Installing a new package of bees

Beekeeper Herb Lester sent in these photos of a recent package installation. I thought it might be helpful to see what this looks like if you’ve never done it before. Herb installs his packages the same way I do. Instead of shaking the bees out, he just sets the opened package in the hive and lets the bees walk out by themselves.

This system is easy. You just remove five frames, affix the queen cage to a remaining frame, and set the box in place. The next day you can go back, remove the package, and replace the five frames. Thanks, Herb, for sharing your photos.

Picking up the new package at the local post office.
Picking up the new package at the local post office.
Kitty approved. Tabby checking out her new friends.
Kitty approved. Tabby checks out her new friends.
Assembling all the parts of a new hive.
Assembling all the parts of a new hive.
Adding finishing touches to the new hive.
Adding finishing touches to the new hive.
It is never to early to start controlling small hive beetles. The oil is for the beetle trap.
It is never too early to start controlling small hive beetles. The oil is for the beetle trap.
The queen cage is installed.
The queen cage is installed.
The new package of Russian hybrids is gently placed in the hive.
The new package of Russian hybrids is gently placed in the hive.
The feeder is placed above the ventilation rim and the hive is ready to be covered.
The feeder is added above the ventilation rim and the hive is ready to be covered.

The bees one hour after installation.
The bees one hour after installation.

Comments

WesternWilson
Reply

Most elegant! Rusty I have never seen a grille at the entryway like that…what is the purpose, a mouse guard?

Rusty
Reply

No, it is actually a swarm guard. The wires are spaced the same way as in a queen excluder. The queen can’t get out so the colony is less likely to swarm or abscond. Swarm guards cannot be used for long periods of time because drones can’t get in or out either. But they are perfect to use when installing a new package. I leave them on until comb building has begun and it is clear that the colony is accepting their new home. Good idea for a post . . . I will include some other uses.

Chris
Reply

Neat! Rusty, do you know what is in the sprayer in the third picture?

Rusty
Reply

Chris,

Here is Herb’s reply:

I give the bees a little mist of 1:1 sugar/water with a teaspoon of Honey-B-Healthy/quart of sugar water. This has a calming effect on the bees. When I get home from the post office, I give the bees a mist of the solution to quench their thirst and calm them down from their travel in the US mail. When I install the bees in the hive, I mist the walls of the hive, brood box, and the wax foundation with the solution. The sugar/water and Honey-B-Healthy solution acts as a feeding stimulant. The solution encourages the bees to draw brood comb better. It has a great calming effect and helps cut down on installation stress.

nick
Reply

Excellent step by step. I always thought with a package you tipped them into the hive out of the package. We don’t generally have packages in the UK; they are almost exclusively nucs.

N

Rusty
Reply

Nick,

Most people dump, shake, tip, or thrash the bees out of the package, but it really isn’t necessary. As soon as you move the queen, they just follow along.

Opal @ Playing with Fiber
Reply

I plan on setting my bee package into their new home also. I never understood the shaking.

I’m looking forward to receiving my bees, I will be getting them in early May. I ordered mine online, I hope they arrive at my post office without any issues. Last week, my bee supplier left a post on his Facebook page. He said the post office where one of their packages were delivered exterminated the bees since they “escaped.” He was trying to figure out how that happened. I’m still unsure why the post office didn’t contact the person who was receiving the package.

I’m new to beekeeping, but have always loved bees (even as a young child) and have read so much about them throughout the years.

jan
Reply

Beautiful!

Jim Withers
Reply

Funny I should see this now, Rusty. I had just posted a photo album on my Facebook page showing a very similar procedure. I prefer this technique of placing rather than shaking bees during installation. In cold weather this method takes on even more preference in my opinion. The two biggest reasons are: One, the bees haven’t oriented to this new location yet and those that fly up during ‘shaking’ may not find the entrance. And, two, particularly in cold weather, they may not find the entrance to the new location before going into torpor. Yes, I have witnessed this very sad scene in my apiaries. Hundreds of bees sitting in torpor all over the other hives in the apiary.

