We picked up our bees last week. I always get a little rush of adrenaline holding a screened box of 10,000 buzzing bees. It’s not an angry buzz, just a gentle, busy buzz as they work to protect the queen. They surround her by “holding hands”. Each bee connects to the next until there is a mass of bees hanging from the queen box, and they take on a mass-body of their own.
I’m getting ahead of myself. For those of you who have never had the amazing pleasure of seeing a package of bees, it is just as it sounds. A wooden box or package with two screened sides that holds and allows transportation of a bee colony.
Inside the package is a can of sugar water to feed the bees while on their journey.
At the top of the box is a small metal tab.
From this tab suspends the queen box which is a small wooden box with screen on one side and a small cork on the end. The queen journeys in this separate container.
So how does one get 10,000 bees out of a box and into a hive?
Thankfully, nature has designed bees in such a way that makes this task less complicated than it sounds. The worker bees are devoted to the queen and will stay where she resides, which makes things a bit easier for the bee keeper.
Because this is a new hive, we are only giving the bees one box filled with frames at this time. As the hive grows we will provide additional boxes for them to fill with brood and honey. But the colony is small right now. This single box is a good size for them to manage.
The frames are from our old hive and already have comb drawn. This will give the new colony a head start.
Preparing to Install: Materials to Take with you to the Hive:
Usually, when working with bees you would protect yourself from stings by using a smoker. This is a great tool when opening an established colony. The bees interpret the smoke as a forest fire threat and they gorge themselves on honey. This makes them lethargic and less likely to sting.
But if you use a smoker with a new colony, they might see this new hive as “smoky” and potentially dangerous. They might flee and find a less smoky home.
Instead of a smoker we use sugar water and a spray bottle set to mist.
Sugar Spray Recipe: 2 parts water 1 part sugar. Boil, let cool, pour in spray bottle.
You also need Sugar Syrup or honey in a mason jar to feed the bees until they start collecting and making their own food.
Sugar Syrup Recipe: 1 part Sugar, 1 Part water, boil, let cool.
We also gather a small amount of marshmallow fluff, yup, the kind you use for making fudge!
And a screw to remove the queen cork.
We gently mist the bees with the sugar water through the screen. They will be more interested in eating and cleaning themselves than stinging us. They’re also less aggressive at this point because they have no home to defend.
Slowly remove the can of sugar water.
The tab on the top of the box holds the queen. Slide this out of the slot and remove the queen box.
In the bottom of her box there is a small cork. Holding the box with one hand, have a dab of marshmallow creme ready on one of your fingers. Screw the screw into the cork and pull it out.
As soon as the cork is removed smear on a bit of marshmallow to block the entrance and keep the queen in the box. This will give you time to work with the queen, but the bees will easily consume the soft marshmallow. They will free her within a few hours once the hive is closed.
In the hive we’ve removed three frames to make room for the package.
Clip the queen box on the frame closest to where the package will be placed with the screen facing out.
A Gentler Way to Install:
A common practice is to take the package of worker bees and literally shake the bees out of the box and into the hive. We’ve done this in the past and it is very quick and effective. But it’s rather stressful to both a new bee keeper and the bees themselves. While most of the bees are fine, I can’t help but think some must get injured from this practice. It’s also a daunting task to the poor soul who has to shake a box of bees.
This time, we removed a few frames to make room for the package and simply sat the box inside the hive.
Within a few minutes the bees began to leave the package and investigate the queen.
We closed up the hive with the intention to check them in 3 days.
Three days would hopefully be enough time for the bees to exit the package and start thinking of the new hive as their home.
Three days later we opened the hive to see how everyone was doing. This time, using the smoker.
The bees had released the queen and were busy fixing the old comb.
Most of them had left the package. However, a few had been busy drawing up comb inside the package. Which is a risk that comes with this type of installation.
We carefully removed the package and replaced that space with frames.
We removed the comb from inside the package to discourage the bees from continuing this.
Then we left the package next to the hive for the remaining bees to leave.
The next day all the bees had left the package and were well incorporated with their new home. This method worked really well for us, and we plan on using it again in the future.
There are some risks with using this method. Mostly in the three day window that you leave the bees with the package in the hive. It’s usually best to leave a new colony alone with their hive for at least a week. This allows them to establish a comfort level with the new home you’ve provided. If you go barging in right after they’ve been installed, they might think that this new home isn’t safe and swarm to find a better home. We felt comfortable checking the bees after only 3 days because we had provided them frames with comb from our old hive. We wagered that this “head start” would be enough to encourage them to stay.
You could leave the package in longer, but then you risk that the bees will begin incorporating the package into the hive. As ours began to do after only three days… they were already building comb inside!
It also requires more involvement from the beekeeper, and it’s a slower process. We don’t mind because we only have a small set up, but to someone who keeps many hives, this would be a consideration.
How do you install a new package of bees? Let us know by leaving a comment below or visiting the Keeping Backyard Bees Facebook Page.