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Searching for a source of 'packaged' bees in the U.K.

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New Bee

Joined: 09 Apr 2015
Posts: 1
Location: Canada; B.C.; Victoria

PostPosted: Thu Apr 09, 2015 8:31 pm    Post subject: Searching for a source of 'packaged' bees in the U.K. Reply with quote


An aspiring beekeeper in the London area is searching for a reliable source of ‘packaged’ bees, for installation in a Kenyan Top Bar beehive.

Can you help us find a recommended supplier in the U.K.?

Thank you for your guidance,

Dani Alldrick
Victoria B.C., Canada
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andy pearce
Silver Bee

Joined: 30 Aug 2009
Posts: 663
Location: UK, East Sussex, Brighton

PostPosted: Fri Apr 10, 2015 5:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

packages are uncommon in the UK. Most bees are sold on five framed National hive nucs although some bee keepers are moving toward selling a variety of types of nucleus colonies, including top bar nucs.

Your friend needs to consider the local-ness of the bee. There are calls to ban imports for a variety of reasons and there are those of us here on this forum who favour the native honey bee.

Although the package is the common way to buy bees over in the USA and Canada, these bees are an unrelated and unnatural group of bees shaken from donor hives for that purpose. The queen is then put in the package along with a tin of syrup and off they go. I do not want to be over critical but there are some youtube videos of how packages are made which show the process to be distasteful to me.

My advice is for your contact to get to know other top bar beekeepers and get a split or to catch a swarm. There are several ways to catch a swarm....go on the local club swarm list and wait your turn, put up signs on local notice boards and tell the local police you would be willing to collect a swarm, or lastly bait a swarm.

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Scout Bee

Joined: 17 Jul 2011
Posts: 447
Location: Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia

PostPosted: Fri Apr 10, 2015 8:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A swarm would be best for a beginner as it is programmed to start from nothing. As to the ethics of packages its up to you but they are more work and need feeding to get going which would be extra for a beginner beek.

Then again your friend could get a nuke and simply do a chop and crop.

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New Bee

Joined: 08 Aug 2015
Posts: 1
Location: Hampshire

PostPosted: Sat Aug 08, 2015 11:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

For future info, I sourced a viable package from Chris Broad at saltwayhoney
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Site Admin

Joined: 27 Jul 2011
Posts: 1857
Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Sun Aug 09, 2015 11:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

As regards the supply of packages here in the UK, I would strongly urge Top Bar Beekeepers who have a vested interest in bees, NOT to stimulate this market by buying package bees. Yes, it is a simple way to get started with a top bar hive but you are doing the cause of bees a disservice by taking this easy option.

Please be patient, make contacts and obtain a swarm, split or top bar nuc. As the "natural" beekeeping movement grows and the support network spreads there will be more and more of these options available and probably significantly cheaper than buying a package anyway.

As Andy has said, the production of packages is not a comfortable process to watch. If you care about bees, please don't encourage this market to develop here in the UK. Many of us here on the forum give away our swarms to new beekeepers.
It is late in the season to be starting a colony now, but a good time to make contacts and get on someone's list ready for next year.


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Scout Bee

Joined: 25 Feb 2009
Posts: 270
Location: Essex. UK.

PostPosted: Sun Aug 09, 2015 5:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree totally with everything Barbara has said and I would not want to encourage packages. With a bit of forward planning and a little effort, it is not difficult to source a swarm in the UK. Plenty of people out there willing to help and pass on swarms at no cost. Like I say, it just needs a little effort but maybe that's what can put some people off.
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Adam Rose
Silver Bee

Joined: 09 Oct 2011
Posts: 589
Location: Manchester, UK

PostPosted: Sun Aug 09, 2015 8:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well ... packages are one thing and shook swarms are another.

A package in US terms is a queen thrown together with a random collection of workers not related to her. A shook swarm is a colony of bees that have been shaken off their combs into a container and then quickly moved on to their final home. Usually an experienced beekeeper will do this and at the same time put the queen in a queen cage. This means that physically a shook swarm and a package look the same - a queen in a queen cage and a load of workers in a box - but in terms of make up they are completely different. A shook swarm is a viable colony temporarily separated from its comb, the other a ragtag bag of unrelated bees.