Since starting this ‘place over shake’ method I have never witnessed that again. I haven’t ever used the queen excluder on the entrance on a package, but I’ve never had one abscond….yet. I have heard of it happening from time to time, however, so it certainly wouldn’t hurt. I have found that swarms are more likely to leave a new location than a package. I do use the excluder when I capture a swarm because I have seen them abscond. I think it’s because captured swarms have many older bees that are still in ‘scout’ mode, whereas a package is much more likely to be made up of mostly nurse bees. How do I know this, you ask? Because packages are generally made up (shook) during nice weather when most of the foragers and scouts are out and about. Finally, I really like the idea of having ‘pussy cat’ approval of my packages. Maybe my son will let me borrow his.

Jim

Rusty
Reply

Jim,

Thanks for some interesting insights. One additional comment: A number of years ago I was installing packages at the prison where I volunteered. We had a number of Langs, but also some top-bar hives. I installed quite a few packages that day and, in both hive types, I used the “place over shake” method with no excluders or swarm guards. I went back the next day and two of the top-bar packages had absconded leaving their caged queen behind. It was the strangest thing I have ever seen and I have no theory for what happened. Maybe there really was another queen “loose in the package.” I have no clue. All the rest of the packages did fine. Since then, I do like to use an excluder for a few days.

Tom
Reply

Thanks Rusty! I will be installing my first ever package in a week or so! Would it be the same if I have drawn comb for the hive?

Rusty
Reply

Tom,

Yes. That will make the whole process even easier for the bees.

Andrea
Reply

While I have an empty hive and an empty package box, I think I’ll experiment and see if I can use this method in my top bar hive. It would certainly be easier than the dumping them out I did last time!

Rusty
Reply

Andrea,

It works in my top-bar hive. It depends a bit on the geometry of the hive. Don’t be afraid to lay the package on its side, if necessary.

Lilette
Reply

What is the little black plastic thing between frames?

Rusty
Reply

Lilette,

That is a beetle trap. Small hive beetles go in there looking for a place to hide and end up getting caught in a pool of vegetable oil where they die.

Megan
Reply

Fabulous, and the entrance plaque is too precious!

I installed a package yesterday using the “Herb” method. We run all mediums (6-5/8 inches.) At about 7 -1/4 inches, the package was a little taller than a medium hive body, so we placed two hive bodies, 6 frames each of honey and drawn comb, around the package. In retrospect, a baggie feeder spacer (about the depth of a wood queen excluder) would have provided bee space above the package, and there would be less chance of burr comb when I check the queen released, remove the package, and replace the missing frames in three days.

Rusty, for feed, I went with leftover honey frames, not my usual Honey-B-Healthy sugar solution. The package came with a can of syrup, of course. I’m having 2nd thoughts, wondering if the bees will convert over with no problem. Are the bees smarter than their keeper?

Rusty
Reply

Megan,

Remember, too, that you can lay the package on its side. It doesn’t have to be upright in the brood box.

Honey is the preferred food. Sugar syrup is used if you don’t have any honey. Please see: “Can I start a new package on honey instead of syrup?

Christy
Reply

I have two questions about his equipment. The first is what kind of hive stand is that and do you know where he got it? My second question is what are the white bars on the screened bottom board?

Rusty
Reply

Christy,

1. The white bars you are seeing is a slatted rack which goes below the bottom brood box and above the screened bottom board.

2. Herb says, “This particular Metal Hive Stand came from: kelleybees.com, Cat #571 … $42.00. It raises your hive up off the ground about 8″ … Makes working your hive more comfortable and makes it hard for the skunks to eat your bees. It is designed to adjust to fit 10 frame and 8 frame bottom boards. They support a lot of weight and are easy to use. These stands make trimming around the hive easy and allow a lot of open space under the hive. When placed on large stepping stones … Weeds and grass do not grow up under the IPM bottom board. Helps keeps everything hygienic. The height of the stand allows you to lean your frames up against the hive while inspecting your hive.

