A guide to buying package bees.
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  1. #1
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    Default A guide to buying package bees.

    My guide to buying Package Bees
    A package of bees comes in #2, #3 and sometimes #4 size configurations. People often confuse the number to being the weight of a package, however bees are measured by volume and not weight so don’t expect a #3 package to weigh 3 lbs, it will actually be close to 9 lbs with the syrup can and the weight of the package its self.

    #2 packages are for southern locations or hives with drawn comb (think the Carolinas and south) #3 are for northern locations or new hives with only foundation. The difference is in the physical size of the container they send them out in and therefore the volume of bees it contains. #2s are only slightly cheaper than #3 so order the #3 if you can.

    In northern locations the person you are buying the bees from is likely a dealer and not the producer of the package themselves. Often these dealers want payment in full at the time of order, if you can find one who will take a deposit and payment at pickup, go that route. I always required payment it full to secure the order, but did have a few customers that I allowed to order C.O.D. due to a rapport that we developed from doing business over the years. It doesn’t hurt to ask, the worst a dealer will say is no.

    Ask who the producer of the bees is. If the dealer will not tell you, that is not a good sign that you will get your bees on time or even at all. Knowing who they are buying from allows you to call the producer and verify that the person you are buying from actually ordered bees from them and will have them to deliver. It also gives you the opportunity to read up on other people’s experiences with that producer’s bees. On a side note bees have to be inspected before they can cross state lines, the dealer should have copies of the health certificate for the package. Get a copy of it for your record.

    Ask about how the dealer transports the bees. Open trailers or trucks are generally the worst option. Enclosed trailers or trucks with poor ventilation are also a poor choice. Enclosed transport with fans and watering systems are the best option. Ask to see a picture of the mode of transportation from a previous trip. If the dealer hires out the transport make sure it gets hired out to a company with a refrigerated trailer or one that is specific to package bee hauling.
    Once you are sure your dealer is ligit and you pay them the money, there are a few things that you should do at the time of pickup.

    #1. View the bottom of the cage for dead bees and mite drop. A few dozen dead bees is acceptable, if the bottom of the cage is covered in dead bees, refuse that package. A bunch of dead bees in the package is not a good indicator of the health of the ones that are alive. Mite drop is visible on the bottom of the cage as the vibration of transport shakes them loose. There isn’t a package of bees produced in the USA that will be mite free, but it will give you an idea on whether you need to treat for mites right away.

    #2. View the size of the cluster, do not accept a package that the live bees do not extend all the way across the top of the cage and down to the bottom of the syrup can. That is the appropriate volume to be in the package. Some packages do get filled on the light side and it is okay to request a different package if the one you are handed looks like it doesn't have enough bees in it.

    #3. Never leave the pickup location without verifying that the queen in the package is alive. She should be in a queen cage next to the syrup can. She may or may not have attendants in the cage with her. To verify she is alive give the package a firm bump on a hard object, this will cause the cluster to fall away from the cage so you can view the queen. If she has attendants with her you may have to blow on them to clear them enough to see that she is alive. This is also a good time to verify that you got a marked queen if you ordered one. Don't worry about the bees knocked to the bottom, they will quickly climb back up and cluster again.

    #4. Keep your bees cool on the ride home. Do not put them in the trunk of your car where the temp could get to 120 deg. Place them on a floor board or somewhere else with shade and bring a clean spray bottle with water in it to spray the cluster with on the way home. The bees are shipped with a can of corn syrup (Yes corn syrup; if the dealer tells you it is sugar water they are either lying or don’t know enough about the package industry to be dealing bees). The corn syrup doesn’t offer the bees much hydration so spritzing them with water is a good idea.

    Lastly you take huge risks if you have your package shipped by the postal service. Beekeeping is risky enough as it is without the added stress of cramming them into an enclosed box trailer with mail, no hydration, and no ventilation. I have never seen a great outcome with postal service shipped package bees.

    Don't let the fact that the dealer has your money and your bees get in the way of your judgement on getting a quality package. If you don't like the package that is handed to you, ask for a different one or a refund, even if it is risking you having to wait until the following year. Hold the dealers and producers accountable for what they are selling and the products will only get better.

    And my last rule: Don't ask a dealer for a lower price. I can't tell you how often I got low balled when I was dealing. A lot of sweat and blood goes into selling and delivering bees. The margins are also not that great for the dealer. The last trip I took cost 100 K and my margin was only 10%. If you don't like the price they are offered at, buy from a different dealer. (see my thread: My last bee trip)

    Happy beekeeping
    Last edited by bluegrass; 12-17-2015 at 04:16 AM.
    Always question Conventional Wisdom.

