honey bee management how to

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.[list icon=”sign-in”]

  • Have your hive prepared in advance. Have your feeder ready. Make sure the entrance is open so bees can come and go.
  • Remove five frames from one side of the brood box.
  • Using a hive tool, pry off the protective board on top of each package.
  • Remove the can of syrup from the package. This is sometimes tricky, but you can usually get it started with your hive tool.
  • The queen cage is usually held in place with a metal tab that is slid into a slot in the wood. Remove the queen cage, brush off any adhering bees, and check to make sure the queen is alive.
  • Gently place the package into the space left by the removed frames. Bees will start coming out of the hole where the syrup can was.
  • Remove the cork from one end of the queen cage and stuff a piece of marshmallow into the hole. (If there is candy still blocking the hole you can skip this step.)
  • Slide the queen cage down between two of the remaining frames—as close to the center of the hive as possible—and secure it in place. (I usually run a tack through the metal strip and into a frame.) If your frames have comb in them you can often just wedge the queen cage into the wax. The candy/marshmallow end needs to be up and the screened side of the cage needs to be unobstructed so the workers can care for the queen through the screen.
  • Replace the inner cover. If you want, you can place the syrup can over the opening in the inner cover so the bees can drink the remainder. Place an empty super around the can.
  • Replace the cover on the hive and you’re done.
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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:[list icon=”flag”]

  • 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.[/list]

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

50 Comments

  • 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?

    • 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

  • 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.

    • 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?

  • 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

    • 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.

      • The queen is still there with what remains of the package. I was originally told 7 days, so I didn’t look back in until then, but she’s still there (still the marked and clipped one) she just doesn’t have much of her court left. They seem to be doing fine in the nuc box. All of the bees in a package are not from the same original hive, right? So is it possible the bees from one parent hive rejected her and left, and those from a different parent hive stuck around?

        • Tim,

          After being caged with her for two or three days, they all should have accepted her. There may have been a second queen in the package, often a virgin; it happens frequently. Did you check for another?

  • 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?

    • 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.

  • 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!

    • 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.

  • I will be installing a package of bees next weekend. I would like to try a different hive location, my rooftop garden. It gets plentiful sunshine, all day long including morning (we live in Shoreline, WA ). Is this okay? Also, the rooftop is a flat (no shingles) slightly sloped surface, no vegetation under/near the entrance. Is this okay or should I put a potted plant under the lip of the entrance?

    • Heather,

      The rooftop location sounds fine. They may beard on hot summer afternoons, but that is not unusual. They do not need a potted plant at the entrance but putting one there won’t hurt anything.

  • I have many frames of capped honey that I would like to feed my new package of bees. I don’t want to take up brood space with frames of honey…how do I arrange the feeder (honey) frames in the brood box with a new package of bees? Also, does capped honey ferment? I smell what I think is fermented honey?!? Will bees eat this? Or would they be willing to clean it up for me if I put fermented honey frames in the hive?

    • Heather,

      1. If you don’t want the frames in the brood box, you can them directly above the brood box. My preference would be to put some on the sides of the new cluster and some above.

      2. Capped honey will not ferment.

      3. If the honey is all capped, there may be some mold on the surface of the wax or on the frames that smells musty.

      4. The bees will clean up any mold or mildew they find in the hive.

      5. A small amount of fermented honey will do no harm. I wouldn’t feed large quantities to them all at once, but a little here and there won’t hurt anything. The same thing would happen in nature and they can handle it.

  • I will be installing package bees utilizing 2 deeps of capped honey and pollen left from my first year after my sweet queen moved on in late September. (Poor swarm detection on my part and my found hatched queen must not have made it back from her nuptuals.) Approximately 8.5 frames fully capped honey and the other 11.5 frames mostly pollen and uncapped honey. Very little areas of open cells for new brood. What would be the correct arrangement of the frames in each box? Mostly pollen in the bottom deep? Score the cappings so they know there is honey in the top deep? Put in new frames of undrawn comb in the center of bottom box? Will I need to feed syrup at some specific interval? And lastly, how soon should I expect to put a medium super (of fully drawn comb) on since the newbies won’t be spending a lot of energy on creating new comb?

    • Debi,

      Your bees will need space to build a nest, so give them about five empty frames in the center of the bottom box. Then on either side put frames of pollen, and then frames of honey. In the next box put the honey in the outer positions and some empty frames in the center, or else alternate empty frames with honey frames.

      Do not score the cappings; the bees know where honey is. You will not need syrup. I would add the super as soon as you see the colony is established in it’s new home.

