How to Install a Package of Bees in a New Hive
Installing Your Hive for the New Beekeeper
Installing your beehive is the first step in officially becoming a beekeeper. While there are different methods of installing bees, I found the method below to be the easiest and most successful. If you haven't tended bees before, and a class is available, I recommend taking an installation class. My first beehive installation was done in a class for five new beekeepers that were starting beehives. We met in a backgarden and installed the bees there with a veteran beekeeper giving instruction and assistance. The experience was unbelievable, and that's an understatement.
Equipment Needed for Installation of Bees
To get a new hive going, there are a few must-have items. You should not attempt to install your bee package without the following:
- An assistant: Especially if you are a new beekeeper, you should always have someone on hand to help in case of emergency or just to have an extra set of hands
- Bees: Of course you need bees to begin!
- A queen in a cage: Without a queen your bees will leave your hive. If you can purchase a marked queen, even better. Marked queens are marked with a pen so they are easy to spot in the hive. This is a great benefit if you are new to beekeeping!
- A hive body, frames and foundation: Look for the following dimensions: 9 5/8" Hive body, 10 9 1/8" Frames, 10 8 1/2" Waxed Plastic Foundation. It's important to get the bigger hive body for the brood box—the place where the queen will lay her eggs. (You can use smaller hive bodies for the honey boxes.)
- Beekeeper veil: You don't have to have the suit or gloves, although they are recommended. If you aren't going to wear the suit, make sure that you wear white.
- Hive tool: You will need the hive tool to remove the sugar water container from the package.
- Sugar water in a spray bottle
- Entrance reducer: This prevents your bees from leaving the hive in large numbers (highly unlikely but possible) and also reduces the amount of space they need to defend the hive from intruders.
- Entrance feeder filled with sugar syrup: Most bees that you purchase are young bees, and young bees are not foragers yet. They will need the sugar syrup to survive and begin building the comb on the frames. See below for a sugar syrup recipe.
- Pollen cake: One pollen cake on top of the frames under the hive cover is perfect.
How to Make Sugar Syrup for Bees
Making sugar syrup for bees is simple! Add one cup of sugar to one cup of water. For every quart of water add one teaspoon of Pro Health. Quart mason jars make perfect entrance jars.
I bought a three-pound package of Italian bees with a marked queen from Honeybee Genetics in Northern California. The bees came with a market queen for $99. The bees so far have been very docile and healthy.
Choosing a Spot for Your Hive
Bees need sun, so make sure that you choose a sunny spot for your hive. A hive needs to keep its internal temperature in the 90s, so if your bees are not getting sun they have to work too hard to maintain a higher heat. They are also at risk of illness if their hive is not warm enough.
If you live in a very hot area, they need shade as well. Bees also need a clear flight path. If you can, choose an area where they can get in and out of the hive without being in the way of people, I have heard of beekeepers placing their hive in front of a fence so that the bees have to fly up to get out of the way of people and houses.
Installing Your Package of Bees Into Your Hive
Now that you have your bees and all of your equipment, and have put on your protective gear, it's time to install your bees! This process takes around two hours from start to finish. Give yourself time to move slowly and carefully. I have assumed that you have all of the equipment set up in a good spot for installation.
Here's a step-by-step guide to installing your bees in your beehive.
1. Spray Your Bees
Spray your bees with sugar water. Use a new bottle so you don't harm your bees with unwanted chemicals, and mix one part water to one part sugar. When your bees are sprayed with sugar water they begin to eat the water, and full-bellied bees make quiet and calm bees. Plus, bees in a package do not have a hive, honey, or queen they are trying to protect. They are usually docile.
2. Spray Your Frame Foundation
Pull out every frame in your hive body and spray each side of the foundation with the sugar water. Replace the frames when you have finished spraying them down; a few squirts of sugar water per side is sufficient.
3. Use the Hive Tool to Remove the Sugar Water Container
This is your first real contact with your bees! The key is to be calm and move very slowly. Bees are like any wild animal—sudden and scared movements are alarming. Think zen! If it's been a while since you sprayed the bees with sugar water, you may want to do that again. When you remove the canister, be careful not to drop the queen's cage inside the package. Once you have removed the sugar syrup canister, you can place it on top of the frames. There will probably be a few bees stuck to the canister; you can brush them off into the hive.
