Beekeeping Basics: Installing a Package

The moment has finally arrived! Your bee yard is set up and your hive bodies are ready. A gleaming white bee suit is awaiting its first use. You have picked up a package of bees from your local bee shop or beekeeper's club, nervously glancing at the backseat on the ride home, making sure none have escaped. There it is, sitting on your lawn, or in your garden, or on your roof. 10,000 worker bees and a queen. Now what?

• First things first, have everything you need at hand. This includes a spray bottle with sugar water, a hive tool, a pair of pliers, a hive body with frames, an entrance reducer, a bee brush and a feeder.

• Give the bees a nice spray with the sugar water, right through the screen. This will calm them down and keep them happy. We use this in lieu of smoke for an install because smoke is generally unnecessary since the bees are not aggressive, having no home to defend.

• Pry up the piece of wood on the top of the package and give the whole box a firm bang on a hard surface so the bees fall to the bottom of the box. No worries, they will be fine. Remove the can of sugar syrup and the queen cage and quickly cover the hole back up with the wood so as to keep as many bees inside as possible. Set the syrup aside for now.

• Inspect your queen cage. Is she alive and well, and does she have some attendant bees in there? These bees are important because they actually feed the queen. Take a good look at the queen, because spotting her later when she is amidst thousands of bees is no easy thing. If you are lucky she has been marked with a colored dot on her abdomen. If the queen is dead, call your supplier immediately and they should express mail you a new one.

• Remove the metal plate that covers one end of the queen cage. This will reveal a candy plug. With a long skinny nail, carefully bore a hole in the plug. It will take a few days or longer for the bees to eat through the candy plug and release the queen. This gives her time to release pheromones that will ensure that the rest of the hive will accept her. The hole is to facilitate this release.

• Hang the queen cage on the center frame, with the screen side facing out. There are many ways to do this, and some cages some with a convenient hanging strip. I have used a large rubber band in the past with great success. The screen side has to face out, away from the foundation it is attached to, so the rest of the bees can feed her. Place the frame back in the hive body.

• Remove a few of the outer frames from the hive body and give the package a good spray of sugar water. Bang the box again to drop the bees to the bottom, remove the plywood covering the hole and shake the bees into the hive body. Alternatively, you can use pliers to pull away the screen on one side, which gets the bees out a lot quicker. Either way you will soon be surrounded by a lot of bees. Stay calm. The bees will quickly inhabit their perfect new home that you have so thoughtfully supplied for them.

• Give the bees a bit of time to settle in and then carefully replace the frames you removed. Then add either the inner cover if you are using an entrance feeder, or add the hive-top feeder without an inner cover. Use the bee brush in all of these steps to gently clear bees from being crushed.

• Fill the feeder with sugar syrup and put on the outer cover. Then put in the entrance reducer, leaving an opening the width of your index finger. This will help the bees defend their new turf and keep them a bit warmer if you are installing in early spring. You can use store-bought entrance reducers, make them yourself out of wood, or use strips of foam insulation--whatever works. This opening can be gradually widened over the next month, until the bees have built up their numbers, at which point it can be removed entirely.

And that's it! Congratulations, your new bees are ready to go and you are in for an interesting summer. As always, there are many ways to install a package. This is the method I have used that has worked for me. But as long as you are gentle, leave the queen accessible and make sure they have something to eat, you will be good to go. The bees know what they are doing.

MORE BEEKEEPING ON APARTMENT THERAPY:
Beekeeping Basics: Brushing Up on Bee ID
Beekeeping Basics: Before You Get Started
Beekeeping Basics: Equipment List

(Images: Richard Popovic)