This is just a reminder. If you are planning on ordering queens or packaged bees for spring, now is the time to do it. The old rule of thumb was “order by the winter solstice.” But now, with bees in short supply due to a variety of ailments, it’s a good idea to order even earlier.
The problem is that bees are shipped on a first come, first serve basis. Last year, for example, I ordered queens from my favorite supplier in December but the earliest ship date I could get was June. The same applies to packaged bees. If you order from a bee club or local bee supplier, there may be limited space on their trucks. So early is better.
The problem with this, of course, is that most overwintering losses occur at the end of winter. So right now everything may look good. You may be fairly confident that all your bees will make it until spring. Then in late February or early March—with spring just around the corner—you start to lose colonies. By then it is too late to order packages.
The trick is to anticipate your losses before you have them. You can make an assessment based on your past history, or the history of other beekeepers in your area. But if you are running only one or two hives and you don’t want to be beeless in the spring, you may want to order “just in case.”
The good news is this: if you order bees and then find you overwintered just fine and don’t want the packages, you can usually find someone to take them. Chances are there will be folks who didn’t anticipate their need for bees early enough and who will be happy to buy these packages from you. Just check with your local bee club.
If you keep mason bees, now is the time to order cocoons as well. These will be shipped almost immediately and should be kept in a cool dark place until very early spring. Several days above 55° F will stimulate emergence, so don’t forget to put them out early! You don’t want them hatching in your garage or basement.