Installing Package Honey Bees

Soon your bees will finally be here – a most joyous occasion for new bee keepers especially. No doubt you have been studying up on how to get package bees into their hive, and already have some idea how to do it, but just in case…

Of course you already have your hive equipment all ready assembled, painted and hopefully in place in your future bee yard ready to receive your new BFFs.

If you are using a Screened Bottom Board – close it up!  Packages or swarms often abscond when installed in hives with open bottoms.  Once they have some comb built and brood going open it up if you want to, but keep it shut until then.

Note – I started keeping honey bees using the foundationless method, and while it did work out OK, I have since changed to all plastic foundation – which is another issue.  The point is that these pictures show foundationless frames, while you will probably be using foundation of some kind.  Don’t worry about that, the only difference is how you release the queen – which will be pointed out when we get to that part.

If it turns out that the weather is foul when your package bees arrive, they can be kept in a cool dark place – like a garage – for several days, but installing them sooner is better than later.  Except for this – if you are installing in a top bar hive or other foundationless system, it might be better for the bees to spend a total of at least 3 days caged up in contact with their new queen before you release them.

If there are no other bees already nearby where you are installing your package bees, then you can do it at any time of day – hopefully during nice weather – but if you already have bees in the same location you can help to keep your bees from drifting to existing hives by doing the deed as late as possible in the afternoon so that they will spend the night in the new hive before they look around too much.

How to Install your Package Honey Bees

First take 4 frames out of the hive  to make a space for the bees.  Next pry the plywood cover off of the package.

The package contains a can of syrup with a few holes in it for the bees to eat during shipping.

Hold the tab that the queen cage is hanging from as you carefully remove the syrup can. Everything will have bees clinging to it so you have to go slow and kind of wiggle things around to keep from injuring them.

After removing the can, and the queen cage keep the bees in the cage by laying the little piece of plywood back over the hole.

Notice the white wax that the workers deposited on the queen cage while they were in route.  They really cant wait to get to work.Notice the white wax that the workers deposited on the queen cage while they were in route. They really can’t wait to get to work.  But, the queen and worker bees were collected from different hives at the commercial apiary where the bees were produced, and don’t immediately accept each other.If those bees hanging onto the queen cage cling tight and feel almost like velcro when you gently brush them off it means that the queen has not yet been accepted.  But even if they have accepted the queen already a timed candy release is a tried and true way of minimizing the risk when introducing a queen to a new hive.There should be several attendant bees in the cage with the queen, and  some of them might be dead – which is normal – but make sure that the queen is alive.

Compared to the pictures of queens you might  have seen on the Internet your new queen might look kind of puny.  There are two reasons for that 1) People usually post pictures of particularly big fat queens, not average ones.  2) Your queen has been in a cage – not laying eggs – for several days, and queens get skinny when they are not laying eggs.  She will fatten up a lot in a week or two.

Most wooden  queen cages have two  corks that keep the queen in for the trip, and under one cork there is  a plug made out of sugar “candy” that the workers will gnaw away to free the queen.  Be sure to remove the correct cork – the one with candy under it – not the one which immediately releases the queen.  Immediate direct release of your queen will void the warranty – and may result in her being immediately killed.  Don’t do that!

Hang the Queen Cage in the Hive – An easy way to fasten the queen cage in is with a simple rubber band:

Your queen could come in any of several types of queen cage, but whatever kind you get you want to install the cage in the center of the hive with the candy end up so that the exit doesn't get clogged with dead attendants. You might have to remove one frame from the outside to make room for the queen cage. Make sure that the screen is not obstructed or blocked. If you use a rubber band for this, use a nice fat one so that the bees don't chew it apart before the queen is released.
Your queen could come in any of several types of queen cage, but whatever kind you get you want to install the cage in the center of the hive with the candy to the side, so that melted candy doesn’t drip on the queen and so that the exit doesn’t get clogged with dead attendants. You might have to remove one frame from the outside to make room for the queen cage. Make sure that the screen is not obstructed or blocked. If you use a rubber band for this, use a nice fat one so that the bees don’t chew it apart before the queen is released.

Don’t directly release the queen Unless, you are doing foundationless – in which case you MUST directly release the queen. If you don’t know what I mean by “doing foundationless” then this does not apply to you.  Rest assured that using foundation is a good way to go – the tried and true way.  Those foundationless guys are outlaws, who live on the ragged edge. Direct release is much more risky than a timed candy release.

