Hiving a Bee Package–A Pictorial Guide

dumping-beesLucy, Emma, Grace and June keep us in honey and help pollinate Fern Creek fruits and vegetables. I like thinking that some of these bees are granddaughters, great-granddaughters, and great-great-granddaughters of the initial hives, but with our hive losses every year it’s dubious. (A few males are in the mix as well, but in the bee world males exist only to fertilize some other hive’s queen on her one nuptial flight–so they are easily overlooked. 95-99% of the hive is female–and all males still around before the winter cold arrives get ousted from the hive.)  Anyway, we refer to the hives by name because numbers and places, like “the hive closest to the driveway,” are impersonal, and in the latter case, use more words.

This is our 4th year as beekeepers and every year we’ve purchased at least one package, which is 10,000-12,000 bees plus a queen. We add packages mostly to replace winter losses.  With CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) wrecking havoc on hives, and 2013 being the worst winter for hive losses in 40 years, packages were harder to come by and more expensive this year. Expect to see honey prices go up. Lucy looked healthy.  June and Emma appeared queenless, and June had only a couple thousand bees left, and Grace succumbed before winter ever arrived.

We introduced a queen to Emma, combined June with a package, and then put a fresh package into Grace’s empty hive.

I’ll walk you through the process of hiving a package of bees, which is essentially dumping a small three pound box of bees  into a larger box full of frames.

1) Order your bees.  This typically is done in February and early March if you want April bees. And note, unlike strawberries which appear to be available year around, bees are only available once a year. You do not have many degrees of freedom on this–miss the window and you are waiting until next year.

2) I’m assuming that you will have purchased and assembled your bee housing and other equipment. In addition to the bee hive you’ll want 1 mini marshmallow for each package, 2 quarts of sugar water per hive, and some pollen patty (recommended, not essential). Use a 1:1 ratio to make sugar water, which is about 4 pounds of sugar for 2 quarts of water. Bring the water to a boil, remove the pan from heat and stir in the sugar so it dissolves. Once it’s cool pour some into a spray bottle and dilute it a bit further. Make the sugar water the day of, or the day before you get your bees.

3) You will either pick up your package/s at a place like Ruhl’s Bee Supply, or you will have it/them shipped to you directly. Picking up saves you Lots of money in shipping costs, but is only possible if you have a handy bee supplier within driving distance.

This is what a package looks like. Notice the spay bottle beside it.

This is a package of 10,000-12,000 bees.

4) Sometimes bees travel with a container of sugar water so they can feed in transit. If they are shipped to you they will likely be overnighted and will arrive thirsty, hungry and without a feed can. In either case, mist the bees with a couple sprays of sugar water when they arrive. This will calm and feed them, and give them something to do as they lick the sugar water off each other. Don’t over-do it or you will gum up their wings. If you won’t be putting the bees in their hive until the next day, and if there is no feed can in your package, spray them with sugar water every 3 or 4 hours until you go to bed, and then again in the morning. Speaking of mornings and evenings, late afternoon is the ideal time to hive your bees. And speaking of ideal–the temperature should be above 50 and not raining (or snowing for that matter, in which case its definitely not above 50). If it is quite cold and wet consider hiving your bees in the garage and then moving them out to their home. I wouldn’t want to have to do this, and in Oregon it hasn’t been necessary.

Okay–let’s start the counting over now since all that other info was essentially preliminary.

1) At your final site assemble the bottom part of your hive: the bottom board, one deep box with about 6 of the 10 frames, and the entrance reducer. Have the inner cover, the outer cover and the other 4 frames ready to put into place.

2) Stick a pair of tweezers or needle nosed pliers in your pocket, a thumb tack, a small board to cover the hole in the box once you open it, and your brush and hive tool. LEAVE YOUR SMOKER AT HOME. Bees are their most docile when they are homeless and have nothing to defend. That said, I still recommend you wear a head net. Other gear is optional. I didn’t wear anything the first time I hived out a package (and forgot to put down my net as you can see) and didn’t get stung, but I react badly to stings, so now I don the whole spacesuit, gloves included anytime I’m disrupting the hive.

3) Mist your bees once more with sugar water and carry them down to their new home along with the remaining sugar water in whatever feeding system you are using.

