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I've been keeping this blog for all of my beekeeping years and I am beginning my 19th year of beekeeping in April 2024. Now there are more than 1300 posts on this blog. Please use the search bar below to search the blog for other posts on a subject in which you are interested. You can also click on the "label" at the end of a post and all posts with that label will show up. At the very bottom of this page is a list of all the labels I've used.

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I began this blog to chronicle my beekeeping experiences. I have read lots of beekeeping books, but nothing takes the place of either hands-on experience with an experienced beekeeper or good pictures of the process. I want people to have a clearer picture of what to expect in their beekeeping so I post pictures and write about my beekeeping saga here.Master Beekeeper Enjoy with me as I learn and grow as a beekeeper.

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Friday, April 30, 2010

Let's Consider the Package of Bees

When a beekeeper wants to get started with bees, there are five ways to get bees:  a nuc, a package, a swarm, an established hive, a cut-out from a building.  Most go with the first or second.  I've only bought nucs up until this, my fifth year.  This year I bought two packages.

Let's consider the package.  A package of bees is in a sense an imitation swarm.  However, the bees in a package are not necessarily sisters - usually they are shaken from a number of hives to get the pounds needed in the package. A pound of bees, FYI, contains about 3500 bees.  So a two pound package has about 7000 bees in it.  Also in the package is a queen who has not yet met her hive.  She is contained in a queen cage.  All of these unacquainted bees are dumped in the hive with the queen remaining in her cage until they eat through the candy and release her in three or four days.

If you have ever shaken bees off of a frame, you know that there are always a number of bees who cling to the frame and won't get shaken off.  When harvesting I have to use the bee brush to get these girls to leave the frame.  The clingers are usually younger bees.  The younger bees in the hive are the ones who make the wax from the glands on their thorax.

A swarm, on the other hand, represents the reproduction of the hive.  When a swarm leaves the hive, the bees comprising the swarm are engorged with honey for the journey.  In a swarm about 70% of the bees are 10 days old or younger, ready and developmentally at the stage to make wax.  The queen is known to all - for she is, in the first swarm out of a hive, their mother.  The swarm is staged for success because, after all, success of the swarm equals successful reproduction of the hive.

I'm finding that it is quite difficult to learn how to successfully pull off installing a top bar hive.  And I'm also now worrying about the package installed in Rabun County on foundationless frames in a Langstroth box.

Since the girls in a package are possibly past the developmental stage of making wax, is the hive doomed from the beginning if you are using foundationless frames?

I don't think I am going to look favorably at the idea of purchasing packages again.

I like the nuc because it is a mini-hive, already started.  And while you can make mistakes with the nuc (such as enthusiastically putting too many boxes on before the bees have built out their first box, as I did), the chances of success are greater.  They are more likely to swarm like our recently installed nucs at Blue Heron, but they don't usually abscond.

I love to get a swarm and although my friend gave me the swarm that I hived in the top bar hive a while back, I didn't catch it.  I would like to get one this year just for the satisfaction of starting a hive that wants to get up and running fast as it is developmentally driven to do.

But I'm not anxious to install another package.


  1. Your blog is SO helpful. I have wondered about the clingers, and now I know. Thanks!

  2. Good points. I will be involved with 3 packages, and one Nuc this year. this is my first year in beekeeping, so it will be interesting to see how these 4 hives develop.

  3. You might note that there is no biological "developmental stage" beyond egg, larvae, pupae and adult. True, there is a significant age polyethism (different jobs at different ages) that seems to be related to hormone levels, but bees will very readily switch jobs based on what the hive needs. Also, up to 2/3 of bees in hive leave in a swarm, and they're not primarily younger bees.

    As far as I know, there is no age at which bees lose the ability to draw out wax, nor do all the hive's bees need to be drawing out wax in order to quickly build comb for brood and food storage.

    So no, you do not need to worry about a new package drawing out comb -- foundation helps them to draw it out in a convenient way, but it doesn't significantly reduce the amount of wax they actually have to produce.

  4. Deamiter, thanks for that perspective. I know that bees (older ones) can switch jobs easily back to making wax, but my point was that the bees in a swarm don't have to make that switch - they are already there. And the research shows that 70% of bees in a swarm are less than 10 days old. But your words are reassuring and I appreciate your taking the time to comment.

  5. Anonymous6:59 PM

    I installed a package in my top bar hive 12 days ago and they have 7 bars drawn out half way. (They don't seem to want to draw out the other half, but I figure they'll get there when the need the space.) I hope your hives are doing just as well. Have you seen the video of how to chop a nuc frame so that it fits in a top bar hive? http://vimeo.com/5614348

  6. Anonymous5:49 PM

    This is my third year keeping bees and I've always used packages and foundationless frames. I've never had trouble with the bees failing to draw comb, in fact, I'm always quite astonished at how quickly they fill the empty boxes. From my experience, I don't think you have anything to worry about in the wax building department by using a package of bees.

  7. Wendy9:37 PM

    Hi Linda,

    I love your blog. We are all learning from your experiences - thank you.

    Question: You say "and while you can make mistakes with the nuc (such as enthusiastically putting too many boxes on before the bees have built out their first box..." What will putting too many boxes on do? I recently put another box on a new hive that hadn't quite filled out the 10 frames in their first box. Should I remove the additional box?

    Lastly, I have 4 hives that have all been with packages, basic foundation, no comb. I've not yet had the pleasure of nuc-land. All installs were done and then i left them for a few weeks - all successful. I'm thinking you don't have to worry and they may be your strongest hive yet.

  8. If you put on a box before they have built out 80% of the box below it, then the bees are likely to build straight up the middle of the boxes and never use the outer frames. I was sort of joking because I installed my first nuc and put two boxes on the hive. Then when I found out that was a mistake, I quickly and with a red face removed the extra boxes until 8 frames were built out!


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