Boxes with a total of 2.5 million bees warm up inside a garage. Credit: Peter Cowan

Spring struggles to maintain its grip, but slowly and surely the bees are building up for the day they can eventually enjoy uninterrupted days of flight and foraging.

My first delivery of packages of honey bees came in early April this year. It’s not something I am likely to continue with, early deliveries that is. It was cold and we came very close to losing a lot of the nearly 2,500,000 bees. On the day they arrived it was about 40 degrees, quite a change from Florida where they started their journey.

Every bump in the frost-heaved road shook off more bees from their clusters. In the cold they fall to the bottom of the package and if there for too long, away from the relative warmth of the cluster, they will die.

When they got here, more than half the packages had an inch or more deep of bees, motionless at the bottom of the screen box they traveled in. We quickly unloaded them from the trailer, fearing the worst, and stacked them in my barn with the heat cranked right up.

Slowly, the apparently lifeless bees on the bottom of the packages began to stir and crawl up to the growing clusters of bees wrapped tightly around the queen bees. By the following morning it was as if they had never experienced such a bone chilling journey and all but a few packages were in fantastic condition with very few dead bees.

Given their early start I was recommending to my customers that they feed the bees with pollen substitute. The trees were only just starting to yield pollen and on the days that the daytime temperature was only reaching 50, bees were not able to collect much pollen to feed their brood.

I made up some pollen patties which are a mixture of pollen substitute (full of protein), and some concentrated sugar solution. The patty has the consistency of playdough. It’s not ideal but it works really well was an alternative to pollen in these circumstances. I also have some containers out in my bee yard with dry pollen substitute in them, the bees collect it just like they would do with pollen. When the weather is better and there are all sorts of natural pollen out there, the bees will not touch the substitute.

My guy who supplies my bee packages returned with more around May 7. These bees are not going to have the chilly start, nor will they struggle to find pollen. Anyone needing package bees this spring should contact me right away as the order book is closing.

Of course, if you missed the packaged bees there are always nucleus colonies, (or nucs). Nucs are partially grown colonies with five combs full of bees, brood and food. I am making and selling more of these than ever this year. These small colonies, with either standard queens or cold hardy, mite resistant, Saskatraz queens, grow very quickly, much faster than does a package of bees as they are full of developing brood. I spend most of May and June making up nucs.

Most new colonies, given a good location and decent weather, will make a small surplus of honey even in their first year. Each year I have the occasional hive that will make 200 lbs of honey in excess of what they need for the winter. There are always some bad years but this year I hope to beat my honey production record I set last year of over 2500 lbs.

I am nearing the end of my Spring beekeeping classes. If none of these dates or locations work for you let me know I might decide to run an extra class!

Bangor Intermediate, Monday, May 20, 6-8 p.m., call 207-992-5522 or visit

Hampden Intermediate, One Day Hands-on; Saturday June 8, 8-2:30 p.m., call 207-299-6948.