Honeybee colonies die. They die in the spring. They die in the summer. They die in the fall and they especially die in the winter in Wisconsin.
Where do we get bees from the replace losses? We can spilt strong hives in the spring and summer. Splitting is creating two hives from one and adding a queen to make two complete colonies. We can buy nucs. Nucs are small hives that can be purchased from other beekeepers. We can buy packages. This blog will focus on packages.
What is a package? A package is two or three pounds of worker honeybees with a queen that is used to stock an empty hive. These worker bees are collected from strong hives in areas that have a jump on springtime relative to Wisconsin. Most packages come from the Southeast United States or California.
This is what a package looks like.
The above photo is three pounds of worker bees (about 10,000 honeybees), a queen bee hung in a protective cage in the center of the bees and a can of sugar syrup that provides food for their journey to Wisconsin.
Here is the story of how they got here.
Before they arrived here in April, beekeepers in the Southeast or California call package suppliers shook worker bees from strong colonies. Colonies that had a "jump" on our spring in Wisconsin.
This is a beekeepers choosing which combs to shake bees from.
The beekeepers then shake the bee into the cage.
In a separate operation, the beekeepers raise queens. This process could fill an entire book or two. Here is a beekeeper with cells of unhatched queens that he will be installing in tiny hives so they can hatch and get mated.
After they are hatched and mated, they are caught and caged.
These caged queens are then hung in the cage of worker bees. The queens are protected in their wooden cages until the workers get used to their scent. If they were immediately released into the workers, the workers would kill them. By the time they get to Wisconsin, the workers are familiar with the queen. Here is a batch of queens to be introduced into packages.
Once the packages are assembled, they are ready for transport. The shipping of package bees has improved greatly over the years. I hauled packages from Alabama to Wisconsin for many years. We would start loading packages mid-day and leave Alabama in the evening. We would race to get out of the hot weather before the bees died from overheating and race through what always seemed to be an ice or snow storm to get back to Wisconsin before the bees froze.
Here is a photo of me loading bees in Alabama circa 1980.
I would load 400 on my truck and another 400 or 500 on my trailer and race home. It was 26 hours one way because at that time speed limits on the interstates were 55 miles per hour. My wife, Bernadette, would help with the driving when I got too tired.
Here is a more recent photo of bees in my honey house after arrival.
As soon as possible after arriving back in Wisconsin, we would shake the bees into empty hives.
These day, package bee haulers have become a lot more sophisticated. This is a photo of a package bee truck that is typical of today's standards. The semis have fans and temperature sensors placed though-out the load. They even have backup generators in case the truck should break down. Whereas my truck carried about $13,500 worth of bees, these loads can contain $250,000 worth of bees. In spite of the efforts to insure the bees survival, every year a truck or two of bees gets in a situation where they lose the load.
On a side note, the American Bee Journal is one of the longest continually published magazines in the United States. Their first color cover was in 1985 and featured photos I took of the package bee industry in Alabama. these photos were taken at Dickman Apiaries in Bay Minnette, Al and Calvert Apiaries in Calvert, Al.