We were able to order two packages of bees from a semi-local bee supply company. They order packages from further south and distribute them in our neck of the woods. The one downside to this is that these packages contain queens are southern queens and aren't acclimated to our climate. Because of this, we are hoping to re-queen some of our divides this year with local queen-lines who have successfully over-wintered here.
sugar syrup pre-made and ready at a ratio of 1:1, sugar and water
We decided to install one of the packages into a new Langstroth hive that Jamey built and the other into one of our top bar hives. One advantage to packages is that there are no frames to deal with so they can be easily transferred into your choice of hive. One downside is that they don't have frames of brood with them which may make them feel more invested and at home in a new hive if they have their frames installed with them. Here's to hoping ours still like their new homes and don't take off looking for their old one.
To unpack a package, the first step is to remove the small cover on top (see right package below versus the left). This reveals two things- the top of the can of sugar syrup and the strap that attaches to the queen cage (what Jamey is holding in his left hand).
Lifting out the feeding can is next. Then, he pulls up the queen cage using the strap. It's helpful to quickly place the cover over the hole so all the bees stay put (for now).
Below is the queen in her cage. She didn't have access to the food but worker bees are used to feeding queens so they would have taken care of her en route. The next step is to remove the small cork disk at the top of the queen cage. Removing the cork reveals a candy plug. Once the bees are all snug in their new hive, the bees will chew through the candy, releasing the queen. By the time she's free, they will have acclimated to her scent and (hopefully) adopt her as queen. The cage is then placed within the comb so as not to disturb hive traffic. We used existing combs leftover from our hives from last year. Bees can also build their own if there are none available.
Next came the "exciting" part. Jamey had let me wear the jacket (I was so excited to be out with the bees again) but as he began working with them, a couple got agitated enough and stung him, despite the sugar syrup spray (which is supposed to keep them busy licking syrup off their wings and keeping them from flying). I quickly gave him the jacket, stepped back and used zoom.
Below, he's turning the package upside down so the bees fall down into the hive where the queen is waiting. This can take a little while and requires tapping and shaking the box hard to dislodge the bees.
After most of the bees are inside, the last few frames are put back in. This year, we're trying a top feeder for our Langstroth hive. In the second photo below, you can see the shallow unpainted box set on top of the bottom box. This is the feeder. Sugar syrup can be poured directly into the tray, giving the bees access to it from below. A cover fits on top and the roof of the hive goes on over that.
He then repeated the same steps and installed the other package in one of our top bar hives. In these hives, we use jar feeders. Because there isn't a lot blooming yet and the bees need lots of energy to build up their small starter colonies, AND since we're hoping to divide them sometime this summer, we want to give them a good head start.
When most of the bees are out of the packages, they are set in front of the hive entrance. Bees in the hive will come out and fan the queen's scent out of the hive so that lost bees can follow her scent and find their new home. Didn't I tell you that honey bees are fascinating?
Later that afternoon, the package was all but empty and the bees had already started foraging. They very quickly found the water source I set out for them, too, just out of reach of the chickens who would have jumped into it and knocked it over (knowledge from experience).