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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. Along the way, I've passed a number of certification levels and am now a!
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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Another Queen Failure - this one from a Fatbeeman Package

The queen in our package installed at Chastain Conservancy was not released by the bees.  I picked up three packages from Don Kuchenmeister (Fatbeeman) for Julia and two for me on March 17.  I dropped Julia's by her house and drove home with my two.  On that same afternoon, I installed one package at my house and saved the other to take to Chastain the next day.

In most packages, the bees cluster around the queen cage and hang like this in the package (generally clustered around the queen cage suspended beside the feed can:


The bees in the package for Chastain were all over the place completely filling the box - not hanging around or organized on the queen cage.  That should have given me pause.  But I didn't think about it at the time.

I checked the newly installed hive for food needs two days after installation.  The queen hadn't been released and I gave them more honey.  Then the temperatures dropped into the 30s and low 40s for about eight days or more.  As soon as it was warm enough, we had our first hive inspection and the queen had still not been released.  So we made the decision to direct release her and she walked into the hive happily.

Now, three weeks after installation, I went to do an inspection with Julia on our own (not teaching).  To my alarm, the only brood in my hive was drone brood.  Egg cells had two to five eggs in them as if there were a laying worker.  I found several cells with two tiny c-shaped larvae in the bottom.  However, instead of a laying worker, we found the queen and watched her put her bottom in a cell to lay.

What this means is that the queen was barely mated.  She was mated enough to think she could lay but she must have only mated with a single drone, if that.  The bees weren't clustered around her in the package because she wasn't giving out queen pheromone and they didn't release her because of that as well.  Don said you couldn't tell by how they hung in the package, and said that I must have bumped the package.  I didn't - it's how the package looked when I got it from Don and also the next morning before I had touched it in any way.  Jerry Wallace, a well-respected local beekeeper, said that the bees weren't clustering around the queen cage in the package was a sign she wasn't mated.

When you purchase a package, if you get to pick it out yourself, you look for a package that has as few dead bees lying on the bottom of the package as you can.  Also since they are filled by estimate, look for one that is pretty full.  Now I know to look for how the bees are hanging in the package to make sure the queen is fully functioning.

Because there is no replenishment of the numbers in a hive that starts as a package, the number of bees is now greatly diminished and this formerly 3 pound package now only occupies a sparse three frames in the hive.  If the queen were properly mated and laying, this would not be an issue because she would have replacement brood and more ready to emerge by this point, but without any replacement bees, this hive is in jeopardy.  The remaining bees will not live for the three weeks it takes for the queen to lay brood and have it emerge.

I called Don and he questioned everything I had done with the hive.  He said I should have called him when the bees had not released the queen.  I didn't call him because once before I had purchased a queen from him; she had not been released and when I called him, he said, "Release her directly."  So rather than bother him, we just released her directly.

He said all of his queens were proven layers and that if I wanted him to replace the queen, I would have to catch the faulty queen and bring her back to him and then he would give me a queen - "I still have three or four," he said.  I said I thought he should give me some bees as well because the $95 I paid for the package is all for naught with no replacement brood at this point.  He said, "Bees are not guaranteed to live."

I told him that I have a hand tremor and that I have never picked up a queen.  He said with a tone filled with contempt, "You are a Master Beekeeper and don't know how to pick up a queen?"

When I went over to Jerry Wallace's house today, he lent me his queen clip and also told me how to "herd" the queen into a queen cage without having to pick her up, so I'll try that first tomorrow and then the queen clip if I can't "herd" her.

I have bought bees from Don for four years and spent a lot of money with him.  I have put him on our supplier list that we give out to new beekeepers (over 100 of them) who take our short course.  Every time anyone asks me where to get bees I recommend him highly.

No more.

I wish he had just said, "Gosh, I'm sorry, Linda.  With this cold beginning to the spring a lot of queens have been poorly mated.  Come by and get another one, no problem."  But instead he was angry that I was unhappy and seemed resentful that he would have to replace my queen.

I guess he would rather be angry at me and make a poor business decision in how he handled my problem instead of being nice and helpful to me, a steady customer who has sent him many, many customers.

I told him that in my business, we call what he was doing to me "blaming the victim," and he told me not to lecture him and to get another supplier.

But now that's done, as far as I am concerned.  I will not be giving out his name any more to anyone.  Julia and I are in charge of the MABA short course next year so I will remove his name, since he has essentially suggested that I do so, from our recommended suppliers.  I can't imagine a new beekeeper having to deal with what I had to deal with yesterday and today in my interaction with him.

Post Script:  Jerry Wallace has been in touch with a number of bee suppliers in south Georgia where Don's packages are raised.  Jerry reports that they tell him that many of the queens coming out of south Georgia as early queens are poorly mated because we have had such a cold March throughout the state.  Our winter months were not any of them as cold as the first three weeks of March were in Georgia.  So many of the queens who flew out were not able to mate as often or as well as they would need to in order to be a success in their hives.  I imagine I am not the only one who has called Don to say that the package they received from him had a bad queen.









15 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing the info. Sorry you had to go through it, but I'm glad you are going to keep new beekeepers like me from having to deal with that.

