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Your First Hive

It's finally beehive day, you have your hive, you put it together and have your package of bees, your suit, your smoker is raging, your gloves are shiny and unsoiled and still flexible. So now what? How do you get the bees inside the hive and keep them from dying and what do you do if they try to sting you?

 

Every beekeeper has this moment, the first hive moment, when you're not sure where to begin and honestly 3 lbs of bees is a lot more bees than you expected and man do they sound mad. Did I read that there are 10,000 bees in that box? That screen doesn't look very stable.

 

Take a deep breath, cuz I'm gonna let you in on a little secret that no one wants to tell first time beekeepers, you will probably get stung today, you will definitely kill some bees by accident, and this hive probably won't survive the winter, if it even makes it that far. It's ok though, because you'll learn from this experience and get better. Now that that's all out of the way, what do you do first? 

 

Step 1: Don't smoke them

The smoke masks the scent of the pheromones they use to alert each other to changes in the hive. When you first put them in some of the bees are gonna come out to the landing board and start spreading a pheromone in the air that tells any stragglers that the queen is inside (we'll get to that part later) and they all better come in, shut up and get to work. If you smoke em, they'll think there's a fire and instead tell the workers to free the queen and get the hell outta dodge before everyone burns to death.

 

Step 2: Don't spray them with sugar water!

You'll hear lots of beekeepers new and old tell you that you should spray the bees with sugar water to calm them down. This not only doesn't work, it introduces moisture into the hive. Beehives are sensitive places and the temperature and humidity levels are carefully controlled. Plus sugar water invites the growth of mold and fungi and in a brand new hive with few resources to spare this is risky. Sorry but you'll just have to do it the old fashioned way, with no smoke and no sugar water, just a handful of gumption and a bee suit full of terror.

 

Step 3: Open 'er up and grab the queen!

The scariest part is opening the bee package, news flash, the bees are going to come pouring out!

Plan ahead a little, get a piece of cardboard ready and whatever you plan on using to hold the queen cage in place. I use a big paperclip but anything you have handy is fine. Remove 4-5 frames from the hive to make space for the bees too. Do it now, you'll be glad you planned ahead.

Pop off the covering on the feeding can, use your hive tool to jimmy the can loose, reach in, grab the queen cage and cover that hole!

Don't worry about the bees that escaped, they'll follow the queen and if you stand still for a little bit most of them will just land on your hand or on the queen cage. Release the cover on the piece of candy that's trapping the queen and make sure she's alive and running around. There should be a couple of attendant bees in there with her too. She should be larger than the other bees buzzing around your head. If she's missing parts or dead, return her to the package and call your dealer right away. They should replace her immediately. If they wont, get another queen ASAP and don't deal with that company every again.

 

Step 4: Installing the queen

There are a whole bunch of methods for installing the queen. Pick the one that's easiest for you today. I recommend grabbing a big paperclip, unfolding it, putting one side through the staple that holds the cage on and the other around the top of one of the frames, or bend bend it into the shape of a T with a little hook at the bottom to hold the queen cage and let it dangle between the frames. You can also just tape or rubber band the queen cage into place.

The most important thing is making sure that the escape hole points UP. This way, if some of the attendant bees die, or the cage falls to the bottom of the hive, the hole isn't blocked and the queen can escape.

 

Step 5: Installing the bees

This is the easiest part, and there are 2 techniques for this. The first and most common is to just dump the bees in the space you made. Once most of the bees are out, you can prop the box up near the hive and the remaining bees will make there way into the hive in a few hours.

The second technique is to put the entire bee package inside the hive and just cover it up, then come back in a couple days and remove it. I've done both and personally I prefer the first method because it's not a good idea to open the hive too soon after installing the bees, but if you wait a couple days the bees start building inside the bee box.

Either way, once your done, plop the lid on and DON'T TOUCH THE HIVE FOR A FEW DAYS!

Any sooner and the bees are much more likely to abscond, or refuse the queen and kill her. There is no benefit to opening the hive too soon

 

Step 6: First Inspection

In 2 weeks, check the hive and make sure the queen escaped the queen cage. Assuming she did, check the middle frames for eggs, they're tiny and look like grains of rice. If you don't see any give her another 2 weeks. Sometimes she takes a while to get going. If you see some eggs well then... you did it! Congratulations!!

 

Check out this great youtube video of a hive package being installed. It's a little different from my method but like the old saying goes, ask 10 beekeepers for advice and get 20 answers!