For well over 100 years new beekeepers have received packages of bees in the mail to install in their hives. As strange as it might sound, it is very effective and practical. Bees will arrive at your local post office in a wooden screened box. This box is equipped with a sugar water or hard candy dispenser and a cage to keep the queen separate from the bees. Now what? How do you install your new package of honey bees?
To prepare for the arrival of your bees, purchase a new spray bottle and mix sugar water, one part water to one part sugar. Do not use old spray bottles that have been used with chemicals. As soon as you receive the exciting (or perhaps frantic) call from your post office that your bees have arrived, rush out with joy to pick up your bees! Before leaving the post office with your new package(s), spray your bees with the sugar water. Spray an ample supply of sugar water through the screen. Use the mist setting, not the stream. The bees have been traveling for several days so the sugar water will replenish their energy.
Sometimes, the weather might be too wet or cold to install your bees the same day they arrive. In this case, simply keep them in a cool basement or dark room and spray them with sugar water 3-4 times a day. They will usually be fine for a few days if you must wait. Some dead bees on the bottom of the package is common. A couple of inches of dead bees might be a problem, indicating they need to be installed soon.
As you prepare to install your bees, you will find that spraying the package with sugar water helps to calm the bees. Now, here's how to effectively install your bees into your new hive. Choose a good time of the day, when it is sunny, warm and not too windy. Mid to late afternoon works well. Be sure and take all your equipment to where you will install your package. You will need the following items:
1) Spray bottle with sugar water (1:1 ratio)
2) Hive tool
3) A wood screw (for removing queen cage cork)
4) A comfortable amount of protective clothing
Be sure your new hive is located exactly where you want it to stay for awhile. Now you will need your bottom board, 1 deep hive body, 10 frames and foundation, inner and top cover and an entrance reducer. Place the entrance reducer on the smallest opening for the first few days. Remove 4 of the center frames from the new hive body. This is the space you will shake your bees into. But first, spray all 10 frames, both sides, with the 1:1 sugar water mixture. This will attract the bees to the foundation and give them a warm welcome to their new home. Bees love sugar! Since your bees are not an established hive just yet and have no food in the hive, feed your bees for a couple of weeks.
Now, spray the package thoroughly on both sides of the screen. This will calm the bees, keep them well nourished and prevent them from flying about so much during the installation process. Begin opening your package. Do not be afraid. 10,000 bees are not going to rush out at you. Work with confidence and enjoy the experience. To open the package remove the top panel. It is stapled on to the box. Staples are sharp, so do not cut yourself on the staples once the panel is removed. Use your hive tool to pry open the panel. Once you remove the top panel, NO bees will come out yet. This panel simply holds the feeding container in place as well as the white strap that has the queen cage on the opposite end, inside the package.
The bees may become noisy which is normal. Spray them again if you need to calm them. They are becoming loud, not because you are making them mad, but simply because of the sunlight and air. They are ready to do what bees do: make a hive and gather nectar. Stay calm and confident.
Once you remove the top wood panel you will see the top of the can of sugar as well as the white queen cage strap. The queen cage strap is also stapled to the top of the box. Free this strap, but do not let it fall into the package of bees. Gently tip the package of bees over the new hive, positioning it over the center where the 4 frames have been removed. Slide the sugar can out a little so you can get an easier grip on it. Sometimes the can comes out easily, and sometimes it is very tight and has to be wiggled out with considerable effort. It will come out. A magnet may help get a grip on the top of the can.
Next, pull the can all the way out. Set the can of sugar water aside, holes facing up so it doesn't leak. You will need to pull out the queen cage now, prior to shaking the bees or else it will fall into the hive. If it does, no problem. Just remove it. Place the queen cage on top of the frames near the opening where you will be pouring your bees. Next, begin shaking your bees out of the package and into the new hive. Shake as hard as you want and you'll start seeing them pour into the new hive. You may also want to firmly strike the package on the ground with the hole facing up to free bees that are hanging onto the screen. Notice in the picture, I take advantage of the remaining sugar water in the can by placing if over the entrance feeder. I usually poke a few more holes with a nail so the bees will consume it more quickly. After it is empty, I replace it with a mason jar with holes in the lid.
Install your queen. The new queen is not the mother of the bees in the package so you must let them get to know her before she can roam freely among her new hive. Here's how. The queen cage has a screen on top and through the screen you can identify a white candy substance at one end. This is the end that you will have to remove the cork. DO NOT REMOVE THE CORK AT THE OPPOSITE END OF THE CANDY. Only remove the cork from the candy end of the cage. A hive tool doesn't work well, but a small wood screw will pull it out just fine. Once the cork is out, you will see that the hole is still plugged with the white candy. Do not disturb that candy plug.
Once you've removed the cork, you will want to place the cage between the top of two frames in the center of the hive. Notice how I use the pressure of the hive frames to hold the cage between the frames. As the bees eat through the candy, they will become familiar with their new queen. Then, once the candy has been eaten, she will emerge from her cage as queen of the hive and be readily accepted by her new workers. After all, they are ready for a queen!
PAY CLOSE ATTENTION. YOU MUST PLACE ALL 10 FRAMES BACK INTO THE HIVE! If you do not, the bees will quickly make comb in the empty places where your frames should have gone. This will be a mess. They will attach comb to your top cover and if you wait long enough, you will not be able to open your hive. Do not place any other hive boxes on the hive just yet. You only need the one deep box to start with. Let them draw out the comb, usually 6-8 frames, and then you can place your second hive body on. Once 6-8 frames of your second deep have been drawn out, you can start placing your supers on. What our video of the entire process below:
Great Job! You Did It!! Place the package box near the front of the hive because it will still contain some bees that were not shaken out. The bees will find their way into the hive in a day or two.
Photo Credits: David Burns