Are their ethics loose in the package too?

This e-mail came in today. I’m interested to see if you agree with my answer or have a better idea.
[box color=”gray”]I just installed my first package a week ago into a top bar hive. The queen was dead in her cage and I was told this usually means there is a queen in the package loose, so give it 3-5 days and see what happens. The weather immediately took a turn for the worse, with days in the 50s and nights below freezing. At first we saw some bees making flights, but over the past few days, nothing.

Due to the cold weather, I haven’t had a chance to take a look until today, exactly a week from when I installed them. The bees are all clustered on the floor of the hive. The cluster is just about the size of a baseball. They hadn’t discovered the sugar I’d put behind the follower, no comb has been built, and there’s signs of defecation inside the hive (3 or 4 spots of bee poo on one wall).

I moved the sugar in next to them instead of leaving it behind the follower, and lightly dusted the cluster with it so they have at least a little something to eat that they can’t help but find.

My question is, what next? If I need to order another package, it needs to happen asap, likewise if I just need to order a queen. The next several days are supposed to be gloriously warm and sunny, with more moderate night time lows. Do I wait another few days and see what happens? Should I go ahead and order a whole new package? Order just a queen?

The place I got the bees from says they have no idea about bees in top bar hives, so they aren’t any help!



Whoever told you that a dead queen in her cage meant there is a queen loose in the package was either ignorant or lying. And anyway, even in the remote chance there was a loose queen in the package, you paid for the one in the queen cage and she should be alive and healthy.

With the queen dead, and no way of making a queen, the colony is just dying. It is hopeless. At this point, you need a whole new package including the queen. If the queen in the cage was dead and they sent you home without a replacement, they owe you a whole new package, including a live queen, at no extra charge.

In the meantime, put starter strips in your top-bar hive, if you haven’t already. Also, it’s not clear if you gave them solid sugar or syrup, but it should be syrup. Without lots of food they can’t build comb. So make syrup and add an attractant like lemongrass oil or anise oil so they can find it easier.

Next time, attach the queen cage to a middle bar and leave her in it a few day until comb building begins.

Andrea, I’m going to post this on the front page to see what other people think. I hope they agree.

Good luck, and next year get your bees from someone else.



  • I concur with your statements. If its only the size of a baseball that sounds very small to me, like there were not enough bees in the package in the first place. Bee poo sounds ominous too. I would be be asking for a new package with just those two factors. And if they are diseased I would be disposing of the comb and starting again. No point starting with a diseased package especially if you are new to it.

  • Original asker here!

    Thanks so much for your swift response, Rusty. I’ve emailed the place I got the package; they won’t have any more coming in so my best hope at this point is a refund. The bad service is confusing, since they’re highly regarded locally, possibly my experience is a fluke or they just find top bars very confusing.

    I’d offered the bees sugar with some lemongrass oil mixed in because temps have been barely peeking above 50 most days and I’ve read they won’t take syrup when it’s that cool.

    Hopefully I can find another package swiftly before these bees just die in a pathetic huddle. Regardless, I shall not be dissuaded!

    Thank you, by the way, for this blog. I’ve found it a wonderful common-sense resource and check in daily for new posts, plus your archives are the first place I search when I have a question!

  • I concur with all the above, and would like to add:
    **even new beekeepers should start with two hives**.

    She would have then have had options, although I do think the supplier owes her a new package and queen. Any reputable supplier would have instantly sent a replacement queen…they have extra around just for this purpose, it happens.

    Although I prefer not to medicate, and I elected not to medicate my 2013 NZ package bees when I hived them, my supplier does recommend fumagillin for all packages, to combat transport stress induced Nosema.

  • Another couple notes — comb guides/starter strips are installed, but there’s no comb on them to dispose of, alas. The plan was to hang the queen cage from a bar, but I figured there was no point in mounting a dead queen for display, as it were.

    Waiting on an email response from the place I bought the package, in the meantime I found a place that can ship me another package mid-April, so I figure I will give it one more shot this year, and if that doesn’t work I’ll spend another year reading and learning and try again next spring.

  • Totally agree with this call and the person feeding her that line. I wouldn’t go back; they sound unreliable. But what is all this constant hub-bub with top bar hives.. Sounds like bee-havers, not beekeepers. Beekeeping knowledge in very limited here in Asia. But even here they keep bee boxes.

  • The comment about another queen being loose to me seems a load of B.S. and an excuse to avoid any repayment. If these were in the UK they would be considered not worth trading with.

    My short answer is (a) they should refund you your costs of the original package + P&P or, (b) they should supply you with a new package free of charge. If they argue then take ’em to see Judge Judy!