The reason that you don’t put a queen cage into a foundationless hive is that the bees will start building comb right on the queen cage instead of on your carefully constructed starter strips, and instead of nice straight comb you will get something like this instead:

 

Crooked chaotic comb which will be likely to fall apart when you do an inspection – Which is something you don’t have to worry about when you use foundation.

When introducing a queen into a foundationless hive without comb.  First make sure that the queen has been confined with the package for at least 3 days, and bees are not aggressively clinging to the queen cage like velcro.  Then  just free the queen and put the queen cage in your pocket – seriously don’t leave the cage laying around or the bees might cluster on it because of the queen pheremones on it.  Now hope that she doesn’t immediately fly away, and isn’t killed by the other bees.

If after a candy release the queen is still in the cage in a week you can safely release her then  during your first inspection.

Usually in a package bee installation “how to” you are instructed to shake the bees out through the 3 inch hole left by the syrup can – lots of shaking involved which doesn’t look too pleasant for the bees – but it really doesn’t hurt them.  You can also take  the screen loose on the side of the box to open up the entire side as instructed in this beemaster video on installing a package of bees.  But really, that’s a lot of extra work, and shaking them out through the can hole works fine.

Before you shake in the bees Install the entrance reducer on the smallest opening.

When you are ready to install the bees, take a deep breath and rap the package down sharply to get all of the bees in a confused pile on the bottom.  Now just dump them right into the hive with the queen.  After you shake most all of them out, set the empty package near the entrance of the hive so that any holdouts can walk in on their own.

You might be worried that at this point they will either all just fly away or swarm all over you and try to sting you to death, but they won’t.  Actually they will probably just about ignore you.  Experienced bee keepers might not wear any equipment at all.  Smart bee keepers will wear a veil, because getting stung in the eye can cause blindness.  Beginners should suit up to the point that they are confident and don’t have to worry about it at all.  No shame in that.

After pouring the bees into the hive carefully replace all of the frames – slowly wiggle them in to give the bees a chance to get out of the way. If you have 10 frame equipment you might want to leave one frame out until you remove the queen cage in a few days – just even out the extra space on each end.  It seems impossible from the way this picture looks, but I don’t think I killed a single bee.

Now carefully replace the inner cover.

A Quart jar with some holes punched in the lid makes a great feeder – a push pin type thumb tack makes perfect sized holes.  Install whatever kind of feeder you plan to use and fill it with 1/1 sugar syrup.  Check on it and keep it filled as long as they will take it and don’t start back filling the brood nest.

Cover the jar feeder with an empty hive body, and the outer cover.

If I had been on the ball I would have placed the entrance reducer before I started.

In just a few minutes the bees were all moving inside and flying around the yard orienting themselves.  In a few hours they were already bringing in pollen from the blackberry flowers.

Now the hardest part –  leave them alone for at least a week.  The bees need time to build comb for the queen to lay in and to accept  her before you bother them – premature inspection could cause them to kill or supercede the queen.  Keep them fed, and admire how cool they look going in and out, but don’t open the hive.

This process might look intimidating, but after all of the waiting you will probably really enjoy it.  When I got my first package I worried that when I dumped all of those bees out they would just rise up and fly away if I didn’t do everything exactly right.  But the thing is they don’t seem to want to fly away.  It’s almost like if you had been cooped up in a greyhound bus for 3 days and then you were deposited right into a five star hotel with an open buffet – what they really seemed to want to do was settle in and make their selves at home.

Summary:

      1. Get your hive equipment ready – don’t forget to install the entrance reducer. Close the screened bottom board if you are using one.
      2. Remove 4 frames from the middle of the hive to make a hole to pour the bees into.
      3. Rap the cage down to shake the bees down to the bottom.
      4. Pry out the feed can, remove the queen cage, and cover the hole.
      5. Verify that the queen is alive.  If she is not alive – call me, I have a few spares.
      6. Remove the cork from the candy end of the queen cage.
      7. Fasten the queen cage into the hive with the candy end up and the screen unobstructed.
      8. Rap the package down again to shake the bees to the bottom.
      9. Dump them in there.
      10. Replace the frames – push them all together to the center of the hive!
      11. Install your feeder and close the hive.
      12. Keep them fed.
      13. Leave them alone for a whole week.
      14. If when you inspect after one week the queen is still in the cage – remove the other cork and release her into the hive – by now she will be well accepted.  And by the way, an otherwise queenless hive like this will feed the caged queen through the cage for a long time – that is exactly how commercial producers “bank” queens until they are ready to ship.
      15. Don’t get excited if you don’t see either the queen or brood the first time you inspect – both are hard for new bee keepers to spot.