  • Hi Randy,

    As a follow up to Heather’s questions about installing a package in an old hive with frames of honey: if I were to install the hive in a deep with frames of honey on the side and a honey super filled with honey above, do you think I need to you feed new bees sugar/water or is the honey sufficient?

  • I’ve only done this a year, and my first package died over the winter, but I want to say what I THINK happened this year, as best I can tell, with what little knowledge I have. Last year, I did the shake method, and everything was cool. Just putting the box in probably would have worked as well. This year, I wanted to try the gentler method, put the box in without shaking the bees out and gave the bees frames of comb from last year’s bees, some with honey in it. Most of the package vanished. A couple of hours after installing them, the honey was leaking out the front entrance reducer and bees were getting trapped outside and in (I thought) so I opened the top just a little to make sure that any that wanted in/out could go. A LOT of bees boiled out at that stage. After the front had been cleaned by the bees, I closed it back up, but noticed very few trying to get in or out at the front or the top, and very little activity around the hive. Much less than after installing last year’s package. When I released the queen, I found what I think was the culprit. A few (not quite even one frame worth) of bees were clustered in the center section of the frames with the queen; this I think was all that remained of the package. Another group was on the frames on each end, and the comb and bottom board showed clear signs of robbing. I can’t say for sure, but I suspect that with the stores provided up front, and the bees still in the package, the neighbor bees (someone else has bees 2 doors down) got inside and robbing before the package got out of the box and oriented and then chased off most of the package.

    I could be completely wrong, and other factors definitely could have contributed, but it’s enough evidence for me to at least worry about it. Next time, I will either shake the bees in, not provide any stores other than syrup, or leave them completely closed up for a couple of hours to let them set up shop before they can be invaded.

    For now, I have moved the remaining package into a nuc box, so they can protect it better, and I think I’ll probably leave them there and use them as a worker supply for other hives (I have 4 now) if they build back up and survive.

    • Tim,

      I think your theory sounds right. Robbers got in there before the new package settled, so the new ones decided it wasn’t a good place to live. Some of those bees may have joined up with the robbing colony as well. I usually leave only a very small opening for the first few days after package installation. You can also use a robbing screen. With that, the home bees can get in and out, but the robbers get confused and can’t find their way in. There is a description of robbing screens in this post, near the end.

  • Installing my first package ever. Is the baggie feeder the best option for the new install? Or should I consider another method?

    Thanks.

    • Joe,

      All feeding methods have their pros and cons. Just choose a method that you are comfortable with. The bees don’t much care.

  • My package arrived on Saturday. I installed on Monday even though the rain and cold was still an issue. I put on an empty super, opened the box, removed the can and queen. I rubber banded the queen 3 frames in on the bottom brood box and then put the open package in the super to allow them to go into the bottom box and find the queen. I went back yesterday and she was alone, ignored in her cage and appeared to be dead. 1/3 of the bees were now on the side of the top empty box and 2/3 were still in the package. I took the queen in my house to look at her closer and drove to the supplier to show them she was dead. Miraculously, she seemed to come back to life and struggling to get out of the cage. I drove back home, and tried to poke a hole in the candy filled tube. Well I accidently pushed the tube inside the cage, almost crushing the queen and could not get it back out. Now I had to get her out of there. I figured she had been with her bees for 3 days so that was my best option. So I put a baggie feeder in to feed them and then unstapled the queen cage screen on one side. She was crawling over the tube to get out. I set her in with the bees and she immediately started to climb out while others swarmed in on, over, and in her cage. It was a nightmare. Later that day, I looked in to see the queen cage was empty- still had bees crawling on it. Now I have major questions. 1. Why won’t the bees move down into the box with frames so I can remove the empty top box. Right now they are all on two sides of that box- the side by the syrup and the side where I released the queeen. 2. Why did they stay in that top box and not go right underneath their feet to attend to their queen? (It did dip to 35-40 degrees that evening.) 3. Do I need to get a new queen right away? Someone suggested there might have been a second queen in my package. How long should I wait before deciding to requeen?

    • Heather,

      Wow. What a mess. Under normal circumstances, the colony will stay with the queen and protect her. I tend to agree that there might have been a second queen in the package, and it happens frequently. Bees are shaken from their hives into the packages, usually through an excluder, but a small queen can sometimes go through.

      The only negative I see with what you did is having the package and the queen in two separate boxes. I normally put the package right in the deep (by removing half the frames) and then putting the queen cage beside it. The package usually empties within an hour.

