How to hive a package of bees

So you’ve purchased a package of bees. Now what? Here’s how to turn your package into a healthy colony.

When your bees arrive, keep them cool until you are ready to put them in the hive. Mist the outside of the package with water to keep your bees hydrated. If it’s a warm day, sit the packages in front of a gentle fan. The bees like to be cool, but too much air flow will agitate them.

When you’re ready to hive the bees, mist the outside of the packages with sugar syrup. Much like a cat with wet fur, a bee coated in syrup will focus all of her attention on cleaning herself. Spraying with syrup calms the bees and makes them easier to work.

You will need syrup later to feed the colonies, so mix it up now. Combine one part by volume granulated sugar with one part by volume warm water and mix well. You’ll need about a gallon of syrup per hive to get started. (A 50:50 syrup mix is called “spring syrup”.)

It’s time to prepare your hives. You’ll need a screened bottom board, a hive body with ten frames of foundation, an inner cover, an outer cover, and some kind of syrup feeder. I like to use the hive top feeders, as they hold the most syrup and make the least amount of syrup mess at the hive.

Remove the inner and outer covers from your hives and install the ten frames of foundation. If you’re using plastic foundation, mist the frames with sugar syrup.

Using your hive tool, remove the wooden cover from your package of bees. Gently extract the queen cage, and place the wooden cover over the queen cage hole to prevent the bees from escaping.

One side of the queen cage is closed with a cork. The other side is sealed with bee candy, and depending on the beekeeper who prepared the package, may also be sealed with a cork. If there is a cork on the bee hcandy side, remove it. Use a small nail or drill bit (~1/8″) and very gently poke a hole through the bee candy to allow the workers to release the queen. Be super careful not to hurt the queen!

Wedge the queen cage, candy side down, between frames 5 and 6 of your hive body. The pressure from the frames should be enough to securely hold the queen cage in place. If it’s loose, secure it using a length of wire. Be sure that the wire screen of the queen cage is perpendicular to the frames, so that the workers can feed the queen.

Using your hive tool, carefully remove the can of syrup from the package.

The bees will start pouring out of the package — it’s a bee volcano!

Pick up the package and shake the bees directly onto the queen cage in the hive body. Don’t be afraid to shake violently – you won’t hurt the bees. You may have to pound on the side of the package to get the stragglers to come out.

It will take a while for the bees to settle into the frames, so put an empty honey super on top of the hive body (you may want to put the honey super on the hive body before adding the bees). You can then set the syrup can on top of the frames (make sure the holes are down).

There will be several dozen bees stuck in the package. Don’t fret — just sit the package near the hive entrance. The remaining bees will be drawn into the hive by the chemical signature of their queen. In a few hours, the package will be empty.

In order to keep the bees from escaping prematurely, close off the hive entrance with some fresh grass clippings. Over the next few days, the bees will remove this grass.

Place your inner cover on top of the hive. Place the hive-top feeder on top of the inner cover and fill it about 1/3 full with syrup. Don’t put too much syrup in there — it will make it difficult for you to get into the hive later to check on the queen. Place your outer cover on top of the feeder, and top it off with a rock or brick to hold things in place.

In two days, open the hive and check on the queen. The workers should have released her by then. If she’s still in the queen cage, remove the cork and let her escape — she will usually run right out as soon as the the cork is removed!

Keep giving the bees syrup until the no longer take it. Once they find natural nectar sources, they’ll no longer care for the empty calories of the sugar syrup. When they stop taking syrup, you can remove the hive top feeder.

Best of luck with your new colony!

~Eric


2 Comments

  1. Posted December 15, 2008 at 3:06 am | Permalink

    Hi love your website it was a bit hard finding a good website i am just getting interested in bees I have been quite interested in gardening coming from a market gardener vegi grocer background and now I have been given the oppurtunity to enjoy such things in life as aquaponics and keeping bees Our place has just been fortunate enough to have a group of bees I presume scouts trying to setup a nest in our Plastic Wheely Bin which I have left with the lid slightly raised and a shade cover under our grapevines I have also put out some honey in a saucer just hoping to be able to transfer these bees ( hopefully queen included)

  2. Posted January 18, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    I just discovered this fantastic article – really clear instructions, great pictures. Thanks!