Last Updated on November 6, 2021
I have often had people ask how many bees are in a package as though this is some sort of mystical voodoo fact. Much like buying a packet of nails, or screws, bees have an approximate weight, and if you buy a pound of nails or bees, you just divide the weight of an average nail or bee into a pound to get your number of units. In this article, we take a look at bee package size and how that affects starting out a hive.
How Many Bees Are In A Package?
Bees have mass. A package has mass. If we divide the mass of the package by the mass of bees we can work out how many bees we have. As a rule of thumb, there are about 4000 bees to a pound. This paper pegs the weight of a bee at about 120mg. This will vary from race of bee to race of bee, and even from area to area. But the approx. 4000 bees to a pound rule of thumb is a good place to start.
Hence a 2-pound package is approx. 8000 bees and a 3-pound package 10000-12000 bees or thereabouts.
Package Size Matters
With bees package size really does matter. The more bees you have, the faster your hive will be able to build up. If you are in a colder area, a larger package of bees is able to generate more heat, and hence will be able to establish faster. If you can afford it, buy 3-pound packages over 2-pound packages. In colder climates, a three-pound package may require a bit more feeding, but the rate at which this hive will increase in size and reach production capacity is greater and worth it in most cases.
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Starting A Beehive With Packaged Bees
A package of bees is a beautiful thing. You have a caged queen and a few pounds of bees. It is essentially a swarm that arrives at your door via courier. Nothing more convenient than that. Well actually putting a box up and having a swarm move in is more convenient, but this is the second most convenient option.
I believe that a package should be installed as soon as possible after it arrives. Your bees have a limited lifespan, and the faster they can get to work before they die, the faster your hive begins to produce its own bees. If the temperatures are a bit cold when the package arrives, apply common sense here. There is no point freezing your bees in a late storm. The majority of couriers available now have detailed track and trace from shipping to delivery with estimated times of arrival.
Plan your installation according to this and the weather forecast. It is important to install bees at the warmest time of day if you are in a colder region. The reason for this is that some bees will always fall on the ground and fly into the air and so on, and if they cannot quickly get into the hive they will get chilled and be lost.
Installing Your Bees
There are a number of different designs for packages. However, there are commonalities. A package will always have the queen in a cage. There will be a feeder. This is normally configured so you can remove the feeder, and then reach in and retrieve the queen cage. This is then placed on the top bars of the hive, or hanging between the frames depending on the design. Most queen cages have a candy plug – this is to enable the bees to slowly eat the candy and release the queen.
The bees in the package are not the queen’s daughters. They are normally just workers shaken from some docile hard-working strain such as Italian bees. The queen will therefore be killed by the bees if she is released too quickly. The candy plug is slowly removed by the bees and once they release the queen, they have become accustomed to her pheromones and do not kill her.
After the queen is in the hive, I normally remove some of the frames and then invert the box and shake the bees into the hive. Bees are quite sticky in this state, and normally just fall into the beehive much like globs of cake batter. A few bees will always remain in the package – place the package at the entrance of the hive. Return the frames into the hive. Place a hive feeder of your choice on top of the frames and close the lid. Feeding is very important-the bees need sugar to quickly draw combs and empower the queen to lay as many eggs as possible after she is released.
This is a lovely youtube video showing how to do this.
A Race Against Time
Package bees are of various ages – hence after the package is installed you have a race against time when starting a beehive with packaged bees. Bees will be working, drawing comb, collecting pollen and nectar, and building the hive. This wears the bees out – the older bees will begin to die within the first few days, and over time, the size of a package hive dwindles. After 21 days, eggs laid by the queen will have hatched and matured into the first brood of young bees.
The young new brood is then part of an increasing workforce (hopefully) and the hive can grow and prosper. If however, you do not get the timing right, there is a possibility that the bees could not have enough workers to adequately bring the first brood to the workforce. This is one of the reasons I prefer a bigger package of bees as the chances of some success are that much higher.
Space For The Bees
The colder your conditions, the smaller the space you should install a package into. In general, a two-pound package should probably go into a nuc box if you are new to the game. A 5 frame nuc box is a small space for the bees to keep warm, and your chances of failure with such a box are much lower. Once you know the game, you can work out which size boxes work best for you. This will depend on your area when your last cold snaps are and the reliability of the first pollen and honey flows.
When To Order
Ordering package bees is a case of who you know and when you order. If you are a new beekeeper, and you are ordering one or two packages you are naturally quite far down the queue compared to a big beekeeper who orders 1000 packages every year. Timing is important – the sooner you get in the queue for bees, the sooner you will get them. Normally ordering the bees 6 – 8 months in advance is a good idea.
We hope this article has helped you understand how to order package bees, what the best size choices are, and what to do when the package arrives. If you enjoyed this article, please share.
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Dr. Garth A. Cambray is a Canadian/South African entrepreneur and beekeeper with 28 years of experience in apiculture and specializes in adding value to honey. His Ph.D. research developed a new advanced continuous fermentation method for making mead that has resulted in a number of companies globally being able to access markets for mead. His company, Makana Meadery, exports honey mead to the USA where it is available to discerning connoisseurs. He has also developed technologies to commercially manufacture organic honey vinegar in Zambia for export globally. He holds a few patents globally in the ethanol industry and believes in technology and knowledge transfer for human development and environmental sustainability. One of his proudest achievements is the fact that the wind farm he started at one of his old apiary sites has essentially made his hometown carbon neutral.