The bees arrived. It was getting late. I was getting anxious. But just after the sun settled for the night, my friend Mark arrived with our two packages. He brought us 13,637 worker bees and two queens. We counted them. The queens, that is. These bees were part of a shipment that came through our local bee club, which ordered 202 packages from the folks at Scandia Honey who brought the bees from New Zealand.
Why New Zealand? It’s warm there. Queen breeding and beekeeping are in full swing. We’d gladly buy the bees from the tropical parts of Canada, if Canada had tropical parts. Until global warming fully kicks in, we’ll have to import our bees from the world’s hot spots. With the bees offloaded from Mark’s bee-mobile, we immediately set about welcoming our imported foreign workers to their new homes. Every time I release immigrant bees, it reminds me of how my own grandparents arrived in the Americas from central Europe. Those folks were every bit as penniless as these New Zealand bees. (But that’s a tale for another day.) My grandfolks did OK. I hope these bees will, too.
Earlier in the day, my son Daniel and I placed two single-storey brood chambers in the back yard. This is a new project, new equipment, new bees. Regular readers know that I’ve owned several honey farms over the years and thousands of hives and I’ve been tripping over bee boxes for about fifty years. But this time is different, just like all the other times before were.
Since many readers of this blog are new beekeepers, I figured it would be helpful if I re-experienced the joy of starting a couple of hives at home, reporting on all the mistakes I make each and every day. I’ll still write about beekeeping news, science, and culture from my usual ten-mile-high view, but from time to time, I’ll come back to these backyard bees and describe beekeeping from ground level.
In our back yard, we found an almost perfect place to bee, so we settled hive chambers atop bottom boards, and covered the caverns with lids. As this is a new bee project, my 15-year-old son wanted to try the fancy-dancy new plastic rims. He says they look like space-age bee boxes and he’s right. I wanted to give these thick-walled boxes a try because they are well-insulated and we won’t have to worry so much about our cold summer nights. Nor, I’m told, will we need to winter-wrap these units later in the season, the way that I had always done with wooden equipment. Along with the fancy boxes, we picked up new-age plastic frame-feeders and some solid one-piece plastic brood frames. My son Daniel filled the feeders with some sugar syrup just sweeter than equal parts sugar and water. And that’s where things sat for a couple of hours while we waited for the bees to arrive.
We released the workers from their cages urging them into their new boxes. Freedom for the bees. It’s rather liberating. We release the honey bees out of those cages and allow them to occupy our boxes – or not. The bees are always free to leave. They don’t have to stay with us. They can fly up into the trees or drift off to explore the vast prairies that surround our city. Their new home has a door and the door is always open. Go, if you must, but stay if you like. However, it’s getting dark, there’s a chill in the air, the home we are offering to the Kiwi immigrant-bees is warm and safe, just the right size, and it has a well-stocked pantry. They’ll probably stay, but they are free to leave. Their choice.
Installing packages, as we call the process of settling foreign bees into Canadian houses, takes about five minutes for each hive. I’ll let our photos from last night’s adventure tell the rest of the story.
Great item Ron, always interesting to see others doing ‘regular’ stuff like installing. And I must admire your ‘barefoot’ (and bare hand, bare head and bare everything) approach! You are a lot braver than I.
Well, not bare everything! We wrecked our budget on my son’s outfit. No money left for mine!
You probably know that package bees are more confused than defensive. I wear a veil when pulling honey and sometimes when making splits, but I didn’t bother with it last night. However, I insisted that Daniel wear his spacesuit, just in case, and any new beekeeper should at least wear a veil. And shoes, too. By the way, I almost always light a smoker, but I never do when installing packages.
Do you always paint your hives a darker color?
I usually paint my hives white, but I wanted these to blend with the earth tones in our back yard in the city.
Here’s what one of my commercial yards looked like a couple of years ago…
What is the brand of the new boxes?
I’ll do a little story on this equipment in a few days. Meanwhile, check this link:
My bees aren’t arriving until
May 10….I would be happy to follow a running dialogue/update from you. 😊
Thanks for the comment.
I’ll give regular updates on these bees. If you haven’t installed packages before, there are a lot of little tricks to know. I didn’t mention too many of them here (and individual results will vary) so please consider getting a local beekeeper to give you a hand when you install yours.
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Congrats, Ron… and Daniel too. What a fun project. Enjoy.
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Do any Canadian beekeepers sell packages later in the season, or is selling Canadian bees not really something that happens on a commercial scale?
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Some packages are produced in British Columbia and available in late May. Our season is short so receiving packages later in the season isn’t a very popular notion. Getting queens to mate early is the bane of Canadian package, queen, and nuc producers.
Look at these figures for Alberta, the place where I live and almost half of all Canadian bees are kept:
Alberta imported 70,000 packages (95% from New Zealand) and 253,000 queens in 2016. Hawaii supplied 72% of queens purchased by beekeepers in Alberta in 2016, other US states accounted for 25%. Fewer than 2% of the queens bought by Alberta beekeepers came from BC.
I see. I can understand why, and yet…it seems a shame to import bees used to such a different climate. I’ve met some UK beekeepers who import queens from NZ, but never a hobby beekeeper who has imported bees from a different country. There seems to be a bigger culture of starting off from swarms or local nucs here – or perhaps it’s just that we have far fewer commercial beekeepers around to impact our import figures. Thanks for finding the stats!
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