Spring is when new and old beekeepers alike start honey bee hives because that’s when new bee “packages” normally arrive (see HERE for more on planning for honey bees). These honey bee packages need to be installed in hives (called hiving honey bees) quickly so that the honey bees survive and the queens start laying brood to support the new hives.
The bees typically arrive in late April or early May in our area, and once they arrive, they need to be picked up and hived within a couple of days or they’ll run out of food and die.
Bee packages come in different sizes; however, a common size is a three-pound box that contains a queen and about 10,000 – 15,000 bees. Each package goes into one hive.
Our beekeeping practices are pretty traditional, and hiving honey bees consists of the following steps for us:
How To Start Honey Bee Hives:
Step 1 – Prepare the Honey Bee Hive Components
The hive parts that will be exposed to the elements are primed and painted to help them withstand the elements longer:
Hive stands are constructed to get the hives off the ground, and help protect the honeybees from predators:
Step 2 – Assemble the Honey Bee Hives
The picture below shows the hive assembled – waiting for the bees. Note the “shoes” on the bottom of the stand legs – we’ll put oil in those containers to prevent ants from crawling up the legs and attacking the bees.
The slanted front piece is a “bee landing zone”. The parts of the hive that are shown are (starting from the bottom) the hive stand, bottom board, lower deep (brood chamber), inner cover, top feeder, and outer cover. Pieces that are not shown now but would be added during the honey season are an upper deep (food chamber), and supers.
Step 3 – Pick Up the Honey Bee Packages
The boxes of bees packages look like the photo below (the picture below is of one 3 lb. box).
Step 4 – Install the Queen
Time to put the bees in, first the queen gets removed from the shipping container:
She comes in her own little individual cage; with her own workers. The end of her container is plugged with “candy” which the workers will eat through to release her into the hive. While they’re eating through the “candy”, the other bees shipped with her become used to her scent; and should then (hopefully) accept her as their queen when she actually enters the hive.
The queen in her little container gets placed into the center of the lower deep (her container is that little tiny square you see between the frames (divider looking things) below):
Step 5 – Hiving the Honey Bees
Now, the exciting part – the bees go in! First, the bees are sprayed down well with sugar water so they can’t fly away and will fall into the hive. Then, a softball size clump of bees is added around the queen. Finally, the rest are added in the opening between the removed frames.
The removed frames are carefully (so as not to crush any bees) added:
And finally, the inner cover goes on, followed by the top feeder, and outer cover. The top feeder holds sugar water to feed the bees as they get established. We repeat this process for each bee package. Then, we wait to see if the workers accept their queens.
After all the honey bees are in, then it’s time to wait a few days before Inspecting the Hive After Installing A Queen.