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Installing a package of bees

By Matt Allen and Liz Lovelock at Apricot Apiaries

01 - package cage full of bees

There are many ways to install a package into a beehive.  This is just one of them.  Before you pick up your bees, make sure you have all your equipment together and ready to go. 

When you first pick up your packages, visually inspect them.  The cluster should take up roughly half to two-thirds of the package box.  There will likely be a few dead bees on the bottom but not many.  If the package seems small or there are an unusual number of dead bees, talk with your supplier. 

When you get your package home, it is best to install as soon as possible.  If you are not going to install right away, set your packages somewhere cool and sheltered.  When you are ready, take the packages to the beeyard.  With experience, the whole operation should only take a few minutes.  If this is your first time, allow a half hour. 

Before you begin, don your preferred protective equipment.  A smoker is not required for package installation.  Remove 3-4 frames from the hive body and set them aside. 

 02 mom and teddy package install

Carefully and slowly, remove the can of syrup from the package.  There will be bees clinging to the bottom.  Brush the bees into your hive and set the syrup can aside. 

03 remove package syrup can

Next, locate the queen.  She is in a cage, hanging from a metal tab, pictured in the lower right. 

04 locate queen cage in package cage

Remove the queen cage and gently brush away the bees.  You can use a bee brush or the back of your hand works just fine. 

05 package queen cage covered in bees 06 package queen cage brush bees off with fingers

 07 package queen cage brush bees off with fingers 08 queen in cage with cork

Visually inspect the queen.  If she is dead, contact your supplier for a replacement.

09 remove cork from queen cage 10 queen in cage with candy tube

Next, locate and remove the cork from the queen cage.  This may require a small knife or nail, or the corner of your hive tool may work.  Do this with the screen facing you so you can keep an eye on the queen.  Place your finger over the hole so she does not escape.  Now push the candy tube into the hole.   If a candy tube was not supplied, you can substitute by mushing a gumdrop or a couple mini-marshmallows into the hole. 

 11 hang queen cage from top bar

Now suspend the queen cage between two frames.  You might be able to use the metal tab supplied, or you can tie the cage to the frame using a rubber band.  It is important to make sure the screen is facing out and not pressed against the comb or foundation. 

12 shake bees from package cage into hive 13 shake bees into hive

Start by dumping a handful of bees directly over the suspended queen.  Then, with a few swift shakes, dump the most of the package into the hive.  Set the package container and the remaining bees in front of the hive.  Within a few minutes, the bees will start fanning and within a few hours they will march into the hive.  

14 place package cage in front of entrance 15 bees walk into hive from package cage

16 space to set remaining frames in hive 17 writing on hive lid with lumber crayon to keep record of work

Gently set the remaining frames into the hive.  Fill your feeder if you haven’t already.  And set the lid on the hive.  Write the date of your installation on the hive lid and/or in your note book.

 

Your Package installation is now complete.  In 3-4 days, it is time to check back.  The queen should have been released and the bees should have started drawing fresh white comb.  Now is not the time to inspect the hive.  Simply remove one frame to make some space for yourself and remove the queen cage.  You might also top up their feeder. 

After 10 days, you can take a more detailed look.  You should see fresh white comb with eggs and larvae.  While it is not necessary to see her at this time; if you keep your eyes peeled, you might also spot the queen! 

18 laying queen

19 eggs and young larva on foundation with new comb

 20 new frame of foundation with fresh comb

21 red queen laying eggs

22 eggs on new foundation