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I've been keeping this blog for all of my beekeeping years and I am beginning my 18th year of beekeeping in April 2023. 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. Along the way, I've passed a number of certification levels and am now a
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Monday, April 17, 2017

Package Bees are not Loyal to Their Queen

When the package bees woke up that morning, they didn't know they were going to be shaken into a package with a bunch of strange bees, often not their sisters. Then they were hanging around in a screened cage complete with a syrup can and a queen (not THEIR mother) in a cage. Loyalty to a stranger has to be earned.

So when the beekeeper picks up a package, it's not a bonded group. It's a loosely connected bunch of unrelated bees with an unrelated and heretofore unknown queen.

I took two packages to Stonehurst Place to install the bees on March 29. The packages were about equal in size:

As in the typical package installation, I sprayed both packages with sugar water and then installed them. The hives are side by side facing a privacy fence so that in flying out, the bees have to fly up and over the fence.

Here's the first hive that I installed:

You can see at the front of the box the tape on the top of the queen cage which I jammed between two frames. Although you can see the syrup can sitting on top of the frames, after the bees settled in a little, I removed that and put on the inner cover. Then I gave them a feeder of Bee Tea on top of the inner cover hole.

As you may remember, I have been dealing with an injured shoulder (from a fall in October) that is just now getting better. When I finished the first install and turned to the second my shoulder hurt and I didn't have it in me to be quite as thorough. 

I had a terrible time with the staple holding the Hive 2 queen cage to the package and destroyed the tape in the process. I decided to put the queen cage on the floor of the hive under the frames instead of putting it between two frames. 

When I returned three days later to give them more food, there were about three times as many bees in hive 2 than the first hive. 

And today when I went over to see if they needed a new box, here's how the bees looked in hive 1:

They are in the hive and working, but not nearly like hive 2:

Hive 2 had bright white wax drawn on every frame. I gave them a new box and pulled up two filled frames as ladders to encourage the use of the new box.  

I think all of this is about lack of loyalty and strength of pheromones. The bees were looking for a place to go and probably the pheromone of the queen in hive 2 was stronger than the queen in hive 1. And with queen 2 on the bottom of the hive, it was probably easier to smell her pheromone than the queen in hive 1 who was wedged between the frames.

So the bees who had no loyalty to begin with, gravitated to the queen in hive 2 - whether because of her strong pheromone or advantageous cage placement.

How I will handle this, in the long run, is that the next time I am over at Stonehurst Place, I'll move a frame of brood and eggs from Hive 2 to Hive 1.  If I do that every time, gradually I'll help build the population of Hive 1.


  1. There is a potent metaphor in your title. What? I don't know entirely, I just know it's there.
    Hope your shoulder is well sooooon !

    Garden & Be Well, XOT

  2. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown! (Henry IV)

    Linda, I saw exactly this once when a friend acquired a bunch of packages on the same day...I think upwards of 20. The packages were installed in identical fahion as per your Hive 1, with the queen cages hung between frames in the centre of the hive (I use a bit of floral wire to hang the cage on the frame). But when we returned three days later to confirm queen release, one hive had garnered nearly ALL the bees from three surrounding colonies. It was a monster!! That colony had already drawn out most of their bare plastic foundation into comb. That queen just rocked all summer, and was very fecund, always had a bigger colony than all the other queens, even when moved to a new location where she was the only colony. We decided she just had a particularly intoxicating pheromone profile. I suspect these are queens that should be earmarked for breeding daughter queens from.


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