Many of you interested in beekeeping have asked me, ” Where do you get your bees?” And I tell them, “Why the bee store of course,” But really there are several options, one being your local beekeeping supplier. This past weekend, my local bee supply, Heartland Honey owned by Cecil and Joli Sweeny returned with a truck crammed with boxes of bees driven in from California.
Beekeepers know that Spring is a vital time for bees. The hives that have survived a long winter will began to forage for nectar sources of early blooming trees and plants. The queen bee who has been dormant during the winter will begin the job of laying eggs to build up the population and the foragers will pack pollen into the cells in preparation for the rearing of the next generation of baby bees.
If you are a new beekeeper or like me suffered losses over the winter, buying a new package of bees is your best option.
A new package of bees contains about 3000 young bees in a wooden box with wire mesh sides. Within the box, a smaller queen box is suspended and may or may not contain attendant bees.
Installing a new package is fairly simple if you are prepared.
This year I did not purchase a new package but instead purchased two new queens in preparation of splitting my strongest hive. Splitting a strong hive is another way of obtaining bees and useful to prevent overcrowding and the potential to swarm. In order to split a hive, you must rob the strong hive of 2-3 frames of brood(unhatched larvae) with the nurse bees intact and integrate a new queen. Again, preparation and planning is important along with a frame or two of honey and pollen from one of the stronger hives. Nurse bees have not graduated to forager status and its necessary to provide a feeder as well.
Once your equipment is prepared and you have removed your frames of brood and nurse bees, suspend the queen bee between the frames, close the lid and relocate the bees to another location.
It’s best to move the hive at least four miles from your bee yard. The reason being, foragers can range up to four miles and bees will attempt to return to their hive drawn by the lure of pheromones from their queen.
It’s helpful to have friends willing to allow the use of their property for establishing splits. Thanks to my friends, Pat and Jim Wolf for the use of their lovely property.
Establishing a split takes about 2 weeks. The queen is left suspended in her box between the frames for 3-4 days. She has several attendant bees and a sugar block in the box. During this phase, the nurse bees will touch the queen or another bee who has touched her. The new queen’s pheromones will quickly establish a bond and all brood will hatch out loyal to the new queen reinforcing the stability of the hive. After two weeks, the hive can be returned to the original bee yard completely loyal to the new queen and voila’ you have a new hive.
The last method of obtaining bees is to catch a swarm or trap feral bees. I haven’t had the pleasure of participating in this method but you can be sure, I will share with you when I do.
Establishing new hives and splits is vital to maintaining a healthy population of bees. Spring is a busy time for beekeepers especially with the volatile weather we have experienced in the Midwest. A settled, happy hive with plenty of room to grow is vital not only to the honey crop but to the overall survival of the bees themselves.
Remember plant pollinator-friendly plants and feed the bees!