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How To Install Package Bees

How To Install Package Honeybees

The first thing to keep in mind when installing a package of honeybees is that it is far easier than it may appear.  You are less likely to be stung installing a package of honeybees than you are during a routine inspection of a beehive.  The reason for this is simple.  The honeybees do not view the package as their home therefore they are less likely to defend it.  The will however defend themselves so be gentle and avoid crushing or injuring the bees as much as possible.

Package bees are usually so gentle that many people will install packages without any protective equipment at all.  We, however always recommend using protection just to be safe.  If you are wearing protective clothing and it is your first package bee installation you will feel better about the process, have less anxiety and therefore be better able to focus on what you are doing rather than worrying about being stung.

A package of bees is an artificially produced swarm contained inside a package usually made of wood with two sides covered with a screen.  On a warm sunny day honeybee breeders shake a few pounds of honeybees from existing hives and funnel them into the package.  The reason this is done on a warm sunny day is because the older more mature honeybees will be out foraging for nectar and pollen leaving mostly the young honeybees behind.  This is good because the younger honeybees will live longer, accept a new queen more readily, and be less likely to sting.  Then they place a small cage containing a newly bread queen and a can of sugar syrup inside the package and nail or staple on a cover to hold everything inside.  The sugar syrup is to feed the bees during shipping.  A three pound package of bees will contain approximately 10,000 honeybees, a queen in a queen cage, and a can of sugar syrup that is packaged and mailed to you.

When the package arrives at the post office expect a call to come and get it.  They will be very eager for you to pick it up.  Remember the honeybees have just traveled through the mail so they will be stressed.  Place the package of bees in a cool, dry, shaded place and leave them alone until it is time to install the package.

Prepare the beehive for the honeybees by setting it up in its permanent location.  It is not good to install a package of bees and then relocate the beehive.  Experienced beekeepers have methods for doing this but it is much easier to simply start with the beehive in its permanent spot.  Spend most of your effort on setting up the bottom board and making sure it has a strong base that is capable of supporting several hundred pounds just in case your bees are extra productive.  Remember to tilt the bottom board slightly forward but not so far that the beehive will tip over if you stack seven or eight honey supers on top.  Seven or eight supers full of honey is unlikely for most beehives however it does happen from time to time so be prepared just in case.  Once the bottom board is in position, place one brood chamber on the bottom board and remove five frames from the center of the brood chamber.  This is where you will add the honeybees.  Install the entrance reducer so that the smallest hole is the one the honeybees have to use and you are ready to move to the next step.

Gather the tools and supplies you will need during the installation.

You will need…

  • Hive tool
  • Spray bottle with 1:1 sugar and water mixture
  • Protective equipment such as a hat and veil or bee suit
  • Feeder with 1:1 sugar and water
  • Pollen substitute patty

Spray the honeybees heavily with 1:1 sugar syrup through the screen on the cage before opening it.  The honeybees need to be fairly wet but not completely soaked you do not want to drown them.  Spraying the honeybees with sugar syrup makes them less likely to fly, causes them to move more slowly, sets off feeding and grooming, and generally has a calming effect.  It also makes them slightly sticky and they tend to roll out of the package in a series of blobs that stay together.

To begin removing the bees from the cage smack it firmly on the ground to knock all the honeybees to the bottom of the cage and spray them one more time with sugar syrup.  Use your hive tool to pry off the cover of the package.  Remove the feeder can and set it aside.

Remove the queen cage and inspect it to make sure the queen is inside the cage and is alive and healthy.  She should be moving quite a bit.  Place the queen cage somewhere that is safe and protected like your pocket.  If it is cold she should be kept warm and if it is warm keep her out of direct sunlight so she does not overheat.  In short, treat the queen like a baby.  If the queen is not moving or dead contact the package supplier immediately and ask them to send a replacement.

Now take the open package and dump the honeybees into the hive in the space left by the five frames you removed earlier.  Tilt, shake, and bump the package to get as many of the honeybees out as you can.  Most of the honeybees will come out as a lump.  Occasionally knock the corners of the package on the ground to move the remaining honeybees to one end so that they can be more easily poured into the beehive.  You do not have to get every single honeybee but you do want to get as many as you can.  It is not necessary to be timid during this process.  If you have sprayed the honeybees with sugar syrup then they will be calm.  Seriously they really will let you do all of this and stay calm.  Once the honeybees are inside the beehive set the empty package aside.

Gently return all frames to the beehive being careful not to crush any bees.  Remember you can bump, push, and move the honeybees around but they don’t like it if you crush them.  It may take a little while for the honeybees to work themselves out of the way and up between the frames.

Prepare the queen cage to be installed in the beehive.  A new queen should not be released into a beehive immediately.  It takes three to five days for the honeybees to accept a new queen.  If she is released too early they may harm or even kill her.

Some queens come with candy packed in one end of the cage.  The candy looks a lot like white play doe that has been packed in the cage.  The candy is a time release mechanism.  The honeybees will chew through the candy and release the queen after a day or two.  If your queen cage has candy, remove the cork or cap from the end of the cage with the candy so that the only thing blocking the queen’s escape is the candy.

If your queen’s cage does not have candy, wait a day or two before releasing her manually just to be sure she has been with the package long enough to be accepted.  One way to release a queen that does not have candy is to remove the cork or cap and place a small marshmallow in the hole to block her escape.  The bees will chew through the marshmallow and release her within a day.  This should be done after she has been with the package for a few days starting with the day the package was made and including any time spent in shipping.

The queen cage should be placed close to the center of the hive.  If you are using a top feeder she should be a few inches away from the hole in the center of the inner cover.  Secure the queen cage between the frames with the screen turned so that the bees and the queen can get to know one another through the screen.  This can be accomplished by pushing the frames together to hold the queen cage in place or by securing it to a frame with a rubber band.

Place a pollen patty on the top bars of the beehive and set up the feeder with 1:1 sugar syrup.  Put the inner cover and top cover on the hive.  That’s it, your package of bees is installed.

The first inspection will be three to four days later.  The only things you will do during this inspection are release the queen if she is not already out and make sure the feeder is full.  Once that is done close the beehive and leave them alone for three to four more days.

The second inspection you will look for signs that the hive has accepted their new home.  Look for new comb being drawn and eggs in any of the cells.  The eggs are very small and hard to see but once they are there you know the bees have accepted their new home.

Continue feeding the sugar syrup and pollen substitute until the comb is close to being fully drawn out in the brood chambers or until the honeybees stop taking it in lieu of natural sources of nectar and pollen.

Printing this page and reading it word for word as you do your package bee installation will slow you down quite a bit.  What we recommend is that you read through this a couple of times to familiarize yourself with the process and then use the condensed checklist below to help you keep on track once you start.

  • Prepare the beehive
  • Remove five frames from the brood chamber
  • Spray the honeybees with sugar syrup
  • Bump the package on the ground to get the honeybees away from the cover
  • Remove the package cover, feeder can, and queen cage
  • Protect the queen
  • Dump the bees into the beehive
  • Gently replace the frames, do not crush the honeybees
  • If the queen cage has candy uncork/uncap the cage so that the candy is the only thing blocking her escape
  • If the queen cage does not have candy place the cage in the hive with the cork/cap still in place
  • Feed pollen substitute and sugar syrup
  • Cover the beehive with the inner cover and top cover
  • Inspect beehive three to four days later

 

Here are some videos showing how to install package bees.