Where do bees come from?

Most people when questioned about where bees come from would reply that bees come as packages or as nucs.  Have you ever asked what had to happen to get those bees to your apiary?  I know I didn’t.  I feel that this disconnect from the process, similar to most peoples disconnect from food production allows us to blindly overlook how we treat the life forms we are depending on.

So by what method DO those bees arrive on your doorstep?  How do they get bees into those little boxes?  Well here are a couple of videos that show how package bees are put in those little boxes.

Do you think that being packaged like this causes stress to the colony?  Could the stress of this process contribute to a package of bees not succeeding?  If chickens, pigs or cattle were treated in a similar fashion people would be up in arms, but they are just doing it to insects.  So is it OK?

Perhaps a less stressful way of obtaining bees might be as a Nucleus hive or Nuc.  A nuc is made by making a split or dividing up a strong hive into 2 or more smaller units.  A full description of nucs and splits can be found on a website called “The Bee Works”.  For simplicities sake I will outline a simple split.  At least 1 frame of sealed brood, 1 frame of unsealed brood, and 1 frame of stores are removed from a strong colony and placed in another box.  Then normally a purchased or reared queen is introduced into the box.  As I see it you then have two or more weak colonies at the expense of one strong one.  One could argue that it is less stressful than packaging bees, but I am not convinced.  Part of the split is losing half of the colony, the other half loses half of the colony AND their queen.  I would think that the most stressful thing imaginable other than having the colony jarred and shaken over a funnel would be the loss of half of the colony, and/or the colonies queen.  It reminds me of children trying to make more worms by pulling them apart.

Both of these forms of manipulation have been used for years to increase colony numbers.  What I fail to understand is how either of these methods provides us with better bees?  How many people buy packages year after year only to have them fail to overwinter time and time again?  Without these practices a colony that is in good working order will send out swarms, because that is what a bee colony does when it is fit, strong, and has genetics worthy of going foreword.  They will do it when they are ready, not just in preparation for when beekeepers want to replace their winter losses.  Weak colonies will die and will not further weaken the gene pool.

Due to an interest in better genetics I see problems with both of these forms of phony “reproduction”.  If large bee operations want to use these practices let them.  Good genetics is where the back-yard beekeeper with a couple of hives can really excel.  If bees are truly considered a super-organism shouldn’t each colony be treated as an individual, or a single entity?  Should they be shaken or cut into pieces like children trying to make more worms?

I ordered packages in 2010 when I started keeping bees.  I never even gave it a thought….  At the time I thought that’s where bees came from.  If you have ordered packages go ahead and give them a good home this spring, but remember what those girls have been through prior to coming to you in their nuc box or package.  I encourage you to look into the success that myself and others are having with swarm trapping.  A search on Google and YouTube would be a good start.  Give it a try and compare how your caught bees fare as compared to packages or nucs.  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.  I am close to completing a post on swarm trap plans so check back in a couple of days.

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6 Responses to Where do bees come from?

  1. Jarret Holman says:

    WOW I really am glad I decided not to order bees and to catch feral bees! I checked on by bee tree the other day and they were flying strong with average activity. I am intisipating a good year for swarm retrival as this past weekend my grandpa and I cut enough boards to make 20 more deeps. I have been working on making nucs as traps until I can make some nice ones. I also have a DVD that you need to watch about how to remove a colony from a tree. I watched it this weekend, four really old timers that know what they were doing cast the DVD. If you would like to maybe take a weekend and go bee hunting I would be down with that. This DVD shows you how to go bee hunting. Like I said it was really informative.

    • Jason says:

      Once I get the new traps I am making for this year complete I will take you up on it. I have read a lot about bee lining. I think it would be an awesome skill. Just like anything, reading about it is not going to be enough… It is something that must be done to really know.

  2. Mil says:

    I have not ever gotten bees as packages or as a nuc although I know that is the regular practice. Our first hive came as a complete hive, so hopefully no stress there except for their car ride. The rest of our hives have been swarms for which I am glad.

    There have been reports of some early swarms in my area already and I am hoping to get one or two to add to the bee yard. As I am interested in bee genetics, I agree with your point on bee genetics and wish to only interject genes which can cope with all these stresses that the bees have to deal with.

    What is bee lining, if I may ask?

  3. Jason says:

    Bee lining = http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beeline
    It is a way that people used to find bee trees. We think we are soooo smart compared to people many years ago, but it’s not true. They were just as cleaver, perhaps more. I have found several trees, just by dumb luck. I wouldn’t destroy the bees as they did, but I would deploy traps near there. Neat stuff.

    I am not crazy enough to think that my bees live a stress free life, but I try to minimize it as much as I can. I will never purchase bees again. Catching them is way too much fun.
    Just remember, friends don’t let friends buy package bees.

  4. Mil says:

    That should be a bumper sticker!!

    That bee lining book is fascinating. Who knew such a practice existed? I agree that we have much to learn from the past generations. Hopefully, we can recover some of that knowledge.

    We have accidentally found wild bee hives while in Hawaii. One on Maui and the other on the Big Island. We were hiking and heard THAT sound, the bee hive sound, and looked up! We also found one here in one of our mushroom patches a couple years ago. Unfortunately, that hive is gone.

    The weather has been really rainy the past couple of days, but I couldn’t believe when I went out to see the bees that they were foraging!!

  5. Pingback: Thoughts on Beekeeping – A Friday rant | LetMBee Blog

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