The white lid is where a can of sugar water sometimes sits and the queen cell is nestled beside it. Or sometimes the queen has it's own access, like the yellow cap in this photo

The white lid is where a can of sugar water sometimes sits and the queen cell is nestled beside it. Or sometimes the queen has it’s own access, like the yellow cap in this photo

4) Remove the Queen Cell:
a) Jar the box down by hitting the box sharply on the ground once so the bees drop to the bottom. Remove the can (if there is one) so you can take out the queen cell. She may have a couple of bees inside the container with her or hovering around it, which is fine.
b) Cover the hole with a board to keep the rest of the bees inside. In some cases, as also pictured here, the queen has her own access point in the box. (In that case, save jarring the box on the ground for later and simply remove the queen cell and cover the hole.)
queenc) Queen cells can look different but they will have a plug of some sort–cork or plastic–that you need to remove and replace with a marshmallow. The bees need time to get used to the idea of her being their queen. If you release her to them immediately they are likely to kill her. Remember: she gets blamed for all that goes wrong for a hive. Any visit from a beekeeper is bad–certainly the disturbance of being shipped in a box and then dumped into another box is Very Bad. Good things also get attributed to the queen, like sugar water, pollen and perhaps marshmallows. marshmallowThey will eat through the marshmallow and release her and by then they’ll be happy, even relieved, to have a queen.
d) So use your needle nose pliers to remove the plug and fill it with a marshmallow. Then set the queen either on top of frames if you’ll use another box on top to hold a feeding bucket (see photo), or between frames, using a thumb tack to hold it in place if you are using a top feeder.

5) Jar the box down again. Remove the board, turn over the box and dump bees on top of the queen and frames into the hive box. Repeat as necessary, shaking as many bees as possible out of the box. This will take a few minutes. Enjoy the rush of being surrounded by bees!

Note: my netting does very little good as a scarf!

Note: my netting is doing very little good as protection!













6) Add back the frames you removed, gently moving bees aside if necessary.

7) Put your sugar water and pollen patty in place and close it up. If there are still bees in the package, leave the box near the opening and they’ll find their way in.

We've set the queen cell on top since of the frames here since we're using the feeding bucket.

We’ve set the queen cell on top since of the frames here since we’re using the feeding bucket.

We using feeding buckets that sit on top of a couple small pieces of wood. A small screened opening allows drips of sugar water to be available to bees on the underside. Note the pollen patty to the  right of the bucket.

We using feeding buckets that sit on top of a couple small pieces of wood. A small screened opening allows drips of sugar water to be available to bees on the underside. Note the pollen patty to the right of the bucket.

8) Sit a few paces away and enjoy watching the early moments of a new hive making itself at home.

The hive on the right has no entrance reducer, the one on the left is cracked open. To start with, put if flush against the frame, which still leave a small opening for coming and going. We have two boxes at this point because one surounds the feeding bucket. If you are using a top feeder you'll only have one box at this point. In both cases, there are only 10 frames to start with.

Lucy has no entrance reducer (she is an established hive), Emma’s is cracked open. To start with, put the reducer flush against the frame, which still leaves a small opening for coming and going. We start with two boxes because one surounds the feeding bucket. If you are using a top feeder you’ll only have one box to begin with. In both cases you start with only 10 frames in one box.

FINAL NOTE: DO NOT OPEN THE HIVE TO CHECK ON THE QUEEN FOR A FULL WEEK–NO MATTER HOW TEMPTING. Remember, she gets blamed for everything, and if they haven’t committed to her yet, your desire to see if they’ve freed her yet might well mean her execution…


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  • Hi, great info. I’m not a beekeeper but I’d like to try one day 🙂 But one thing I wonder about, well not really wonder but have read about, is that perhaps one reason bees dont make it through winter is because they were made to eat honey and not sugar water so if you harvest the “surplus” of honey just before winter it may not be true “surplus” and by replacing what honey the bees need to get through the winter with sugar water it leaves the bees in a weakened state. So by waiting to harvest the honey in the Spring when there are plenty of flowers blooming and you know the honey is truly a surplus,the bees are less likely to need sugar water supplements or what have you.And also I’ve read that some commercially made hives make the little holes(sorry i dont know the proper name for those)just slightly too big because bigger bees make more honey,but this puts too much stress on the unnaturally larger bees also leaving them weakened,more prone too sicknesses and Africanization. Like I said, I’m not a beekeeper but these are just some things that I’ve read and they kinda make sense. But i’ll leave you to it,and good luck. 🙂

    • Thanks, Teresa. Yes–so much to learn about how to help bees survive during this era of Colony Collapse Disorder! We only harvest supers in August, and since we had one hive fail we back-loaded the other three hives with extra frames of honey in their deeps–so they actually made it through the winter without needing any supplemental feeding and could eat their natural diet–honey–to their heart’s content. I do imagine that bees do better in the winter when they can eat the food they have spent the prior season storing for winter!
      So ours weren’t weak for lack of food, for some reason the queens were the weak link–they died, disappeared or were simply poor egg layers and didn’t produce enough brood.
      But I like hearing theories and ideas, because we are always looking for better ways to take care of our bees!
      And I hope you get your own bees sometime–they are an incredibly interesting creature!

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