Bees In A Box: How to Install Packaged Honey Bees

A package of 3lb of honey bees image
3 lbs of honey bees with a mated queen

If you ordered your packaged bees between November and January, and you live in the Northeastern United States, like us, you probably are anticipating the arrival of your bees between late April through late May. If you are reading this hoping to start your first colony of honey bees in 2013, and you haven’t ordered your bees, you may be reading this for next year’s install; most local suppliers of packaged bees are sold out.

Is this your first time installing packaged bees? RELAX. It’s easy if you do some preparation before they actually arrive. There are lots of YouTube videos to backup what I’m about to share, but the steps below are helpful, and can be printed out as a check list. (As I look at our first year of beekeeping photos, I see that my husband actually had one of our beekeeping books right by his side while installing the bees.)

Oh, and if you haven’t already discovered this beekeepers axiom,
"Put six beekeepers in a room and you’ll get six different answers to your question
this holds true with installing packaged bees. Our way is just one way, and the method we’ve become accustomed to. Give it a try, or try one of the ways you’ve seen in a video or a combination of the two. You’ll succeed and won’t be a “newbie” for long. 
Women holding two pacakges of honey bees image

Things to do before your bees arrive:

1) Paint your hive bodies, bottom board and outer cover, to protect them from the elements. Do this in advance so that the paint has dried and doesn’t smell—you want the bees to like their new home. 

Tip: Use indoor or outdoor paint. Checkout the "oops" paint selection at your local hardware store for inexpensive paint.

2) Set your hive(s) in the yard in the designated place you have selected, after mowing the area. We selected a spot in the backyard that would provide a windbreak and lots of sun. (Here in the New England our season is short, so we want the colony getting sun as early in the morning as possible to encourage foraging.) Set the front of the hive(s) in a south easterly direction. This offers the first days sun to the front, warming it, and encouraging the bees to fly.

3) Have your basic beekeeping supplies purchased and in hand for bee arrival day. 
  • Hive tool 
  • Smoker 
  • Smoker fuel along with a lighter or matches 
  • Bee brush 
  • Veil 
  • Bee jacket/suit if you want to wear one 
  • If you have butter fingers (which I did the first year), a pair of nitrile gloves. It helped me grip things better (wasn’t wearing to ward off bee stings—if you wear protective bee gloves, just know that it will make manipulating things just a tad awkward). 
  • Small nail (about 16 penny). 
  • Optional, but maybe not; have an EpiPen on hand. (Call your doctor, tell him/her that you’re getting into beekeeping. Usually they'll send an Rx to your local pharmacy.) You may never need it, but then again if you’ve followed this blog you (or a visiting friend) just might. 
package of bees in back seat of car image
Packaged bees traveling in the back of a sedan

Tip: If you’re picking up your bees and you’re just starting off with one or two packages, they can fit right on the floor of the back of your car. They'll buzz tunes all the way home, and you’ll be pals in no time. 

Installing your bees: 
1) Unpacking bees. 
  • Remove the cover from hive, so that you are working with the deep. 
  • Remove 3 frames (from a 10 frame deep).
  • Using your hive tool, pry off the piece of plywood covering the feed can.
Beekeepers opening packaged bees
Removing plywood cover

  • Pull out the can, and the queen cage. Set both aside; keep the queen cage safe e.g. place in your pocket to keep her warm, and out of direct sunlight. 
Beekeeper removing feeding can from packaged bees
Using hive tool to pry feeder out of box

Caged queen bee and attendants
Queen cage containing mated queen and attendants

  • Smack the package on the ground so that the bees clump to the bottom of the package opposite the large hole.
  • Now rotate the package of bees upside down so that the circular opening is over the deep where you have removed the three frames. Shake the box so that the bees start to fall out into the deep. Get as many as you can into the box, but do not be concerned that there are still some in the package. 
Packaging bees being dumped into hive
Shaking bees into deep
2) Gently replace the three frames back into the hive. You may use the bee brush or hive tool to move the bees out of the way. 

3) Take the queen cage and on the candy plug side, remove the cork covering the candy plug. Take the small nail and gingerly twist it through the candy plug. CAUTION! Be sure that you do not poke through and hit the queen. You just want a little hole to help get the bees eating through this candy plug vs. totally removing it. This gives them another day or two for the queen to get introduced to her new hive (known as a slow release). 

4) Take the queen cage and place it between two of the center frames. We attach it lengthwise (candy plug is not pointing up or down). 

Queen cage placement in hive
Placement of queen cage;
note back end slightly lower than candy plug opening
5) Put the inner cover on. (Use your bee brush or hive tool to move the bees off the edge of the hive box.)

6) If you’re feeding to help them build up comb, (until nectar flow arrives) place your can/jar of sugar water over the inner cover hole. Place an extra brood or medium body on top without frames, to act as a protector of the jar. Now place the outer cover on. 

7) Now take the package box that still has some bees in it and place it relatively close to the hive entrance. They’ll eventually make their way out and go into their new home. 

8) Within two days (no more than 4 days) go back to the hive and make sure that the queen has released. If she hasn’t, carefully remove the mesh screen (do this over the hive, close to the frame), and let her walk out onto a frame. The hive should be read to welcome their queen. 

9) Assuming you used foundation (vs. drawn comb), if you pull out a couple frames from the center, you should see how busy your bees have been in the past two days with a fair amount of pretty white comb.

Foundation with wax buildup
Drawing out foundation and inserting nectar after just a few days.


Bee Removal Orange County said...

The tips and installation guideline shared through this post are useful and informative. Glad to find and read your post. Visit again for some useful post like this. Thanks for sharing.

Valarie said...

@ Bee Removal Orange County. Thanks for reading the blog and taking the time to comment. Glad to see someone managing honey bee removal for relocation other just killing them.