A beehive is nothing without it’s bees, and while you can get “free” bees by catching swarms, its much easier to buy your bees. I like buying package bees because I have a reputable source. I want to be sure of what I am getting. If I collect feral bees there is no telling what diseases or pests will come with them.
This post shows how I go about Installing a Package of Bees.
I have a page that shows a similar method to install a package of bees in a Top Bar Hive.
I ordered my bees in January, so that the producer would have time to breed a queen for my package. This is one hobby that if you snooze you loose. If you do not order your bees then all the suppliers of package bees and queens will sell out.
Start With Two Hives
Since it is easier for a new beekeeper to start with two hives. I bought two three pound packages of bees. It gives you less average cost per hive. This is because you have to buy a smoker, hive tool, and protective garments no matter how many hives you have. Also, by having two hives, you can use one to strengthen the weaker colony. You also have a frame of reference to help diagnose problems.
There are around 4000 bees per pound. Consequently, I had somewhere between 10,000 to 12,000 bees in each package. These bees are of differing ages. As a bee’s tasks in the colony is tied to it’s age. Because of that, some of the bees had died of old age during shipping. This meant there were some poor dead bees at the bottom of my package.
Construction of the Package
The package is a wooden box with two steel mesh sides. If you get your bees in the mail, it’s a good idea to inform your post office. They like to get your bees delivered to you pretty quick. The buzzing can be unsettling for non-beekeepers….
On the top of the box, there is a wooden cover. That cover in over the top of a metal can that contains the sugar water that feeds the bees while they are confined. Also stapled under this cover is a strap that is attached to the queen cage.
Your bee supplier should be able to give you a good estimate of when they plan to ship you your bees. I know I bugged mine quite often as I was really enthusiastic about getting my first hives started. I prepared for the bees so that I could get them started as soon as they arrived.
Preparing the Hive:
The first thing you need to do is to set up your hive. I prepared mine a week in advance. In reality, a couple days should be sufficient lead time.
You want to make sure that your hive is in a sunny location. Ensure that the entrance is slightly tilted to prevent rain from running into your hive. It is better to provide frames that already have drawn comb in them so that the bees don’t have to make the comb before they start growing and collecting honey. Unfortunately that is not always possible for new beekeepers. Using frames with foundation is the next best step, and while it is not essential, you may want to lightly spray your foundation with sugar syrup. This will aid them in drawing comb. I did not do this with mine, as I was unaware of it at the time.
We discussed hive parts in a previous post but to recap, you will need the following:
- Hive Stand (commercial stand, cinder blocks, wood boards, It doesn’t matter as long as the hives are held off the ground, and are sturdy.)
- Bottom Board
- Entrance Reducer
- Feeder (entrance or interior) Not strictly necessary but it really helps.
- Brood Chamber: 1 Deep or 1 Medium Hive body (I use mediums for everything as its much simpler for me.)
- Brood Chamber Frames – 8 Frames for 8 Frame Hives, 10 For standard Langstroth Deeps and Supers
- Inner ventilated cover (optional)
- Outer Top Cover
- Weight for Cover (I used big rocks)
Once that’s all set up and sited properly, your ready to install your bees.
Shake Out Method of Package Installation:
There are other methods, but this is the method I use. It is simple and fast. However, it does look scary as your shaking a couple thousand bees out of their box. Its easiest to do this in late afternoon on a day with little humidity as the bees are calmest then. You also should wear light colors as they get excited when big dark mammals mess around their homes. I think it’s a genetic memory of big hairy bears munching on honeycomb, but my queens haven’t confirmed that for me yet.
It was raining for a couple days after I got my bees, and while their can of food will last a couple days, I was getting worried and installed them in early afternoon, on a cold, wet, windy day. I also ran out between rain showers in a dark t-shirt and sweat pants. Needless to say, I got stung a lot…. I now know how to install bees in the rain.
- Remove three to four frames from the center of the hive
- You may have “hitch-hiker” bees on the outside of the package. Gently brush them off with the back of your fingers, or your hive brush.
- Remove the top cover from the shipping package with your hive tool or knife.
- Using a knife or other tool, pry up and remove the can of Sugar Syrup from the Package.
- Remove the caged Queen from the package (the Queen cage is shipped with either a strip of aluminum or wire attached. DO NOT remove the wire or strip)
- Turn the package over with the opening directly over the top of the hive. Shake the Bees out of the Shipping Package directly into the frames.
- Remove the Cork from the Candy end of the Queen Cage and using a nail make a hole through the candy which will aid the workers both inside the Queen cage and outside eat through the candy to release the Queen. The time it takes for the bees to eat through it is the time it takes for them to get used to the new Queen.
- Using a thumb Tack or small nail, securely attach the Queen Cage to the frame which was previously removed with the mesh screen facing outwards between frames
- I did not do this in the video. The method above has a higher Queen acceptance rate, and should be followed.
- Replace the frame with Queen Caged attached make sure the Queen is facing outwards and facing the wax foundation.
- Put back any frames that were removed from Step 1.
- Replace inner and top covers
- You can either discard the can (which is a waste), or you can open it up with a can opener and pour it into your feeders.
Leave Them Alone
The hard part is to leave Bees alone for at least a week. After a week open the hive to check if Queen has been released and laying eggs. If Queen has not been released check to make sure Cork was removed from the candy end. If Cork was removed using a sharp object, dig out a hole in the candy to aid in the queens release.
Things to Think About
- Be careful not to damage the Queen.
- If Queen has been released remove the Queen Cage and close the covers.
- If the Queen has not been released check to see that the Bees are accepting the Queen.
This can be done by observing how the Bees are acting on the outside of the Queen Cage for aggressive behavior such as biting at the cage. Aggressive behavior is easy to see as the Bees will seem agitated and will move about quickly on the Queen Cage. Bees that are calm such as the ones in the picture below have accepted their new Queen. At this time the Queen can be released from her cage by removing the cork from the end opposite the candy. Replace the Queen Cage and let the Queen come out on her own, DO NOT try to remover her yourself. If the Queen has been released remove the Queen Cage and close the hive Covers.
All you need to do at this point is to monitor the hives so that you can add another hive body to the hives when they have drawn comb on all but the end frames. If you add boxes to early they can move up to the next body without drawing comb on the bottom box. Make sure they have plenty of food and let them do their business.
Note: After the I got done shaking the bees into the hive and paid my doing it wrong tax with unnecessary bee stings, I haven’t been stung since and I have been in the boxes several times.