How to install a package of bees
For the hobby beekeeper who is managing a small number of hives, installing a package can be quick and easy. I’ve tried different methods and I like this one the best.
- Have your hive prepared in advance. Have your feeder ready. Make sure the entrance is open so bees can come and go.
- Remove five frames from one side of the brood box.
- Using a hive tool, pry off the protective board on top of each package.
- Remove the can of syrup from the package. This is sometimes tricky, but you can usually get it started with your hive tool.
- The queen cage is usually held in place with a metal tab that is slid into a slot in the wood. Remove the queen cage, brush off any adhering bees, and check to make sure the queen is alive.
- Gently place the package into the space left by the removed frames. Bees will start coming out of the hole where the syrup can was.
- Remove the cork from one end of the queen cage and stuff a piece of marshmallow into the hole. (If there is candy still blocking the hole you can skip this step.)
- Slide the queen cage down between two of the remaining frames—as close to the center of the hive as possible—and secure it in place. (I usually run a tack through the metal strip and into a frame.) If your frames have comb in them you can often just wedge the queen cage into the wax. The candy/marshmallow end needs to be up and the screened side of the cage needs to be unobstructed so the workers can care for the queen through the screen.
- Replace the inner cover. If you want, you can place the syrup can over the opening in the inner cover so the bees can drink the remainder. Place an empty super around the can.
- Replace the cover on the hive and you’re done.
The bees will soon leave the package and cluster around the queen cage, caring for her through the screen, and eating through the candy. You should leave them alone for two to three days. This is hard for new beekeepers, but you want them to adjust to their new home. In addition, too many disruptions at this stage may cause the bees to reject the queen, so just leave them alone.
On the third or fourth day, open the hive and make sure the queen has been released. If not, release her yourself. Take out the empty package, the empty queen cage, and return the five frames to the brood box.
- Don’t wait longer than two or three days to remove the shipping package and replace the frames, or the bees will start building comb in the wrong places.
- If you don’t have frames of honey for your bees, they will need to be fed for a few weeks. An ample supply of syrup helps them with comb-building.
- If you want to use a baggy feeder, you will have to lay the bags on top of the inner cover instead of directly on the frames, since there won't be enough room on the five remaining frames. Position the bags so they don't block the hole in the inner cover. Put the spacer rim (small super) between the inner and outer cover, in order to make room for the bag of syrup. If syrup remains when you return to remove the shipping cage, handle the inner cover gently so the syrup won't spill.