the clusters adequate ventilation, are then put on the pallet, creating layers. Each layer is stapled together right around the pallet, and to the layer below. Once the final layer is complete, cardboard moulding is stapled around all the corners and diagonally to provide further support and rigidity.

A package of bees usually weighs 1 or 1.5 kg (2 or 3 lbs). The 2 lbs package contains approximately 8,000 bees; the 3 lbs package has about 12,000 bees. In Australia packages are also made up in 4lb and 5lb. The bees are shipped in a box with four wooden sides and screened material in the front and back. This combines lightweight, sturdiness, and a maximum of screened area through which the bees can ventilate their cluster.

It is necessary to keep the assembled pallet of packages cool, as the accumulated heat from the packages of bees can cause bees to smother and asphyxiate.. This is usually done by the use of shade cloth, by watering the shade cloth as needed, and/or by the use of dry ice (frozen Carbon dioxide), the melting of which uses up the heat being generated by the packages. Up to 100 kg of dry ice is put on the top of the pallet.

B. Ordering Packages

Packages should be ordered early. Some local beekeeper clubs, and some beekeeper suppliers, place a large single order to economize on price, permits and shipping.

Author:  Des Cannon