Honeybee Package care - BEFORE hiving

April 24, 2019

When your package arrives in the springtime in Alaska, sometimes the weather isn't conducive to hiving immediately. These are my thoughts and opinions on caring for your girls until you can safely hive them.  While honeybees can survive a week or even longer inside their package, I would NEVER recommend keeping them inside their package for more than a few days after you get them. When you receive your package, always ask your supplier what day they were packaged. Hopefully, it's only been a few days, but you want to make sure. Every single day that they remain enclosed, they will slightly deteriorate. You will notice more dead bees on the bottom of your package, and for the surviving bees, they will just be a little less healthy. I like to think of them like fragile fruit. While those grapes or tomatoes might still look ok sitting on your counter, the flavor and texture is in a continuous decline. Usually when packages arrive, there is still snow on the ground. Some years even several feet! This is ok. Sometimes, we are mid-snowstorm. This is much less ok....So we take calculated risks. We want the bees inside the hive where they can start building comb, and the queen can start laying eggs. We also don't want to accidentally kill them off by being too hasty. If it's actively snowing and blowing outside, check your forecast. (Those are never wrong!) If it appears that you will have a break in the weather sometime in the next few days, it's worth it to hold them in their package. A cement floor in an unheated garage is pretty perfect usually. You want your bees to be cool and dark, conserving their energy. This will further their lifespan. Ambient light is not that big of a deal, but you do not want direct sunlight on your package. Temperatures between 40-50F are ideal. The bees create their own heat, and keep each other warm in their cluster inside the package. If they are too warm, you will notice that they are much more active inside their package. You will see them running around on the screen and spreading out. You'll also notice that their "buzz" is louder. This will hasten their deterioration. They will expend more energy, and consume more feed, leading to fuller guts. You want to see them in a nice tight cluster, and hear a gentle buzz. Remember that package bees are already stressed out. By the time they get to you, they have been shaken out of their parent colonies, mixed with workers from other colonies, dumped into a box, given fake food, and had a new queen introduced to them that doesn't smell right. Then they get trucked to an airport and take a plane ride or two, while being handled by non-beekeepers who are typically scared of them and/or don't understand their basic needs at that stage. Have you ever watched baggage handlers? Eeek! After being picked up from the airport there is typically a road trip for them, sometimes multiple. They came from 70-80F weather, and will be lucky to ever see those temps again in their lifetime....My point is, we want to stress them as little as possible. Cool and dark, cool and dark! On that note, please do not put them in a box or tote with a lid on them! They generate an amazing amount of heat on their own. Air flow IS A MUST, even if it means letting in some light.