One of the most important considerations in developing a strong colony from a package is to supply plenty of food until a strong nectar flow begins. Unless you install your packages on drawn combs containing sufficient honey and pollen (taken from existing colonies or from storage), you should plan to feed the bees immediately upon installation and continue feeding them until they are able to fend for themselves. This is critically important when installing packages on foundation.
There are several efficient ways of feeding sugar syrup to your colonies. One of the easiest methods of getting food to colonies hived from packages is to invert a feeder can or plastic jar over the hole in the inner cover. (Figure 16) You can make this feeder by punching ten to fifteen small nail holes in the lid of a jar or can with removable lid (such as coffee can or clean paint can). Do not leave the hive top and feeder can exposed—place an empty hive body on top of the hive body with the bees to enclose the feeder and replace the outer cover (see “Feeding Honey Bees” in the next chapter for more information on feeding). Leave the hive alone for at least 4 to 5 days, except to refill the feeder as needed. After 7 to 9 days, examine the hive briefly to see if the queen is accepted and laying. Use smoke sparingly during this inspection, and handle the bees and equipment gently. If either the shipping or queen cage remain in the colony, you should remove these at this time. Check a frame or two for eggs and larvae. If you find a colony without a queen (no eggs or larvae and no visible sign of the queen) you should give it another queen without delay to avoid losing the entire colony. If obtaining a new queen immediately is impossible, the only practical recourse is to combine it with a queenright package or colony.
You can also install package bees in a hive body above a double screen placed on top of an established strong colony. The warmth of the established colony on the bottom improves the development of the new colony. Hive the package by shaking the bees from the shipping container and direct release the queen (as described previously). You need to provide an entrance to the rear of the hive for the new colony and feed it sugar syrup as you would other hives established from packages.
During the first 21 days after installation, a package bee colony experiences about a 35 percent loss in population. This loss occurs because new adult workers require 21 days to develop, during which time the older bees of the existing population die. After this period, the rate of emergence of young workers begins to exceed the rate of death of older bees and the population grows. About 4 weeks after installation the population is completely restored. Some beekeepers compensate for the initial shrinkage in package bee colony size by giving each package a frame or two of capped brood from an established colony. The capped brood helps increase the population of young bees and stimulates growth of the colony. Likewise, beekeepers with colonies that have sufficient capped honey frames provide packages with one or two drawn frames containing honey to stimulate more rapid package development. The major disadvantage when giving package bees brood and honey is the possibility of spreading disease/mites to the new colony.
Newly hived package bees are very susceptible to nosema disease, which often leads to queen supersedure or queenlessness. Feeding fumagillin medicated syrup to newly installed packages is highly recommended (see “Nosema” section in the chapter on maladies).
About 1½ to 2 months after installation, when the package bee colony requires additional space, you should place another hive body of frames on top of the brood chamber, either as a super for surplus honey or for brood chamber expansion.