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Package bees more likely to abscond in recent years

Bee nucsPhillip Meeks, an extension agent in southeast Kentucky who works with a number of beekeepers, emailed me to share his experiences with packages of bees.  He wrote:

For several years, myself and many of my beekeepers have been having worse and worse luck with bee packages.  The most recent was two years ago with two packages we installed as a demonstration.  Within a week, both hives were empty, and both left the queen behind.

Because of this, I've begun to steer my own beekeepers away from the packaged swarms, trying to persuade them towards nucs instead.  They're a bit more costly, but I've had great luck with the last one I bought, as have many of my beekeepers.

I don't know WHY the performance of packages has gone downhill, but it seems to be a consistent issue. 

Anyway, just wanted to toss in my two cents -- not that it's any help to you now.  I hope you can at least take it as encouragement that [your absconded package] probably isn't beekeeper error!

I'd be curious to hear from those of you who have had packages abscond.  Has the experience only begun in the last few years, or did you see the behavior previously?

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I've been getting packages from Walter Kelley's in KY since I started keeping bees in 2009. In 2012 I had a packaged swarm survive (from 2011), cough out 3 swarms of its own, caught an additional "unknown" feral swarm, and I bought a couple more packages from Kelley's. Of these the two new packages absconded, the swarms from my surviving colony, also a package from KY, absconded (even the one I gave to an apiary 2 hours away) and the feral colony absconded - Each working all summer only to disappear in the fall, leaving nothing but empty comb.

2013 was the first year I didn't order packages, and put in an order for 3 nucs from a local beekeeper (in my network), the first year I've been able to find them. Then, early April he cancelled my order for lack of spring build-up. I essentially, "gave up" beekeeping at that point.

Later in May, fortune smiled down upon me, a friend made a split and gifted me some queen cells and beekeeper with the nucs came up with one. As it is now, I believe both of those colonies are still alive but I'm sourcing apiaries in Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania where I might purchase a package or two, if not nucs.

Comment by Doodlemaier Fri Dec 20 14:13:04 2013

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