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Welcoming Our New Bees: Part 1

We're getting really good at this... we thought.

· bees,queens,package bees,new hives

Spring is such an exciting time for me as a beekeeper. We have now had a chance to open up all of the colonies that were overwintered and assess their health for the upcoming season. The bees are becoming much more active, finding pollen long before you would ever guess there's pollen to be found. There is plenty of work to do in the bee yards to ensure that the gals have everything they need to be successful once the nectar flow begins.

Bees survive the winter on the honey that they have stored up from the previous summer.

Each spring we expand or replace colonies by purchasing "package bees." The bees are ordered in January from a local beekeeper and after a long winter wait, they are delivered sometime in April. The process of getting bees into a package is pretty interesting in and of itself. The package provider uses a giant funnel and shakes frames of bees into plastic packages called a 'Bee Bus.' Packages are typically sold as a 2 lb. package or 3 lb. package of workers with a queen - which queen hybrid is dependent on the beekeeper's preference for temperament, cold tolerance, disease resistance and a variety of other traits. The bees are shaken into the package, a young queen is added inside of protective cage, and they are given a supply of sugar syrup (to simulate nectar) to eat while they travel to their final destination. When the queen is first introduced to the worker bees, there is risk that they could kill her because they don't yet identify her as 'their' queen. This is why she is contained during transport. Our package bees come from California - remember this little detail when we get to Part 2. By the time the bees arrive to us by special truck (usually about 3 days from when they are packaged), the workers have had time to become familiar with the queen's pheromone and will have accepted her as their queen.

You may be asking yourself: How many bees are in a 3 lb. package? Typical estimates are between 3,500-4,000 worker bees per pound, so a 3 lb. package of bees contains 10,000 - 12,000 bees, plus the queen. Pretty incredible, right?

So with the bee delivery date scheduled for around April 15th this year, we set out to prepare hives for them to move into. We are welcoming 8 new packages into our yards - with the hope of increasing honey production significantly over the next few years. This being the fourth year that I have installed package bees, I was looking forward to a very smooth process and a great start to the season. Typical package install weather is somewhere between 40-60F and varying combinations of rain or sun.

Installing our first package of bees - April 2014

But as we got closer and closer to delivery day - Saturday - the weather was not looking very cooperative. The bees left California on Wednesday and could be delayed significantly by a storm moving across the entire US. The forecast called for significant snowfall and terrible road conditions. On Friday afternoon a Blizzard Warning was officially released. This was going to get ugly... (continued, Part 2)

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