A great video on installing package bees

Photography by my lovely and fearless wife Shirley – who was not wearing a bee suit.

Installing Your New Bees

This has actually been mentioned before, but I know that at least one person who got bees tonight did not know…   The nucleus hives that many of you bought with our club order are made up with Deep frames – traditionally most nucs are – however many people now want to use all medium frames.  If you are using deep hive bodies then no worries, but what do you do if you have medium hives and discover that your deep nuc frames won’t fit?  All is not lost.

Start by putting one empty medium hive body on your bottom board then put enough frames of foundation in it to make up the difference between your nuc and the frame count of your equipment – in other words if you have a 4 frame nuc, and you have 10 frame medium equipment, put 6 medium frames in.  Push all of those frames to one side.  Set another medium hive body on top of that.  Now install your nucleus hive frames in the second box – they will hang down into the space you left in the bottom box.  Now reach down with your hive tool and push the medium frames over against the deep ones – you might have to space them out to match the bee space between the matching frames, but don’t leave a big space between them.  Now fill the second box with medium frames – also push them over against the deep frames.  Never leave empty spaces in your hives or the bees will build burr comb in it.

The deep frames do not go down as far as the bottom set of mediums, and the bees will build some natural comb on the bottom of them.  Don’t worry about it.  Inspecting the medium frames in the bottom box will be a bit of a pain – so as long as you see what you need to see in the second box don’t worry about them for a while.   Eventually the deep frames will be empty and you will be able to move them out – or if you get anxious about it you can move them above a queen excluder – in a few weeks any brood in them will emerge.  Once they only have honey or nectar in them you can take them out of the hive and either extract it (if it is good honey) or you can leave it out and let the bees remove it.

This is a bit less than ideal, but the bees really won’t care.

When to install your Package bees

I have done a little research on if there is a better time to hive your packages, and as JD mentioned in previous comments  late in the evening is probably best if possible, because the bees are less likely to drift or even just leave.   So, what I said at the last meeting was wrong – sorry about that.  From my notes and clips:

Installing Nucs

“… When you get the nuc home place it on top of the hive it is to go in and leave it be until the next day, making sure you have opened the entrance. Assuming the entrance has been closed. Then, sometime during the (following) day, transfer the frames from the nuc into the hive. I prefer working bees during daylight hours, not darkness.

… Folks should keep in mind that bees are quite flexible and handled properly won’t perish easily. (you) may even find it beneficial to leave the bees in the nuc box they come in for a few days or a week even, depending on the weather and whether the combs in the nuc box are completely filled out.  … in NY I wouldn’t install a nuc in a full sized box right now (April 6), unless I kept them in the same configuration as they were in the nuc box. Not until some nectar flow started. Then I would put one frame inside each of the two outside nuc frames, to be filled if comb or drawn if foundation.”

-Mark Berninghausen, Brasher Falls NY- Commercial Bee Keeper  former New York State Apiary Inspector, and frequent contributor on www.beesource.com/forums

Installing Package bees

There are lots of opinions (from equally authoritative sources) on the “best” way to install package bees – but people who do it a lot seem to agree that if you are installing multiple packages, doing it later in the evening can help to minimize drifting – a possible cause of problems when one hive becomes very strong and the other gets very weak.   Also, misting the bees with water or light syrup before/during the install apparently helps to prevent drift – which is new info to me, but makes sense, because it keeps them from flying while they clean off all the stickiness.   So I was incorrect to say at the recent meeting that you should install packages asap – although if you are just starting with only one package and no other hives nearby for the bees to drift to it is probably alright –  I did say that I had little experience at this.

The tried and true method of queen release in package installs is to hang the queen in her cage in the hive – and let the hive release her over time by eating through the candy plug (don’t forget to expose the candy though!) But If the package is at least 3 days old there has been ample experience among commercial bee keepers that directly releasing the queen is as effective as leaving her in the cage – if the package is newer than 3 days or of unknown age then the general consensus is that doing a candy release is safer.  The bulk of disagreement seems to come from people who have never really tried both methods.

If you are installing a package in any kind of foundationless configuration – top bar or otherwise – you must directly release the queen or the presence of the cage is almost sure to result in bad comb being built.