It’s bee season! We get a lot of questions on the right way to install package bees or nucs, and whether you’re brand new or a seasoned veteran beekeeper, a refresher always comes in handy. We’ve also included a helpful how-to video.
If you are an established beekeeper and can use drawn combs on which to install your package, you should do so. If you can just give them two or three drawn combs it is a big advantage. This allows the bees to get to work without having to draw combs from the foundation first.
Installation of Packages
Install the package late in the afternoon. This helps prevent drifting. We recommend misting a little syrup on the screen of the cage 15 minutes before you are ready to move them to the hive for installation. This quiets them down and they will be better natured. There are several ways of installing a package of bees. We recommend the following two methods.
Remove one frame from your hive. Store the frame in a dry cool place. This frame will be put back into your hive several days later. Tap the cage lightly a few times on the ground to jar all the bees to the bottom of the cage. Do not let the queen cage slip down in with the rest of the bees. With a firm grip on the can, remove it, pull the queen cage out of the package and immediately put the lid back on the package.
Now that the queen cage is removed, inspect your queen to make sure she is alive and in good condition. Carefully remove the cork from the candy end of the queen cage. The bees will release the queen from the cage by eating the candy (it usually takes a few days for them to do this). You may choose to take a small nail and make a hole through the candy. This will help release the queen sooner.
Place the queen cage, screen side facing up, between frames 5 and 6 in the hive body. Again, tap the package lightly a few times on the ground to jar all the bees to the bottom of the cage. Remove the square lid and begin to gently shake the bees from the package over the tops of the frames and the queen cage. Once you have shaken the bees from the package, place the inner cover over the hive upside down. You can now close up your hive with the top cover. Once you have shaken the bees from the package and closed up the hive, place the package on the ground in front of the hive so that the few remaining bees can fly out and into the hive.
You will need to feed your bees on a regular basis. We suggest using a Boardman entrance feeder with package bees to prevent drowning. You can open the can of syrup that came with the package and use the remaining syrup to feed.
In about three days, you will want to go into the hive to make sure the queen has been released and is alive. If she is still inside the cage, you can choose to leave her there a day or two longer or release her yourself. To do this, hold the queen cage down inside the hive body and carefully pull back the screen to release her. Remove the queen cage and place the frame you removed before installation back inside the hive body box and return the inner and outer cover.
With this method, you do not have to shake the bees from the package. Follow the same procedures as Method 1, except remove five frames from your hive. Place the queen cage, screen side facing up, between frames 2 and 3 in the hive body. Again, tap the cage lightly a few times on the ground to jar all the bees to the bottom. Remove the square lid and place the package down inside the hive body in the space of the frames you have removed. In about three days, make sure the queen has been released and is alive. Remove the queen cage and package and place the five frames you removed before installation back inside the hive body box and return the inner and outer cover.
Four Important Points
- Feed package bees heavily until the colony is well established. Sugar and water mixed in a ratio of 1 part water to 1 part sugar, or high fructose corn syrup works well for spring feeding.
- Keep entrances reduced to a small size. This prevents robbing and conserves heat.
- Do not add supers or a second hive body until the bees draw out 7 of the 10 frames.
- Do hive inspections to check the condition of the new hive, on a weekly basis, until the hive is well established.
Installing Bees from a Nuc
While it is probably easier to install bees from a nuc rather than a package, there is one crucial difference. You don’t know where the queen is and you must not crush her.
We suggest you pull all frames from your hive box if it is 8-frame equipment, or 8 frames if it is 10-frame equipment, leaving a frame against either side.
- Position the nuc next to the open hive, and smoke if you’re doing so.
- Reduce the entrance to the hive to which you’re transferring the frames of bees. This is a larger home for your bees; you want to make it easier for them to defend it, especially during these initial days of getting settled.
- Open the nuc box. You may want to gently smoke, or spritz the bees with sugar syrup.
- Ever so carefully remove one outside frame from the nuc box. Start with the outside frames first as they are less likely to have the queen on them. Regardless, NEVER pull a frame faster than a bee can amble; this will ensure you don’t kill the queen by rolling her.
- Weather permitting; we encourage you to look over each frame as you transfer it.
Things to look for include:
• Notice the variances in color and size.
• Drones versus worker bees
• The queen. She’s hard for a rookie to spot; she’s even hard sometimes for an experienced beekeeper to spot
• How they’ve drawn out comb and where they haven’t
• Filled comb, with either fluid or a cap. A cell with a cap level with the drawn comb and fairly smooth is a soon-to-bee worker bee; a cap projecting beyond the drawn comb is either a drone cell, or a queen cell. (The latter is extremely unlikely at this point.)
- Place that frame in the same position in the hive body that it had in the nuc box, i.e.—frame on leftmost side goes on the leftmost side of the hive body (toward the inside of the frame you left there)
- Repeat for the other outside frame
- Continue to gently remove frames from the nuc, placing them in the same relative location in the hive body until all frames are transferred.
- Carefully scoot all the frames from the nuc in the middle of the hive body.
- Gently add, one at a time, remaining frames so you have either 8 or 10, depending upon the size hive body you’re using. If using plastic foundation, spritzing each with sugar syrup helps bees more readily accept it.
- Finally, close up the hive