One of the most important things to remember when ordering packaged bees and nucs is to order very early in the season to insure that you get your bees. This usually means ordering as early as November to get bees for the following year. This is my second year beekeeping and I have been lucky so far in that I have been able to get bees each year by ordering early and paying for my packages of bees. My packages have been picked up around March 31 of each year. Very early packages for Ohio.
My only disappointment this year has been not being able to secure a couple nucleus colonies. I had put myself on a reserve list for late May, 2011 nucleus colonies, and as of today I have not heard back on them. This could be for several reasons.
- I was only put on a waiting list and those before me got the only supply available this year.
- Since I did not prepay (I was not asked to pay for them at time of order) for the colonies I may have been bumped off the list. However, I was not asked to pay in advance and still expect some form of communication on the status of the 2 colonies I had been listed for.
- My order got lost.
- April and May have been very wet and stormy. Queen Breeders and Package Producers have been put behind this year. This includes the supplier of the 2 nucs and the business (as far as I know its a one man business) is currently trying to catch up for an early June availability date.
- Actual Reason for not knowing: I was sending my email inquiries to the wrong email address.
On June 11, 2011 I received a phone call from my nuc supplier (Honey Run Apiaries in Delphos, Ohio). My nucs (actually starter hives) are now ready for pickup. After a few phone calls I was able to setup a time on Sunday, June 12, 2011 to pick up my new bees. I opted for evening pickup at 9:30PM. We got there just a bit after 9:30 and the lighting told us we were pushing the timing.
Here is what I ordered:
2 – Starter Hive – $140 each.
Includes 6 frame nucs with 3 extra new frames with foundation in a standard 10 frame medium box (painted). Comes with temporary bottom board and top for transportation, plus a screened bottom board, inner cover and telescoping cover. The bees are New World Carniolan with a 2011 NWC Queen.
We arrived at the business and walked out to the yard to get the hives. The hives have a screened bottom attached and a temporary top made of plywood. The top has a notch cut into it for a top entrance. Tim (the owner) taped the temporary cover to the hive and closed off the entrance with duct tape (handyman’s secret weapon) and checked the weight of each hive. The first hive was good, but the second hive seemed light to him, and he went to the next hive and checked it and it had a good weight to it and he taped it up for me.
Got the hives out into the Ada, Ohio apiary the same night. Tim informed me that I could just set them up and cut the tape from the top entrance as the bees will be fine as there is plenty of ventilation with the screened bottom.
*Note* Bees are very angry after a 35 mile drive and being taped into a box and moved about at night. I did wear my jacket, hat and veil, but I started to cut open the entrances without gloves on. My dad commented that he saw the bees rush out when I started cutting the entrance. By that time I had at least 3 bees attacking the knife. I quickly opted for gloves. The second box was even more upset with the trip and the girls poured out of the entrance and a good number went for my gloved hands.
I plan to transfer the frames to new boxes and use the box the bees came in as medium nuc boxes utilizing the screened bottoms and using the top entrance.
I got stung one time transporting the hives to their new location. This was my fault as I didn’t check for hitch hikers on the boxes. If I had been wearing gloves, I would not have been stung. I put my fingers in the handholds and lifted, just as I did my right wrist came into contact with the top of the box which corresponded to the location of the hitch hiker. She let me know right away. Remember, if you get stung, DO NOT DROP A BOX OF BEES!! That has been etched into my brain. I did not drop the box, but I sure wanted to.
The biggest complaint that I am hearing this year is that people are not getting their bees even when packaged bees and nucs had been paid for well in advance. This is part stems from the fact that the United States had a bad April and May for many packaged bee producers. This caused honey bee queen shortages for the packages, and bees not building up to be shaken into packages. Several queen breeders had their breeding yards flooded along the Mississippi River this year.
There has also been a huge increase in the number of new beekeepers during the last couple of years. Since the news started reporting on the loss of honey bees here in the United States, many people who had not been interested in bees have started to take up beekeeping as a hobby. I personally started beekeeping to help bring more bees into my area. Prior to watching a PBS special called the “Silence of the Bees” in 2009, I made sure I stayed as far away from a bee as I could. As a kid I use to step on them with my bare feet when I saw bees on various weeds in the year. However, after getting stung by a bumble bee, those little bugs on flowers became something I feared. That all changed after I watched the PBS special. I soon found myself taking very close-up photos of honey bees on some flowers in the garden. Turns out that many of these bees lived in colonies not very far from my home kept by a local beekeeper in town (more on this later).
Back on track…
Those that ordered bees early for shipment this year and who have yet to hear anything about there orders bring up a very good point. Many of the companies that are having issues getting bees out to people seem to have forgotten how to communicate with people. Many of these customers have asked for updates and refunds only to find refunds hard to get (either taking too long to get processed or no response for refund requests) and very little information as to the status of their order.
At least one business is still getting complaints about packaged bees that were suppose to be delivered in 2009 still not being delivered in 2011. These bees have been paid for and for many refunds have been promised, yet after more than 2 years many are still out of their money and bees. This shows very poor customer support and business practices.
Another company appears to have had a good start this year on package delivery, but soon after customer complaints started coming in that they were getting no response from the company as to order updates. The company website showed a few updates, but they would not give very good details on delays and status of customer orders. This company could really benefit from a better online experience for their customers. The company is missing a very easy way to inform their customers by simply creating a page that shows delays and updates. Instead, the company had hidden these delays in little blurbs throughout their website and also have failed to respond to emails and phone calls from customers. They could also send updates to customers via email. Judging from customer complaints, these have been hit and miss and mostly targeted to various individual customers and not the entire customer base. This has hurt the company more than it realizes as these complaints are now part of the online community. I even tried to contact the company and have yet to get a response.
In light of a few companies having left their customers in the dark about repaid orders, many package and nuc suppliers (and queen producers) have been open and honest with their customers about delays. For those that are not able to wait for delayed bees, these businesses have refunded customers or have reached into personal stock to fulfill orders this year.
They key to a good business is communicating with the customer. At least one business failed to do this back in 2009 and is still taking orders (and not delivering). Another business started out well, but as soon as environmental issued delayed bees for the business to deliver, the business shut down communication and they now have a large group of unhappy customers because of it.
Let your customers know what is going on. If you need to issue refunds, do so on a timely manner. Some people could have ordered elsewhere and still gotten bees early enough to get them built up for the winter if they had gotten a timely refund. Now they are waiting in the dark listening for a hint of what is going on.