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  2. THANK YOU for the info on how they should hang in the package! I'm getting ready to buy 2 packages because all of ours were dead-outs this spring. Our queens were poor quality as well. I'm going to look for the bees hanging correctly.

    Sorry to hear the guy was a jerk to you. I hope your next queen lays beautifully. :-)

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  3. Thanks for this post. I know that every business has bad days, but they can't blame the customer when they sell a faulty product. Best to know which companies will treat you right.

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  4. If the package has been recently moved or jostled, the bees won't be so organized but generally they should be hanging onto the center and will thicker on the side of the feed jar where the queen is. I've Alonso seen really full packages where they tail off on both sides rather than one as in the illustration. But they shouldn't be belter smelter all over the inside of the box..

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  5. Didn't preview and posted from my auto correcting I pad. Meant to say "will be thicker" and "also" not Alonso. Finally " they shouldn't be helter skelter

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  6. Several years ago Wayne Esaias of the NASA HoneyBeeNet site spoke at our bee club about what the bee and NASA vegetation data had already shown: spring was coming weeks later down south, particularly bee breeding areas in GA, and about 3 weeks earlier in the north, where many beekeepers rely on southern packages to grow in time for the main (and sometimes only) spring nectar flow. So the beekeeping business model of the past was changing due to climate change.

    Part of this problem is the poor queen mating for early spring packages-- just not enough drones out. The Fatbeeman should certainly be aware of this. Many in VA and MD recommend starting with packages but replacing the queen within months as soon as locally bred queens are available to keep the colonies strong.

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  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  8. Interesting... I live much too far from Georgia to have ever bought bees from "The Fat Beeman" but I've watched a little kind of cult gathering of beekeepers in the blogosphere and on YouTube that has built up around him. Some his stuff has been interesting, but I've always had the sense that he comes off as a little "greater than thou" with his beekeeping.

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  9. This is my 4th year of beekeeping and 2 out of the 4 years I have been given failed queens from the start. The first time was through a local business that purchased nucs from out-of state and they wouldn't return my phone calls and I eventually gave up after 5 days and just introduced a frame of eggs and brood from my other hive.

    The 2nd queen failure was last year and I had to pack up the nuc and return it to the local beekeeper and get a new nuc which was a pain to do...transporting etc. By the time the queen was laying, it was the 3rd week of June and the nectar flow was over and the hive was give bare foundation so I fed them ALL summer, fall, and winter to keep them alive.

    From both experiences I was not financially compensated what-so-ever and I had to go out of my way to make it work. It is frustrating and local isn't always the best choice because then friction is created in the local bee community. The other 2 years when I ordered through the mail out of state, I had no problems...go figure!

    http://simplyresourceful.blogspot.com/

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  10. Ron - Marietta, GA10:06 AM

    I had a similar bad experience with Don K from Lula, GA. I ordered a NUC in November 2012 from him and he forgot the order. When I finally got him on the phone, he could not help me and basically told me the problem was all mine, not his. He was extremely busy, telling me he was getting top dollar from buyers in New York and was working day and night.
    He was the first person I have met in the beekeeping community who was not helpful nor friendly. Obviously overworked and stressed out.
    However, like you, I will not do business with him, again.

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  11. A guarantee on Mother Nature..
    Never heard of one.. especially with bees.
    Any Beekeeper knows getting bees from anywhere is a crap shoot... even from your own yard.


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  12. Absolutely you are right - there are no guarantees. I'm upset with how I was treated. I didn't expect him to guarantee the queen, although I've sent him so much business over the years, what I did expect and didn't get was to be treated with respect.

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  13. Ivan McGill9:20 PM

    One of the problems is it doesn't matter if you are a "master beekeeper", that is on paper and experience is another matter. I have over 40 years experience with a bee masters in British Columbia, Canada. I am still learning every year, must be slow learner. Over the years have bought nucs and packages. You have to expect loses of queens especially with bad springs.

    But on the side of producers they should replace or refund if impossible to replace. Some are forgetting that some day their business will fall off or maybe they don't care, but should remember that they were new beekeepers at one time. No one comes into this business knowing everything.

    Probably he over booked, a mistake, but don't take it out the customers.

    What was needed, when I lost a queen is to order one right away from someone else. That is what I always did.

    Old Beekeeper

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  14. Thanks, Linda. I'm done with packages and found this post because someone I'm getting nucs from said he learned from the Fat Beekeeper videos. He may just be an old fart and may really know his stuff, but carefully inspecting your purchase is so important. I have a bad habit of trusting everyone when they tell me thus and so. I'm in my sixth year going for my master beekeeper certificate this fall, and am surprised what tips I've missed with all the wonderful classes I've had and all the reading I've done. Sometimes pick up of nucs or packages can be chaotic, especially after a long drive, but looking for signs of health in both is so essential. I agree, the bees should be clinging to that can o syrup!

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  15. It's not that the bees should be clinging to the can of syrup - they should be clinging to and gathered around the queen cage which is hanging right beside the syrup. I didn't mean to give the impression that the syrup is the important factor. A mated queen gives out a pheromone that draws the bees. An unmated one like the one in my package doesn't have any power over the bees so they are all over the package.

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