Starting a new beehive is a time filled with excitement. Are you faced with the task of installing a package of bees for the first time? It can be rather scary for beginners -but it is easier than you may think. With care and patience you can get those thousands of bees into the hive and grow them into a nice strong colony.
How to Install a Package of Bees
There are several ways to get bees but buying package bees is the most common way of starting new hives. It comes as a surprise to many new beekeepers that your package can arrive via the post office.
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Honey Bees Shipped in the Mail
Each year thousands of honey bee packages ship thru the US mail or with another mail carrier. If they come through USPS, you may be required to pick them up from the post office.
A package with thousands of stinging insects tends to make some mail handlers nervous – can you imagine that ? LOL Pick up your package promptly and keep them in a cool dark place.
Lucky indeed is the new beekeeper who lives close enough to a bee supplier for pickup. In this case, you are able to get the bees home quickly and avoid the chances of them being over-heated in transit.
How Many Bees Come in a Package?
Most bee packages (3 pounds) will contain roughly 10,000 bees. But, that depends on the size of bee package that you purchased. They are available in several different sizes with a 3-pound package being most common.
Over the years, producers have realized that this is a good number to start a new colony. Smaller and larger sizes are also sold.
How Many Bees are in a Pound?
The queen bee is inside a special queen cage. You will also see a large can of syrup. This is food to keep the package alive during their journey to your home.
The Package Queen Bee
When you order bees in a package, the queen bee will be protected inside a small queen cage. The cage may be wooden or plastic. There are several different styles in use. Inside you find a young mated queen and a few workers to care for her.
Once inside the new hive, workers will slowly eat through the white queen candy (in one end of the cage). This allows your queen to be released slowly.
This queen bee is unknown to the bulk of colony inside your new package. By the time she exits her cage, through the candy end, the colony should be ready to accept her.
I do not recommend “walking the queen in” or directly releasing her. I have seen this system fail more times than it succeeded. And what it would be the point? To get the queen out a couple of days sooner? Meh..
Picking Up Your Bee Package
If you pick up your bees locally, arrive early. Your bees are contained in a wooden and wire (or plastic) travel cage. The sooner you get them home and into their new hive the better.
There is little danger of bees escaping from their traveling box – but it is not impossible. It is very common to have a few loose ones on the outside of the package.
These loose bees rode from the original bee yard and will likely ride home with you. They are lost and confused and rarely sting unless provoked. The “hitch-hikers” will ride home on the outside of the package and join the colony.
Going to pick up bees can be a fun outing for the whole family. However, think it through- before going to pick up a package with Grandma, Grandpa, all the kids and the family dog along.
People can and do get stung at pickup sites. I prefer to let the bee package ride home in the back seat. This is hard to do if everyone in the car is scared to death.
Keep Your New Bee Package Cool
If temperatures are in the 50’s F, there is little danger of the bee package being chilled. They can be placed in the bed of a pickup (out of any drafts).
You can put them in the trunk of your car, if you don’t have a long way to drive home. However, a package of bees can certainly become over-heated.
Make sure there is ventilation space around the package sides. Do not try to keep your them warm (unless the outside temps are very low).
How Long Can Bees Stay in a Package?
There will be times when you may need to delay installing your package for a few hours or a day. Is it okay to keep bees in the package?
The package can survive inside the traveling cage for a day or two. Keep the package in a cool, dark place and mist the screen sides with water ( or sugar water) a couple of times a day.
However, it is always good to install a package of bees in their new hive as soon as possible. While honey bees can survive in a transit cage, it is not a natural way for them to live and must be stressful.
Prepare for Bee Package Installation
The well prepared beekeeper has a much smoother experience installing a package of bees. Prepare yourself and your equipment before taking the top off the package.
- wear your protective gear
- have smoker and fuel with you
- equipment should be assembled, painted and ready to go before bees arrive
Smoke is not used when installing a package unless problems arise. However, it is always a good idea to have your bee smoker with you in the bee yard.
Instead of using the smoker, a spray bottle with a little sugar water (1:1) comes in handy for me.
You also need to have your hive tool on hand and a knife or pair of scissors in your tool box is a good idea.
New Hive Set Up and Ready for Bees
The beekeeper never wants to give the a colony more space than they can patrol. The population in your new hive will be quite low until the queen begins to lay and new adults emerge.