If you are a person who likes make your own stands, you could make a similar stand out of angle iron.”

Bundy,sbees
Reply

should you use two brood boxes for one hive ?

Rusty
Reply

Two is good but you don’t need to add the second box right away. Wait until you’ve got bees on about eight frames (or on six frames in an 8-frame hive).

Joanna
Reply

I am busy putting together new equipment and making shopping lists for my spring package. I am just going with one to start in all mediums. have done a ton of reading but have zero real experience so consider myself entirely ignorant and in need of much planning (which I am happily spending these cold winter days doing).

My plan is to religiously avoid mixing equipment, i.e. try to do everything in mediums including any nuc/queen rearing down the road. I am on the coast of Maine atop a windy hill so need to also consider very cold temps and salt air. For spring and summer I’m setting up to use eight frame equipment as follows from bottom up: a hive stand, hive base, screened bottom board and tray, slatted rack (Rusty, do you paint the entirety of the slatted rack as in the above pic? (I’m guessing it does see a lot of moisture), queen excluder (I’m thinking about putting this on the bottom for a few days to serve the same purpose as a swarm guard- or absconsion guard, but am wondering if this is a bad idea and if I should just get a swarm guard or use a smaller entrance instead), mediums for brood and supers as needed (will there be room in an eight frame medium to lay a package on its side and still tack in the queen cage and have room for at least a frame or two?

If I don’t have room for a frame or two, should I just put a second medium brood box on right away? On top of the package but below the feeder?), two compartment hive top feeder (which I plan to drill on the bottom with a 2″ drill bit and use cork bottle lids of the same size to plug as needed then just drop in boardman feeders with extra large masons and/or baggies as necessary.

Here my questions are (1) whether I could also put global patties in the compartment with the boardman feeders or if I’d be better off cramming all syrup feeding into one area and patties in the other compartment? (2) is one 2″ hole per compartment enough for the bees to get through and feed or will it be too crowded? (3) am I just a wacko for making these modifications instead of just using the feeder as designed (I’m concerned that a large number will drown and/or it will be a huge mess, both of which will irk me, but I am also preparing to feed these bees like crazy to give them the best chance I possibly can given my location and that I am at best using waxy foundation and at worst foundationless, worst from a bee labor perspective anyway, see below), then screened inner cover and telescoping cover.

Another “off label” approach I am considering is a mix of beeswax coated plastic foundation and foundationless- with the foundation in the brood boxes and just the wedges nailed in as guides in any supers (down the road). Would I be better off alternating foundationless and foundation in the brood box? Any other thoughts on this approach? If I put a foundationless or two in the brood box along with foundation I’m wondering if that might have good odds of doubling as a drone trap?

Anyway, I appreciate any thoughts you have time to share. I love your site.

Rusty
Reply

Whoa. I feel like I just read War and Peace and now I’ve been asked to critique it. I’ll go back to the top and answer as best I can, but you may have to re-ask if I don’t hit it all.

1. The photo does indeed show a painted slatted rack. I do not paint mine. I do not paint anything inside the hive.

2. You can use a queen excluder as a swarm guard for a few days, but as soon as the bees become established, remove it. Remember, your drones can not get through it. A real swarm guard does the same thing. A small entrance does nothing.

3. I don’t know if you can lay a package on its side in a medium and have room for frames. I think it would be tight. As you suggest, just place the package upright in a double medium. That should do it.

4. I don’t understand your thinking about feeders inside of feeders. If drowning bees is your main concern, use baggies inside a feeder rim, or use an inverted pail or jar inside an empty super or two. Unless I am totally missing your point, I see no reason to put a feeder inside another feeder.

5. You can use foundationless for a drone trap but it will not be easy to remove the larvae and re-use it. You will probably end up destroying the wax every time, which is quite energy expensive for the bees. Why not use plastic drone frames interspersed with foundationless? That should give you straight foundationless combs and drone frames.

