Every time I install a new package of bees, I get post-package anxiety. It comes from thinking too much about the egregious price I just paid for a bunch of bees that, save for the queen, has a lifespan of four or five weeks.
Not only is the package doomed to fade away, but the bees have a lot to accomplish before they do all that fading. They have to accept the hive, establish it as their home, build a nest, tend to the brood, and start putting away stores. In short, they have to replace themselves inside of a month and, since there is no brood in the oven when they start, hive failure is only one mistake away.
The first thing I worry about is the queen. Is she alive? Will they accept her? Is she fertile? And will she be a decent layer? And then there’s the rest of the gang. Will they like their new home, or will they abscond the first chance they get? Will enough bees survive long enough to care for that critical first batch of brood?
Instead of becoming more relaxed with the passing years, I’ve gotten more anxious. Before I knew so many things could go wrong, I didn’t worry nearly so much. But now . . . well . . . I even invent things that might go awry.
Nineteen days ago I installed three packages, the first I’ve purchased in several years. I released the queens three days after installation and then left the colonies alone for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks I decided on an abbreviated inspection—just a quick look for brood with minimal disruption.
That brief look turned into one of those joyous moments in beekeeping. In each hive I saw brood all the way to the frame edges and solid as rocket fuel. What a sight! The hive populations are set to explode in the next two weeks and there are still many bees from the original packages. I have never seen so many frames of brood come together so fast.
So what did I do differently? The answer is honey. I had many, many frames of honey on hand, so I started each package on five frames of drawn comb sandwiched between five frames of honey. I was really excited about the prospect of not having to make syrup, which is why I did it, but I never imagined it would have such an impact on the bees.
Now that I’m thinking about it, of course their feed would affect their performance. Honey is designed to be the perfect bee diet and has much more to offer than syrup. It’s full of vitamins and minerals and phytochemicals and flavonoids. It has a flawless balance of sugar types. It has flavor and aroma. It has the ideal amount of stickiness and the perfect amount of water. No doubt I have made a great discovery . . . honey is good for bees!