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: A guide to buying package bees.

    ...and whatever you do, DON'T SHAKE THEM IN THE HIVE!


    Zone 7a

  4. #3
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    Default Re: A guide to buying package bees.

    The first picture is courtesy of member Keth Comollo; it shows what a good package should look like, good volume, very few dead bees.

    The second picture is a size comparison between #2 on the right and #3 packages on the left.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by bluegrass; 12-16-2015 at 06:36 PM.
    Always question Conventional Wisdom.

  5. #4
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    Default Re: A guide to buying package bees.

    5) Upon inspecting the quality and quantity of the bees in the package(s) and that the queen(s) are alive, you can take possession of the package(s).
    As soon as you place the package(s) in your rig and drive away, YOU are responsible for the bees entirely.
    There are so many, many things and variations of things that happen to package bees after they are sold; DO NOT expect a refund or free replacement queen if something goes wrong.
    If you encounter problems, return to your package supplier with your checkbook in hand and ask for help.
    If you want to purchase packages from a supplier in the future, DO NOT make him or her the victim of circumstances when you have problems.
    Remember, it's not perfection; it's beekeeping.
    I have exactly ONE more hive than you.
    That makes my opinion beyond dispute!

  6. #5
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    Default Re: A guide to buying package bees.

    Quote Originally Posted by phyber View Post
    ...and whatever you do, DON'T SHAKE THEM IN THE HIVE!
    This is a conversation every spring.
    -- Joe
    "Make your own decision and embrace the consequences." -- jwcarlson

  7. #6
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    Default Re: A guide to buying package bees.

    Quote Originally Posted by bluegrass View Post
    My guide to buying Package Bees
    A package of bees comes in #2, #3 and sometimes #4 size configurations.
    Well, sometimes they come in #5 size configurations as well!

    For example, from a current ad in the For Sale forum ...
    Bee Packages 2016
    Three, Four, and Five Pound Italian or Carniolans Queens, April 2016
    These packages are out of McMinnville, Oregon We will be delivering all thru the Northwest in April.

    ...read more here ...
    https://www.beesource.com/forums/show...Montana-Alaska
    Graham
    USDA Zone 7A Elevation 1400 ft

  8. #7
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    Default Re: A guide to buying package bees.

    I can't say how they measure them now, but originally they were sold by weight. Root even sold 1/2 pound packages, but found they were too small to arrive in good condition.
    42 + years - 24 colonies - IPM disciple - Naturally Skeptic

  9. #8
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    Default Re: A guide to buying package bees.

    In my experience I have never seen a Package producer with a scale in the field. I am not doubting that at one time they did, but the more common practice is to fill until the bees cover the support for the syrup can.
    Always question Conventional Wisdom.

  10. #9
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    Default Re: A guide to buying package bees.

    I've been present when a commercial pollination and queen rearing beek made up packages for delivery. They ARE weighed. He set package cage on scale and zero'd out the scale, and then poured bees in through a funnel until the scale tipped. It was a balance scale. I've never heard of making up packages by volume, but I've only seen the one beekeeper make up packages.
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  11. #10
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    Default Re: A guide to buying package bees.

    Here is California package producer Honey-4-All talking about weighing/preparing packages with a programmable digital scale ...

    https://www.beesource.com/forums/show...%3B#post915817
    Graham
    USDA Zone 7A Elevation 1400 ft

  12. #11
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    Default Re: A guide to buying package bees.

    I can see where making up packages by volume can be done and be fair. It does make some sense, seeing as bees do weigh differently as they are full or empty of nectar inside them. So I have no doubt that perhaps some shippers do it by volume, it's just that I've not experienced that myself. And hey, I've not experienced what commercial breeders and shippers of bees do at all other than that one time where the packages were weighed in my presence.
    Last edited by RayMarler; 12-17-2015 at 12:35 PM. Reason: spelling
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  13. #12
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    Default Re: A guide to buying package bees.

    Trivia aside, there is some sound advice being offered here!

  14. #13
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    Default Re: A guide to buying package bees.

    It may be an east vs west coast thing. I have dealt with many of the large package producers out of GA and have never seen any use a scale. But it also could be like with anything, you do it enough times on a scale you end up knowing where to fill to.
    Always question Conventional Wisdom.