In a Langstroth hive, begin with only 1 deep box. (Bottom board, deep box, inner cover, telescoping top). Do not add more supers or boxes until the population inside the hive begins to grow in a month or so.
If you are using a screened bottom board, you might leave the grid board in the bottom for the first few weeks. This helps the colony feel safe.
Installing the Package Queen Bee
Assuming you have a wooden package, use your hive tool to remove the wooden flap on top of the cage. Never fear, a few bees may come out but the syrup can fills most of the opening.
The queen cage hangs near the can with a plastic strap. But, we need to remove the can to get the queen – how unfortunate.
Lightly mist the screen sides of the bee package, then gently but firmly tap the bottom of the package on the ground.
Most of the bees will fall to the bottom. Quickly pick up the cage and tilt it enough be able to grab the syrup can.
Remove the syrup can from the package – now you can grab the strap with the queen cage and pull the queen cage out.
Set the syrup can aside and temporarily lay the wooden flap back on the package to contain most of the bees.
Hanging Queen Cage Inside the Hive
Check to make sure your queen bee is alive. Do not be alarmed if one of the worker attendants is dead. Bee die every day.
You need to place your queen cage between 2 frames near the middle of the bee box.
Fitting a wooden cage into a new hive can be tricky because there is no comb to help hold the cage in place. It is a good practice to have a small piece of wire or string to help hang the queen cage.
** Your queen may arrive in a plastic cage. If so, the same rules apply regarding placement **
A wooden queen cage will have a cork in both ends. Remove the cork from the candy end only ! It is not usually necessary to poke a hole in the candy. The candy end should point up to prevent any dead bees blocking the exit.
Twist the cage so that the screen is open to workers, they will communicate with the new bees and even feed them. It is important to be sure that the exit hole is open – so your queen can leave the cage.
Bee Package Installation Methods
Beekeepers use various methods of installing bee packages. The most common way involves simply shaking the bees into the hive – after the queen is in place.
Shaking a Package of Bees into A Hive
- hang queen cage inside the hive
- remove some frames (with foundation) from the bee box
- pick up the package and pour (yes pour) a small mound of bees directly on top of the frames holding the queen cage
- pour the remainder of bees in the open space of the box
- carefully replace the frames that were removed
- close up your hive
- set the mostly empty cage near the hive entrance
Once your queen cage is placed inside the new hive. Remove half the frames – or just 3 or 4. In a 10 frame hive, this leaves an open space several frames wide.
After pouring a small amount of bees near the queen cage, the rest are shook in the opening left by the removed frames.
It is an amazing sight, no matter how many times you do it. If you have a lot of bees taking flight, you can gently mist the bees in the hive with the sugar water sprayer.
Do not bang the package on the ground. You do not have to shake it wildly like a mad-man. Just gently shake it enough to dislodge most of the bees into the hive.
Carefully, replace the frames that were removed. The bees in the bottom of the hive will begin to climb up on them.
There will be a few individuals left in the package. Sit it in front of the hive, most of them will soon join the rest of the colony. Close up the hive.
Installing Package Bees Without Shaking
Some beekeepers dislike the shaking method. They feel it is too disruptive to the already stressed bees.
So, yes you can install your package without shaking if that is your wish. I honestly don’t think it matters but if you want to give it a try, this is one way to do it.
Repeat the above steps for hanging your queen cage and removing half the frames. Now, we have the open space inside the hive from the 5 frame removal.
Set your open package inside the hive ( the opening where the syrup can is remove is open). The bees in the package will smell the queen and come out of the package to join her-usually…
By the next day, you should be able to open the hive and remove the empty package. Then, replace all the missing frames.
This method of installing a package is fine and will work well in most instances. However, I would not try it in cold weather. Sometimes, the workers don’t leave the package and the queen dies in the cold.
Install Your Bee Feeder
Once you have finished installing your package, it is time to install the feeder and close the hive. Leave the new colony alone for a few days so they can settle in.
Do not underestimate the importance of feeding your new hive. A new colony has a lot of work to do. Providing supplemental food to them is a way to give them a boost.
Final Thoughts on Installing a Package of Bees
Once your bees are installed and fed, they should settle down and begin to grow. Don’t open the hive every day. New packages can leave the hive if the beekeeper is too intrusive. Your first hive inspection is done in about 5-7 days.
After a few weeks, begin performing routine hive inspections to ensure that all is well with your colony. Congratulations. You did it! Don’t you feel like a beekeeper super star!