I started by buying two colonies. I did one as a crop and chop and one as a shook swarm. An experienced beekeeper helped me with the crop and chop. With the shook swarm I received some instruction but everything went well enough ( with some hand holding from people on this forum ). I did them both at the "right" time of year, in very early May. It's all very well to say that people should start with swarms, but I think when you're starting out you need some kind of predictability, and for many people this predictability is worth paying for. There may be top bar nucs available, in which case great. And Phil Chandler's "split in a box" technique might also work if you have an experienced TBH practitioner with no TBH nucs around, but otherwise crop and chop or a shook swarm are the only two practical alternatives.

Since then I have expanded by a variety of means - buying unwanted colonies, being given a swarm ( thanks Barbara ) and catching my own swarms. But to get going, either a crop and chop or a shook swarm, at the right time of year, is in my opinion probably the best option, and I don't think there is much to choose between the two techniques.

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Silver Bee

Joined: 08 Jul 2013
Posts: 613
Location: Malton, North Yorkshire

PostPosted: Mon Aug 10, 2015 11:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

you're right Adam, the right option at the right time of year.
I would also say that those in Essex and Kent definately have an easier time of things with getting swarms as your season starts a full 6 weeks before us in the grim north. In my area there is only 3 weeks in which the decent prime swarms merge and only around another month of weak odds and sods and castes. Because the forage is so spread out there are less colonies in a given area so less swarms. There is also a lot more green space (though not flowered unfortunately) for the swarm to disappear into and go unnoticed.
When transferring from frames once the summer is at an end you're better leaving them until the next year as all options require them to make/work wax and this gets harder and harder. This is a list of frame to TBH options i gave on a previous post.

Here is a list a threw together for ways to transfer for someone my association:
1 - shook swarm into the topbar hive.

transfer all flying bees, by substituting hive location, some or all comb bees and the queen to the top bar hive. At the end of spring is the ideal time for this as there is little or no brood. Doing this now would require either ditchin all the brood (poor bees) or maintaining a nuc to raise an emergency queen (providing less bees for the shook swarm).

2 - comb substitution. The top bars should be the same length as the frames so you insert empty bars between brood frames and they will draw them out. As the current frames are capped moved them to the outside so they are only filled with honey, perhaps behind a vertical queen excluder. When the frame is empty of brood remove it and add another top bar. You must take care not to let the natural comb extend beyond dimensions of the topbar hive but a little trimming is fine.

3 - chop and crop. An extreme and immediate approach and not to be attempted alone. You cut the frame from around the outside and trim the comb to the dimensions of the top bar hive using a follower board as a template and a bread knife to cut. You then screw a full top bar onto the frame top bar and put it in the hive.

4 - growing the colony down or up through nadirring or supering. This works on the idea that you produce another box for the bees to expand into. This almost never works and is too late in the year now anyway. This is best acheived in spring when the colony wants to expand.

5 - converter hive. Build a hive that is half national/half topbar. Allow them to grow horizontally into the topbar hive and when the queen crosses over to lay on the natural comb slot a queen excluder between the two. Remove the frames as the brood emerges and feed in topbars.

Option 5 the converter hive turned out to be easier than I thought. The night I sent this email I put a follower board into a national brood box and drew a template. I then attached to thin pieces of ply to give the sloped profile. The box now take 6 national brood frame and 6 topbars (36mm wide). Da daaa! converter hive.
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Guard Bee

Joined: 07 Aug 2011
Posts: 51
Location: Central Scotland

PostPosted: Tue Aug 11, 2015 10:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just to add to all the excellent advice above ...

Swarms must be far and away the best way to start a hive (from the bees perspective, that is) - at the right point in the season, of course.

Unwanted and unclaimed swarms in London have been plentiful this year, by some accounts. But it can still be frustrating to source them if you are starting out without beekeeping contacts. It is definitely worth making contact with a (reputable) local pest control company - that is what worked or me when I started. These guys come across swarms regularly, can recognise them as honeybees (thus saving a lot of time!) and are only too happy to pass details to beekeepers...

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