Why did my package bees abscond?

Bruce White has some answers – and suggestions to encourage package bees to stay put

It is common for package bees to abscond as a swarm if:

  • they are hot
  • they have been caged for several days
  • they are released in daylight hours
  • the beekeeper releases the queen from the cage
  • the brood box they are being installed in is new.

Introducing a frame of brood from an established hive will help hold the package bees in a new box but being able to do this depends on the beekeeper having a suitable frame available – which often isn’t the case for a new beekeeper.

Most people who purchase package bees will introduce the package into a box with frames of comb foundation.  Says Bruce, “I tell new beekeepers to have comb foundation on all brood frames, to remove five frames [in a 10-frame hive, or three frames in an 8-frame hive] and place the package in the space created.” Release the bees by opening the lid of the package and place the cage with the queen between the top bar of two frames for the bees to release the queen themselves.

It’s important to feed sugar syrup in a mixture of 50% water to 50% white sugar. This is an essential to kick start comb building. Do all this just on dark, then put on the hive lid and shade it so the caged queen doesn't overheat. Make sure the hive entrance is open. After three days, remove the package box and fill the gap with frames

FLOW HIVE ADVICE: Flow Hives aren’t supplied with foundation. For best results when introducing package bees, the brood-box frames should be wired and waxed with foundation in the same way as a regular Langstroth hive. The plastic Flow frames to collect honey should not be placed on the hive until the package bees have covered the brood combs, which usually takes at least a month.

Loophole in the law

The ABA believes the Department of Primary Industries needs to close a major loophole in the new NSW Biosecurity Act. Currently the sale or transfer of a colony of bees must be reported to the NSW DPI but package bees are not classified as ‘a colony’ and so are exempt from such reporting.

The ABA believes it is essential that owners of packaged bees can be traced In the event that a consignment of packaged bees is found to have been infected with pests or diseases.

The ABA also believes that package bees should be randomly checked for the presence of Paenibacillus larvae(AFB) on the adult bees.

The ABA is a member of the consultative committee set up to report to DPI minister Niall Blair on biosecurity issues.