Bees are late this year. The date to pick up packages was pushed out one week, then two, as the suppliers Stedman’s use didn’t have bees ready yet. It was a cool spring in northern California, too.
Here’s the way it works: you put your order in to Stedman’s, preferably in March, for either Italians or Carniolans. The Stedman staff drives a truck down to northern California on Thursday. The suppliers there have been preparing packages by dumping bees into boxes and adding a caged queen. This year they were doing the Carniolans while the Stedmans folk waited. On Friday the truck comes back up to Washington state – the drivers said they did ten hours almost nonstop. This is good for the bees, as they spend less time in transit than if they were mailed, and they are driven by caring folk.
Saturday morning people who ordered packages show up to pick them up. The club (West Sound Beekeepers Association) shows up to demonstrate to people how to hive their packages. I went this year to assist, one of many volunteers. Paul Lundy heroically staged five demonstrations, every hour on the hour! He does it in shirtsleeves wearing just a veil.
Here’s what you do: the package comes with a can of sugar water. You take the can out first. Then you carefully remove the queen cage. Then shake the bees into the hive! Now a queen cage operation: remove the plug (in this case cork) and replace with a marshmallow, then suspend the queen cage in the hive. The workers will eat out the marshmallow to release the queen. The idea is that the workers will get used to the scent of the queen and accept her by the time they eat her out. There are lots of fine points and tips in this process that Paul demonstrated for the crowds.
After the last demonstration I picked up my two packages of Carniolans and took them home. Emulating Paul, I put on a veil but worked barehanded. I hived one package in a new hive, a foundationless Langstroth, Western sized. Ted was out so I did it by myself. It’s nice to work together, also nice to get a chance to just bee with the bees on my own. Well, on my own with two cats, three chickens and a rooster, and Alex taking photographs.
Ted was out all day Saturday. Sunday morning he hived the second package in one of the Kenyan top bar hives left vacant by our winter losses. Hiving a package is a great moment! It’s so exciting that many beekeepers report buying a package every year just for fun.
Summary of our goals for package day this year:
- Work with carniolans.
- Start foundationless Langstroth.
- Replace winter losses.