My new bees hanging out at the hive entrance.
The honey bees that I ordered last January arrived in the mail today – actually 4 weeks ago – but that’s when I started this post. As soon as I picked them up at the post office I misted them with some cool water – they were definitely thirsty – as soon as they got out of the box later they started lapping up water wherever they could find it. Since it was a little bit cool today the bees rode in the cab of the truck to keep them from being chilled on the ride home.
A 3 pound package of bees as it comes through the mail.
The first thing I did to get the bees into the hive was to take out 4 frames to make a space for the bees – then pry the plywood cover off of the package. The bees will hopefully build nice neat comb in the frames. I’m using wooden starter strips instead of wax foundation and this is my first ever hive of bees so the frames are completely empty.
The package contains a can of syrup with a few holes in it for the bees to eat as they move through the mail system.
I'm holding the metal tab that the queen cage is hanging from as I very slowly remove the syrup can. Everything has bees clinging to it so you have to go slow and kind of wiggle things around to keep from injuring them.
After removing the can I kept the bees in the cage by laying the little piece of plywood back over the hole.
Notice the white wax that the workers deposited on the queen cage while they were in route. They really can't wait to get to work. You can't see the queen in this picture, but she's been marked with a spot of florescent green paint to make her easier to find.
The queen is confined in this cage that comes hanging in the package. The queen and worker bees were collected from different hives at the commercial apiary where the bees were produced, and don’t immediately accept each other – although the bees that are clinging to the queen cage seem to have because I could see them feeding her (I think).
Anyway, the queen cage has a cork that keeps the queen in for the trip, and under the cork there is supposed to be a plug made out of sugar “candy” that the workers will gnaw away to free the queen. Unfortunately when I removed the cork there wasn’t any candy – so I put the cork back in and went and got a piece of bread to plug the hole with. If the queen is still in the cage in a few days I’ll release her during the first inspection. I should have prepared for this possibility by equiping myself with a marshmallow to plug the hole. I’m not to worried though – if they don’t eat the bread and free the queen they will feed her through the cage, and she’ll be fine. I hope.
Don't do this - When introducing a queen into an empty box without foundation just free the queen and put the queen cage in your pocket - seriously don't leave the cage laying around or the bees might cluster on it because of the queen pheremones on it. If you do what I did in this picture you will probably also have to repair the crossed comb that they will build.
After I removed the cork and improvised a plug I hung the queen and her attendants from one of the frames near the center of the hive. I’ve seen pictures of people having to bend nails and whatnot to improvise a hanger, but the strip of soft sheet metal that this package came with seems to be way easier to use.
I found out a few days later that this was a horrible mistake – the bees started building comb off of the queen cage instead of from the starter strips in the frames. More about that later.
Usually in package bee installation how tos you are instructed to shake the bees out through the 3 inch hole left by the syrup can – lots of shaking involved which doesn’t look too pleasant for the bees. However I just took the screen loose on the side of the box to open up the entire side as instructed in this beemaster video on installing a package of bees.
Then the whole bunch comes out with very little effort or trauma to the bees.
Now just carefully replace all of the frames – slowly wiggle them in to give the bees a chance to get out of the way. It seems impossible from the way this picture looks, but I don’t think I killed a single one.
Now carefully replace the inner cover. That piece of plywood with the round hole and screen is just laying over a corresponding round hole in the inner cover. My idea is to feed the bees without them getting into the upper chamber. We’ll see how it works. By the way I made all of the hive parts except the frames from scratch. I’m planning to use 8 frame medium depth hive bodies for everything.
Notice that the bees aren’t attacking me at all. I doubt if I would have been stung even without the bee suit – but It’s going to be a while before I get that cocky.
The jar of syrup has a few holes punched in the lid and goes right over the screen. If they drink that too quick I’ll use a gallon paint can later.
Now an empty hive body, and the outer cover.
If I had been on the ball I would have placed the entrance reducer before I started.
The stick that you can see is corking up the vent hole in the innner cover. In just a few minutes the bees were all moving inside and flying around the yard orienting themselves. In a few hours they were already bringing in pollen from the blackberry flowers.
This process might look intimidating, but after all of the waiting I really enjoyed the whole thing – I didn’t get stung. I had worried that when I dumped all of those bees out they would all just rise up and fly away if I didn’t do everything exactly right. But the thing is they don’t seem to want to fly away. It’s almost like if you had been cooped up in a greyhound bus for 3 days and then you were deposited right into a five star hotel with an open buffet – what they really seemed to want to do was settle in and make theirselves at home.
Photography by my lovely and fearless wife Shirley – who was not wearing a bee suit.