  15. #14
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    Default Re: A guide to buying package bees.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rader Sidetrack View Post
    Here is California package producer Honey-4-All talking about weighing/preparing packages with a programmable digital scale ...

    https://www.beesource.com/forums/show...%3B#post915817
    Surprised reading that thread. No feed cans really? As someone who has had considerable experience in starving bees, I figure bees have around 36 to 48 hours before they start falling on the bottom board, undoubtedly a bit more if their stomachs are full. Back in "the day" when we used to haul a lot of big loads of packs out of the south the very first thing we did was unload and inspect them for the occasional can that didn't have a proper sized hole punched. It wasn't too hard to spot them, they were either in the first stages of starvation or (if they were too big) there was a syrup mess in the cage and on the floor. The little cloth and snap ring setup was much more reliable.
    Last edited by jim lyon; 12-17-2015 at 06:23 AM. Reason: Typo
    "People will generally accept facts as truth only if the facts agree with what they already believe."- Andy Rooney

  16. #15
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    Default Re: A guide to buying package bees.

    Quote Originally Posted by bluegrass View Post
    In my experience I have never seen a Package producer with a scale in the field. I am not doubting that at one time they did, but the more common practice is to fill until the bees cover the support for the syrup can.
    Must not be watching the same videos I have seen. If the bees in a box don't weigh the weight they say they weigh then that is false representation. Like selling a 2 lb jar of honey with less than 2 lbs of honey in it. More than is okay, but not less.

    If the bees in a package don't weigh what they are sold as, how do they determine what a 2#, 3#,or 4# package is. The boxes are all the same size, aren't they?
    Mark Berninghausen

  17. #16
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    Default Re: A guide to buying package bees.

    Quote Originally Posted by bluegrass View Post
    It may be an east vs west coast thing. I have dealt with many of the large package producers out of GA and have never seen any use a scale. But it also could be like with anything, you do it enough times on a scale you end up knowing where to fill to.
    If they don't use one out in the field, I bet they spot check for accuracy and quality control every so often.
    Mark Berninghausen

  18. #17
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    Default Re: A guide to buying package bees.

    Regarding Jim Lyon's comments on hungry bees in post #14, here is another Honey-4-All post discussing his UPS shipping arrangements of said bee packages ...
    https://www.beesource.com/forums/show...nd#post1091971

    Ship everything Next Day Delivery, avoid weekends and haul the bees directly to the Airport hub. Those bees should be delivered in less than 24 hours, most likely within 18 hours.
    Graham
    USDA Zone 7A Elevation 1400 ft

  19. #18
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    Default Re: A guide to buying package bees.

    Quote Originally Posted by jim lyon View Post
    Surprised reading that thread. No feed cans really? As someone who has had considerable experience in starving bees, I figure bees have around 36 to 48 hours before they start falling on the bottom board, undoubtedly a bit more if their stomachs are full. Back in "the day" when we used to haul a lot of big loads of packs out of the south the very first thing we did was unload and inspect them for the occasional can that didn't have a proper sized hole punched. It wasn't too hard to spot them, they were either in the first stages of starvation or (if they were too big) there was a syrup mess in the cage and on the floor. The little cloth and snap ring setup was much more reliable.
    Have 2 packages ordered from RWeaver this spring. They say theirs will be shipped with dry sugar. I bet those bees will be thirsty. The website specified weight of the packages. They are coming by UPS. That is my biggest concern.

  20. #19
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    Default Re: A guide to buying package bees.

    I claim no expertise in package production or shipping. I'm betting Weavers have come up with something that's working for them and their customers.
    "People will generally accept facts as truth only if the facts agree with what they already believe."- Andy Rooney

  21. #20
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    Default Re: A guide to buying package bees.

    Only buy your package from a company that has many years like 10 yrs or more in business. I made the mistake of buying online from some place that was a front. What happened? The guy took my payment and never delivered. I only got them on the phone 2 times. Nothing more frustrating then to spend over $500 for set up. Fully ready for the receiving of the package of bees to start in the spring and the disappointment of being taken for $150 and no bees. I don't want anyone to ever ever ever go through what I did. Can't buy them commercially then DO BUY BEES LOCALLY from a bee club and ask the bee club is anyone has bees for sale like a 5 frame nuc box.
    In my situation I was in knowing, if someone approached me in the same situation. I certainly would do a pay it forward to help someone. That was WRONG of that guy to do that to me! Yes, even in the bee business people are not honest.

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