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Installing bee packages in a new bee yard!

Lara Boudreaux

New hives can be created in a number of ways. Beekeepers often split existing hive into two, catch wild swarms or swarms from their hive or buy bees from a local beekeeper. For us, the easiest way to get this bee yard going was to buy bees from a local beekeeper and bee supplier in Thornton, Colorado.

When bees are purchased, they can come in two ways, either packages or nucs. Packages are boxes containing a bunch of bees and a queen inside a small queen cage. A nuc is a box that contains frames from a hive and a queen. Frames are honeycomb built out on a small wooden frame with wax foundation. They make up the inside of Langstroth hives and are what most people think of when they picture the inside of a beehive.

We chose to buy packages because they tend to be less expensive and are often smaller in size. We bought our packages from Plan Bee for the last couple of years and we have been very happy with the bees.

Installing the packages can be a little bit of a project and this was my first time helping Pontus to do it. He’s teaching me the art and science of beekeeping and that involves bee yard setup and package installation. To install a package, the first step is to have the hive bodies set up. Hive bodies are boxes that a full of frames, typically on a stand and topped with a feeder of some kind. You can see an image of the hives below, the one in the front is open and you can see the frames.

bee yard with new hives, open hive with frames in the front of the image

Once the hive bodies are set up, it’s time to bring the packages in and get the bees and queen into the hives. Our packages were plugged with cans full of sugar water and a small piece of cloth. The sugar water feeds the bees during transport. You can see an image of the packages below, the can is plugging the hole. The queen is also in the package, but she is inside a queen cage, which is a small wooden and mesh box. She is kept separate from the rest of the bees so that she doesn’t get lost or crushed during installation.

bee packages getting ready to go into the hive

To do the installation, we suited up in our BB Wear bee suits and proceed to open the packages. The hives were already open and we pulled out five of the frames. To open the packages, we tapped the box on the ground to get all the bees off of the can. Then we slowly pulled the can out. Once out, we quickly grabbed the queen cage, which is to the left of the can in the above image, it’s tethered to the package by a small piece of metal. Once we had the queen cage out, we put the can back in the hole, loosely.

Using the left hand, we held the queen cage, with our thumb close to the hole and pulled the plug out using a Swiss Army Knife. To do this, Pontus had me wait until the queen walked to the bottom of her tiny cage. We then quickly plugged the hole with our thumb so the queen couldn’t escape.

The next step is to plug the queen cage with something that the worker bees will eat because the queen cage is inserted into the new hive with the workers. They are the ones who released their new queen after a few hours. Mini marshmallows are a beekeeper's favorite way to do this. We had ours on hand so after I plugged the queen cage with my thumb, I grabbed a mini marshmallow and again waited for the queen to walk to the bottom of the cage, then I shoved the mini marshmallow into the queen cage hole, plugging it. We then mounted the queen cage on a frame inside the hive, using the metal tether I mentioned earlier.

You can see an image of an empty queen cage below with worker bees on it. The metal tether is on the left side of the cage.

empty queen cage with workers bee on it

Once the queen cage was in place, we gently sprayed the package, and the bees inside, with a light mist of water from the outside. The water helps keep the bees from flying when they get emptied into the new hive.

Getting all those bees into the hive from the small package box is the hardest part, especially for people who have smaller hands. The technique that Pontus used was to hold the package box with one hand while hitting it with the other. The hit causes the bees to clump together in the bottom. Pontus then dumped the bees out of the hole in the box and into the hive. He did have to hit the package box a few times during dumping. I cannot hold a package box in one hand so I braced it on my hip and hit it there to clump the bees together. I was then able to dump the bees out into the hive. It was pretty hard and I thought a lot of bees flew away, but that part of the deal when installing packages.

You can see a slo-mo video of me dumping a package into a hive below. There is also a still of the same thing. 

 

honeybee package installation

Once we dumped the bees in the new hive, we replace the five frames we had pulled out and covered the hive with the feeder box and telescoping lid. We also filled the feeder with 60/40 sugar water to the bees during the night. We then used duct tape to tape the hive entrance and sides of the boxes. The bottom of the hive is made from screen mesh so they bees still get plenty of fresh air even with the hive taped shut. The reason we tape the hive shut is to ensure the bees stay inside for the night, get use to their new digs and don’t swarm. It forces them to establish the hive as home.

The next day we went out to the bee yard once the weather warmed up a bit and opened the hives, we also filled the feeders on the top with more sugar water. New hives are not as strong as established ones and are not as good at foraging for nectar and pollen, since they have to learn the neighborhood. Sugar water ensured they are fed while they get use to their new surroundings.

That’s how we installed our new hives and packages, all thirteen of them! You can see the hives below, I’ll keep blogging about how they are doing, go bees!

honey bee yard with hives