Dead bees and packages

Several beekeepers have contacted me asking if I knew where they could buy packages as they have lost most, if not all, of their hives. I feel badly for them but it started me thinking about why they lose bees year after year and how beekeepers respond to this continuing serious problem. Normal and acceptable loses of 30% to 50% are tossed around in many beekeeping conversations.

I personally know of three local package resellers (all sold out I might add) scheduled to deliver within the next 3 weeks. These suppliers are each delivering 250 or more packages to an area that is within a 20 mile radius of me. That’s 750 or so 3 pound packages that I know of at a cost approaching $7,500.This situation is happening across the entire country!

Logically, this means that some beekeepers are able to produce staggering volumes of bees or there would not be this incredible number of packages available each spring. So what are hobby beekeepers missing and more importantly, why tolerate large losses and the high cost of replacement? How can local bee clubs help break this dead bees – buy packages cycle?

I hear all the standard reasons for dead bees; too cold, too many pesticides, GMO, yellow jackets, high winds, hives facing the wrong direction, and so on. Losses are usually blamed on uncontrollable outside factors. What I don’t hear is any  assessment of hive location, food source, management techniques, mite control, record keeping, and all the other things completely within the beekeeper’s control. Honey bees, just like dogs, cats, goats, sheep, and other livestock require the same basic care. Things like quality food, dry and clean shelter, disease control and a good bit of attention are all necessary for honey bee health.

Are bee clubs meeting these needs? In my club there is a small group of beekeepers that typically have healthy bees in the spring, sell nucs and fight swarming. These beekeepers have a well defined process that works year after year. It is not complicated. A focus on developing better beekeepers not more people with bee hives would be a more appropriate path.