When you embark on the journey of beekeeping you most likely will start out by ordering life honey bees from a commercial vendor rather than catching your own swarm. When I received my first bee package it was a super exciting time for me. I drove to the pickup location and was greeted by the humming and buzzing of thousands of bees; quite intoxicating!
I was handed my two packages and instantly felt part of a community deeply caring about our planet. A bee package is a wooden box, screened off on two sides. The package typically contains about 12,000 live adult worker bees (approximately 3 pounds), one newly mated queen bee (in her own little cage), and an inverted can of sugar water. For the duration of transport the bees feed of the sugar water and feed the queen.
During my drive home I entered a state of calm and excitement at the same time. About 80 bees were “loose” flying around in the car, but mostly sticking to the outside of the packages. I simply kept breathing in the rhythm of the bees and actually felt surprisingly fine. My calm was partially due to the fact that the honey bees are rather subdued at that point, since they don’t have a hive to protect.
But let me go back in time a little bit. Before you get your bee package you want your hive(s) to be ready. I wrote about how to find a good location, set up your hive(s), and make supplemental food for your bees in a previous post.
I asked a friend and fellow beekeeper to help me install the packages which is a good idea when installing bee packages for the first time. Try to install packages as soon as possible after their arrival, although you can delay installation for up to a couple of days if necessary.
Getting the hives ready
Before installing the bees you want to use beeswax to lightly rub onto the angled, downward hanging part of the top bars. This will encourage the bees to build comb right there.
Set up the follower board or false back at about 1/3 of the hive, toward the entrance, to encourage the bees to start building in that area. The false back reduces the amount of area that the bees have to keep warm while they are starting to build comb. You want the hive to be set up before the packages arrive since putting a package in will really consume all of your attention. Wait until later in the day to install packages; with temperatures around 50-60 ºF, no rain or snow, and no stormy/too windy conditions.
Part of setting up your hive is installing a feeder for you bees. You can easily make your own feeder, using a mason jar with a metal lid in which you want to drill about eight holes using a 1.9 mm drill bit. Make sure you drill from the outside-in to ensure the bees don’t get cut when feeding.
Making your feeding solution
Fill a mason jar with organic cane sugar to about 1/2. Bring water to a boil and add equal amount of water to the sugar, stir until dissolved and let it cool down. Instead of using plain water you can brew a tea from nettle, chamomile, peppermint, and/or yarrow which is a healing solution the bees will love. When you put the feeder into the hive, be careful not to drip the sugar water; you can use a plastic container to hold underneath which makes it easy.
Set up the feeder on a little elevated stand to allow the bees to access it from underneath and place it into the feeding chamber (the back part of the hive). Make sure the follower board has enough space on the bottom for the bees to get underneath.
Installing the Queen Cage
In the picture below you see the package my bees arrived in. The yellow plug is where the queen bee’s cage is attached to the box. Most of all bees are clustered around the queen to feed and protect her.
The first step in installing your hive is to get the queen out of the package and install her (in her little cage) in the hive.
You want to take some time and check out the queen: Does she look healthy? Is she moving around? When you hang the cage containing the queen bee make sure you hang it slightly to the side of the hive, the plugged or corked hole facing inward. I attached some wire to the queen cage to make it easier to hang the cage. It really helps to tape the cage on the top of the hive, so you don’t have to worry about trying to fish for the cage during this process. If your queen cage has a cork on the bottom, you do want to take that out and replace it with a little piece of marshmallow. The queen bee will eat her way through the marshmallow. Make sure you unplug the cork in or above the hive, in case the queen falls out of the cage.
Next you slowly pull out the feeding can as to not hurt any bees, cover the hole with some cardboard and sharply knock the box on the ground to shake the bees to the bottom of the box. You then turn the box over with the opening above the hive and shake the bees into the hive (I take about five bars out to create a big enough opening). This may take a little shaking and knocking against the side walls, but eventually you will get most bees into the hive. If you do have bees who really are stubbornly hanging on to the box, don’t worry. You can just set the box near the entrance and they will find their way into the hive.
Next you want to close up the hive and if you do have an entrance reducer don’t forget to attach that to the entrance.
Important! Remember to get the queen cage out of the hive after about three days. The bees will start building comb on the queen cage and you don’t want that to happen more than necessary. Also, when installing a new package you want to feed your bees for several weeks. My bees go through a mason jar of sugar water in about three days, so make sure you check every other day on the feeding solution.
Happy Bee Keeping!
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