4. Carefully Remove the Queen's Cage From the Package
Different companies use different methods of releasing the queen. Honeybee Genetics has a capped tube containing sugar paste that leads to the queen. Remove the cap and scoop out a portion of the paste so that the queen can eat through it and be released into the hive in a few days.
It is important for the queen to remain in her cage within the hive for a few days so that she can release her pheromones and let the other bees know that she is their queen. If she is released too soon, her bees may either kill her or fly away. Hook a wire around an opening in the cage and hook it onto one of the frames in the hive. In three days, you can remove the cage by unhooking the cage from the frame and see if she has been released.
Other companies don't provide a paste. If you purchase from one of these companies, remove the cap from the tube containing the queen and place a miniature marshmallow inside. The queen and the other bees will chew their way through the marshmallow in a few days.
A Great Beekeeping Book
This is the beekeeping book that I use religiously. It has a lot of information for new beekeepers. I highly recommend reading about keeping bees and taking a class before you begin.
5. Shake the Bees Over the Hive
Now that your queen is installed in the hive, you can add her bees to the mix. Hold your package firmly with two hands and shake your bees over the hive. If your bees are sticking to the sides, you can hold your bees a couple inches off of the ground and drop them gently to get them moving. Continue to shake your package over the hive until a good majority of the bees are out. Place the package angled toward the hive entrance and allow the rest of the bees to leave the package to go to their queen. Don't worry about your bees flying away—they have already bonded with their queen enough to be drawn to her in the hive.
Bees Recently Installed
6. Be Patient, Add Pollen Cake, Sugar Syrup Feeder, and Cover
After about an hour, most of the bees will have moved inside of the frames. You can then add one pollen cake on top of the frames, and place your hive cover and telescoping cover on the hive. Your hive cover is wooden and your telescoping cover is usually metal. If you are leaving your hive where you installed your package, give your bees their sugar syrup through the entrance feeder and tape it down. Add the entrance reducer and you're ready!
If you are going to move your hive, as I did because I went to a class to install it, tape down the entrance and cover, and carefully move the hive to your car. We had a few bees that were hijackers in the car but they didn't cause us any problems on the drive. Carefully move the hive to the desired location and untape the entrance. I have left the top of the hive taped down and added bricks to the top of my hive to deter raccoons and skunks.
Would you consider having a hive on your property?
What to Do After You've Installed Your Bees
About three days after you have installed your bees, remove the queen's cage. If you can do so without removing the hive cover, all the better. I accidentally dropped my queen's cage down to the bottom of the hive when attempting to remove it! Ugh! I assumed that she was out and okay, which was confirmed when I went in to do my first hive inspection a week later.
Be sure you continue to monitor the sugar water syrup. It should be available for the first month. The bees can drink it quickly, so be sure to check often!
After ten days you should do a formal hive inspection to see if your queen is laying and if the bees have built out their comb. Good luck!
I have to give a special thank you to a fellow author, Wib Magli, for inspiring me with his amazing articles on bees, along with his advice (he recommended the book above). If you haven't read his work, you should definitely check him out. He's an expert beekeeper!
The Importance of the Honeybee
The honeybee is the best pollinator on our planet. Bees in one hive alone can visit 100,000 flowers in a single day. While other bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies are important pollinators, none is as efficient as the honeybee. Honeybees make possible one in every three bites of food that we eat. From the clover that feeds our livestock to the vegetables and fruits that fill our plates, honeybees help make it happen.
Backyard beekeepers play an important role in the survival of honeybees. Colony Collapse Disorder, as well as the varroa mite, are having devastating effects on the honeybee population. While it's not an easy job, it's definitely worth the work! If you aren't up for being a beekeeper, you can help bees in other ways. Plus, the other benefit of beekeeping is the honey. Within the first three months of installing my hive, I harvested around two gallons of honey!
Honey Harvest Three Months After Starting a Bee Hive
What to Do If You Are Stung by a Bee
It is not very likely that you will be stung while shaking your bees into your hive, as most of the bees are young bees and they aren't defending a hive yet. But if you are stung, I have created a guide on treatments. Unfortunately, I was stung in the eye several months after installing my hive. I chronicled the progression of the sting reaction and treatments in my article What to do for Bee Stings on the Eye. (Don't let it dissuade you though—it looks a lot worse than it was.)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.