    Your surviving bees will probably die of ‘isolation starvation’ as they may be too week to help themselves to any supplementary food, this could be worsened by bad weather because they will stay in a cluster to keep warm rather than feed.

    If you get a good warmer day look at any surviving bees and if on examination they seem free from any disease then why not meld them with another stronger colony using the ‘newspaper’ method? More bees to go into summer with!
    If they look at all suspect, let them die out, torch your hive afterwards to sterilize it and get another new package of bees when the weather improves.

    I suggest that you join a local beekeepers association and get advice from experienced beekeepers. Maybe someone will offer to mentor you as well.

    Good Luck

  • Andrea, I would be afraid that your provider won’t give you a new package, or queen since you didn’t approach them immediately after you found the queen dead. Always inspect your package as soon as you get it. And I would also try to salvage the rest of the bees as well.

    • Darwin,

      I was under the impression she did mention it right away, and that is when they told her to wait a few days.

  • @westernwilson Alas, finances precluded establishing two hives right off the bat. My hive was paid for by the state of Virginia’s bee grants, all I had to pay for was the package.

    @Lee Mike I can’t speak for other people using top bar hives, but I’m disabled — there is no way I will be able to lift a super full of honey, or a deep full of brood. With a top bar, I only have to lift one bar at a time, and still get bees to pollinate the garden (we are not wealthy, and grow most of our own food). I may even get a comb of honey from time to time, along with improved yield on staples like beans. I’m not sure why the type of hive a person has should matter, surely I can care just as much about my bees no matter what they live in?

    @Graham Once we get a second vehicle up and running, beekeeper meetings are on my to-do list! Right now my husband’s work schedule conflicts. I’m hoping they are all right with someone using a top bar hive, Langstroth etc just aren’t possible with my limited physical capabilities.

    @Darwin I called them as soon as I got home and found the queen dead, which is when they gave me the line about a queen loose in the package and told me to wait & see what happens.

    Their response to my email wasn’t encouraging, they will give me another queen when one arrives but by then I suspect I will have no colony for her. I’m kind of heart-broken about the poor bees in their sad little cluster, slowly dying. I strongly doubt there will be any left to combine with the new package when it comes.

    Live and learn, but it’s terrible that in this case the learning has come at the expense of the poor bees.

    • Andrea,

      This is infuriating. The queen being dead caused the rest of the bees to die. The guy owes you a 100% refund, especially since you told him as soon as you discovered it. Why don’t you send me his name and address? Also send me contact information about the Virginia bee program that provided the hive–they need a list of suppliers people should avoid.

      • Rusty,

        I sent the info via your contact form, I’m waiting for their response to my suggestion that a refund is in order but don’t expect to hear back until Monday.


  • Hi, Andrea. I am so proud of your spirit. Your determination not to be dissuaded is exactly the attitude we beekeepers need to carry on in the face of so many obstacles our girls face. If you happen to heading to Michigan in May, I will give you a package just because of how your attitude inspires me. I’m not a package producer, but I do have over 100 hives and a bunch of queens coming in for making splits. Of course I realize spending a couple hundred bucks in gas would be ridiculous, but the offer stands if you happen to be heading to Michigan just by chance. I highly encourage your plan to start attending a local bee club. Most of the clubs I’ve been involved with are filled with remarkably wonderful people that relish the opportunity to help out fellow beekeepers. Particularly new beekeepers. It gives us a chance to show off how smart we are. 🙂 Just kidding….Well, mostly, just kidding.

    Anyway, thanks for making my day by your show of determination!

    Jim Withers

    • Hi Jim!

      Thanks so much for your offer — if I were making my yearly pilgrimage to Wisconsin this year I’d definitely make a detour to show up in your bee yard.

      As my husband can tell you, once I have put my mind to something I tend to be stubborn as a mule. Normally he provides the heavy manual labor for my plans but he drew the line at bees, which lead to my first adventure looking for an affordable top bar hive. Hopefully this second package I’ve ordered takes off, if not I may show up on your doorstep next year looking hopeful! 😉

      • @Andrea,

        Can you email or call the local bee club? There maybe someone local who could sell you a queen or give you a bar of bee brood so there is a chance for your bees to raise one.

  • Margali is right – contact the local bee club. There may be someone local raising queens that could provide a package, or perhaps an overflowing hive needs to be split. Beeks are empathetic warm hearted folks who will go way out of their way to help others. (Must be all the honey!)
    Good luck!!
    BTW, the bees that came in the package would mostly die in the first 2-4 weeks anyway, so the remainders will die. The problem is that there aren’t replacements in the wings.

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