How to install a package of bees

For the hobby beekeeper who is managing a small number of hives, installing a package can be quick and easy. I’ve tried different methods and I like this one the best.

The bees will soon leave the package and cluster around the queen cage, caring for her through the screen, and eating through the candy. You should leave them alone for two to three days. This is hard for new beekeepers, but you want them to adjust to their new home. In addition, too many disruptions at this stage may cause the bees to reject the queen, so just leave them alone.

On the third or fourth day, open the hive and make sure the queen has been released. If not, release her yourself. Take out the empty package, the empty queen cage, and return the five frames to the brood box.

Some caveats:

  • Don’t wait longer than two or three days to remove the shipping package and replace the frames, or the bees will start building comb in the wrong places.
  • If you don’t have frames of honey for your bees, they will need to be fed for a few weeks. An ample supply of syrup helps them with comb-building.
  • If you want to use a baggy feeder, you will have to lay the bags on top of the inner cover instead of directly on the frames, since there won’t be enough room on the five remaining frames. Position the bags so they don’t block the hole in the inner cover. Put the spacer rim (small super) between the inner and outer cover, in order to make room for the bag of syrup. If syrup remains when you return to remove the shipping cage, handle the inner cover gently so the syrup won’t spill.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

kathy
Reply

a friend of mine installed his bees and put in the 10 plastic frames. When he checked the hive 4 days later he found the bees had built some of the comb out in a half ball shape. what should he do

Rusty
Reply

Hi Kathy,

Just take the hive tool and cut it off. Bees will fill any space larger than about 3/8″ with comb. It’s often called bridge comb. Whenever it happens, you just cut it away. Just make sure the queen isn’t on it when you cut. Tell your friend to space the ten frames as evenly as possible in the box so he doesn’t have any extra wide spaces anywhere. Once his frames are covered with comb this won’t happen as often. But don’t worry about it; beekeepers frequently deal with bridge comb.

Thanks for writing,

Rusty

Hello_Kitty_
Reply

Met a lady the other day who said you’re supposed to kill the attendant bees that are in the queen cage or the package bees will kill the queen. Even though she once killed a queen herself, whacking away w/one eye closed, she still thinks you have to do that. (She also said all the boxes are called supers.) One of her colonies has made it 5 years straight, so she’s doing something right.

Rusty
Reply

I’ve heard that bit about killing the attendants before. I never kill the attendants and I’ve never had a problem introducing queens. A lawyer once told me that using the wrong word or using the right word in the wrong way was a sign of muddled thinking. So when you are listening to a muddled, attendant-slaying, queen-whacking self-important bee-woman can you really believe her five-year story?

Tim
Reply

I started my first hive last year and want to start a second this year. Last year when I installed the package the queen was found dead outside the front of the hive on Thursday following the installation on Saturday. I installed the package like the instructions above except I held the cage in place with a rubber band and I replaced all frames after dumping in the bees. I was able to get another queen the next day and install her in the same manner and she has thrived.
My question, is there something I did wrong or should have done to keep my bees from killing the first queen?

Thanks,

Tim

Rusty
Reply

Tim,

I don’t think you did anything wrong. Sometimes the queen can be defective, ill, or just plain weak and the bees won’t accept her. It was probably just an unusual situation that won’t happen again. Still, I can imagine getting “gun shy” about doing it again.

If you want, you can leave the cork in the queen cage for about 5 days and then release her manually if she looks healthy. You can tell almost immediately if they are accepting her. They will congregate around her to assist and groom her, but they should not bunch up on her or be aggressive. If they let her walk around and go where she wants, that is perfect.

Joanna
Reply

I’m gearing up to do my first install on Saturday and SO excited and nervous all at the same time! I’m trying to organize my mental game plan and thinking that there’s no point in worrying about figuring out my smoker for a while since the smoke “calms” by getting the bees to eat their stores and get out of the house because it’s burning. I’m installing on new wood, so no stores and no point to smoke? I’m not planning on smoke for the install cause I’m anticipating they’ll be too stressed and hungry to bother me much, plus I’m just laying in place and closing up shop. But for the three day later follow up?

Rusty
Reply

Joanna,

Packaged bees are incredibly docile. I would never use smoke on a package.

All in all, I think smoke is terribly over-rated as a beekeeping tool. Sometimes, usually in a nectar dearth in late summer, I find it useful, but I probably light my smoker two or three times a year. Some years I never get it out. Other beekeepers wouldn’t think of being without it, so I guess it depends on how you train yourself.

Rich
Reply

I started my first hive last spring and unfortunately my mentor passed away and my hive slowly died during September and October here in NJ. I am assuming after reading your post-mortem blog that very possibly mites may have been my problem as I was never educated on them this summer due to his passing. My question is can I safely reuse the two deep supers next spring with new bees since they do contain stored honey and pollen from my lost hive? Signed up for the Rutgers University beekeeping class next April but really find your information very usefil. Thanks!

Rusty
Reply

Rich,

If your bees died of mites, it is perfectly safe to re-use the old equipment. In the meantime, protect your honey and pollen frames from opportunists such as hive beetles, wax moths, ants, mice, etc. The frames will be an excellent resource for getting a new colony started, but they are very attractive to other creatures so you will have to protect them.

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