6. Most bees will not eat the patties in the spring when pollen is available. You can give them a little to start, but I wouldn’t over do it. Pollen is better for them in the long run. And honey is better than syrup. Once they start pulling in the nectar, I would wait on the syrup until fall.

7. Just a general word of caution: don’t over-think this. The best beekeepers read their bees and react to situations. They look at their bees and see what they can do to help. They don’t have a rigid plan and expect the bees to follow. You aren’t doing anything wrong here, but I sense micro-management or maybe a soccer mom? Let the bees lead; you follow.

Joanna
Reply

Thanks so much- so helpful! Really appreciate the quick response and I’ve never been compared to Tolstoy!

Good guess- environmental lawyer mom- Its important to me to research, understand, and have a plan before entering a new undertaking involving responsibility for the lives of other creatures (kids, pets, or livestock). Having a plan is part of that- but having kids and clients and pets and gardens and being a boater means I long ago learned that no one and nothing follows my plan including me half the time! One woman’s overthinking is the other’s respite from a bone cold winter (it’s 8 degrees today).

I think I understand the one hive issue and seriously considered starting with two but I am in a suburban area with lots of other micromanagers and I think those risks to my enterprise outweigh the risks of starting with one hive.

I was given the hive top feeder, my kits came with boardmans, and I have tons of glass mason jars on hand. I don’t want to use the hive top feeder because of drowning, weight and slopping syrup. I don’t want to use the entrance feeders because my garden hosts many potential robbers. The hive top feeder has two compartments each with a solid bottom and an entrance between the two compartments so I thought putting the Boardmans in there would solve all the issues and avoid buying something else or filling up my limited number of mediums. I can’t feed them honey and they’ll have a lot of work to do before they can make any of their own in new wood early in a Maine spring (“if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute”). Thus I also want to give protein when they first get on new wood. My concerns were congestion (thus needing to drill some additional access) and whether the patties would melt/dissolve in with the syrup on top of the hive. After reading another of your articles I’m thinking I should just add Megabee and Honey Bee Healthy to the syrup and forget about the patties. If I’m doing patties I want to order them while it’s cold (and while I’m still fully focused on winter bee work as I’ve not yet started seedlings).

Thanks again- really appreciate your site.

Rusty
Reply

Leo,

Yes, I get the neighborhood thing. You are wise to start slowly if micro-moms may pose a threat.

Anyway, sounds interesting. Keep in touch and let me know how it goes.

Rusty
Reply

Joanna,

I forgot to mention that the thing I most disagree with is starting with one hive. Two can give you so many more options when things happen . . . and things do happen.

Joyce
Reply

We don’t use a smoker but a fine mist of sugar water holds their attention
and we are newbies but the package honeybees we installed today seem very healthy and were installed only a few hours ago and flew about returning with pollen already today they were eager to eat the candy and free their queen. We are encouraged and these honeybees live in the corner of my shop, I just think I have been learning all day and can hardly wait for the nuc package to arrive, these package bees went so easily and they love the honey we fed to them today they are obviously busy bees.

Joyce
Reply

We are in north Idaho and sent away for new honeybees after a disastrous winter. The swarm that was sold to me by a bee farmer last year left after the ice melted and the sun came out. They were a swarm he had captured and I was told sometimes the swarmers are like gypsies. This time we have started with two packages of honeybees, a package bees and a package of nucs that are still not here yet. The package bees as I said are already carrying pollen into their new bee box. They are so much healthier than the little swarm we fed all winter. They are busy already and amazingly exploring for pollen and we just installed them this morning. I respect honeybees and my partner/friend and I are amateurs but the bees seem to know so much more than we do; then this afternoon it rained for about an hour but when the sun returned they were buzzing around again and exploring. We were having difficulty finding a small funnel in order to fill the bottles for the entrance feeders, but now that all the honeybees are in the bee box and retired for the night I feel so relieved. There were tremendous honeybee losses in our area but the new honeybees lend hope.

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