      It sounds like the caged queen was immobile due to cold, something that can happen easily. But if they swarmed her cage when you released her, they probably saw her as an intruder.

      At this point your bees should be building comb. As soon as some comb is built, a viable queen will begin to lay. So check in a couple of days for eggs. If you see eggs, you’re good to go. If not, you should order another queen.

  • I’m a new beekeeper in south Florida. I installed my package of bees on April 20 into my top bar hive without mishap, and released the queen from her little cage on April 22. The girls are happily building comb and storing pollen and sugar syrup. They are very docile and polite.

    When I checked on their progress a week later, April 29, I saw the queen, but couldn’t see any eggs or larva. Just lots of sugar syrup.

    Today, May 7, was the same (with the exception of capped sugar syrup, so I’ll stop feeding). Is it time to panic and order a new queen?

  • As luck would have it, I have two 8am-8pm shifts scheduled just as my bees are arriving in the mail. Can I do your kinder, gentler method of introducing them into the hive at NIGHT? Around 9 or 10pm? or should I just keep them in the basement and spray with sugar water until the third day? I’m not happy that they were sent from the bee farm on the 7th, and today is the 10th and still not here.

    • Val,

      It’s totally up to you. But if it were me, I’d go ahead and install them at night with the gentle method.

    • if you use this method, you could probably do it in the am before you go to work. It literally takes about 10 min to pin the queen to a frame and open the package with a pry tool. Most queens nowadays seem to come with the metal hook and a candy plug already in place. Then by the time you got home from work. all the bees would be happily inside their new home.

      • Thanks for the advice! I guess it does make more sense to just do it quickly before work when I leave around 7 am. It’s usually a little chilly, but the sun is up. And then I’ll wait till a warm afternoon to take the box out and put the 5 frames back in.

        • Probably want to remove it that eve or the next morning. If you wait too long they will build weird comb all around the box and you will massacre their home trying to remove it and slide frames in its place.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I will be installing two packages this spring into my recently built top bar hives. So many of the how to videos I see on the internet or the top bar books that I read suggest hanging the queen cage from a top bar. Why could you not simply lay the queen cage on the floor rather than run the risk of cross combing on the top bar where the cage might have been hung? Is placing the cage on the floor temperature dependent?

    Thanks, as always!

    Kevin

    • Kevin,

      I’m guessing here, but if you place the cage on the floor, I think you will get the entire cluster in a big pile on the floor too. I also think this may end in absconding after she’s released, just because it doesn’t seem “right” to them. By putting the queen near the bars, I think the bees may more easily visualize the opportunity for building. Not sure. Like I said, I’m guessing based on bee behavior I’ve seen before.

  • Quick follow-up to my post. I have seen some suggestions to place #5 hardware cloth over the entrance during the initial week of queen introduction to limit the chance that the queen might abscond along with the rest of the hive. Would you recommend this?

    Kevin

    • Kevin,

      It wouldn’t hurt. I’ve seen many, many bee colonies abscond from new hives, especially top-bar hives. If you could prevent that until they start building comb, it would be a good thing.

  • Hi Rusty,

    A few days ago I set out a nuc hive as a swarm trap and baited it with swarm commander on Tuesday, April 14. Today, April 17, I installed two packages of bees in hives that are about 40′-50′ from the nuc/swarm trap. I’m seeing a “fair” bit of activity at the nuc/swarm trap and am wondering if those are scout bees or my package bees looking at alternative home? Should I take down the nuc/swarm trap?

    Thanks,
    Kevin

  • Rusty:

    I ordered a package of bees, and have now been informed that they will be coming this weekend, and I was thinking of using your method of installing the package by leaving the box in the hive for a couple of days.

    However, I was reading on another site, (which was also agreeing that this is a good method for installing the package), not to do it in cold weather as the bees may cluster in the box and leave the queen on her own, and she may die.

    I was wondering if you have had any issues with this, or if you think it is a concern?

    Also, with the weather still being on the cooler side, would it be advisable to have some sugar candy as well as a baggie of sugar water up on the candy board?

    Thanks
    Randy

    • Randy,

      The bees won’t abandon their queen, especially if they’ve been living with her for a few days. The only exception might be if there is a second queen, one loose inside the package. It won’t take long to see what they do; simply check back a little later to make sure they’re moving toward her cage. If it is cold, you will want to use hard sugar not sugar water.

      • Thanks Rusty. That is right along the lines of what we were thinking in regards to the queen.

        I already have hard sugar set up on the sugar board ready to go for when I pick them up tomorrow.

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