Starting a Colony

Bee Health March 19, 2010 Print Friendly and PDF

There are several methods to acquire bees, including buying an existing colony, starting from a small “nucleus” colony purchased from another beekeeper, installing a package purchased from a supplier, capturing a swarm and splitting an existing colony. Let’s look closely at the latter three possibilities.

Installing a Package of Honey Bees

Starting a honey bee colony with a package purchased from a reputable producer is a good way to insure the colony you have is healthy and of a particular race or hybrid. A package should be installed in the early spring to take advantage of the nectar flow. A package consists of a known amount (by weight) of bees and a caged queen shipped in a screen box containing a feeder can of sugar syrup. Packages can be bought in 2-, 3- and 5-pound sizes. One pound contains about 4000 bees. They should be ordered long before you want to receive them, ideally in the fall.

Receiving a Package Inspect the package. If the majority of the workers are dead or the queen is dead, contact your supplier for instructions and possible replacement. If all is well, place the bees in a cool, dark place until early evening.

Installing apackage of bees into a single deep hive body. the feeder can is resting of the corner of the hive.

Installation The cage should be installed into one single deep or two medium hive bodies. You can use all new foundation, drawn comb or a mixture. If using a mixture, put the drawn comb in the center to facilitate egg-laying there. Make sure the drawn comb was taken from healthy colonies. In the early evening, take the package to the apiary. Spray more sugar solution onto the sides of the package. Remove the outer and inner covers from the hive. Remove four or five frames from one end of the hive body or both bodies (medium body). Spray sugar solution lightly onto the remaining frames and on the inner walls of the hive body. Remove the top cover and feeder can from the package. Remove the queen cage from the package and cover the opening of the package. Remove the cork from the end of the queen cage plugged with candy and use a nail to poke a hole in the candy, being careful not to harm the queen. Suspend the cage, candy end up, between the two center frames of those remaining in the hive body. For medium hive bodies, suspend the cage within the bottom hive body. Remove the cover from the hole in the top of the package, shake about a cupful of bees onto the queen cage then place the package, with the hole end up, in the open space within the hive. Replace the inner cover and place a feeder can with a 2:1 sugar solution and Fumidil-BTM(according to label directions) over the opening in the inner cover. (Be sure the queen cage is not directly below the inner cover opening.) Place an empty super on the inner cover around the feeder can and cover this with the outer cover. Partially block the hive entrance with a entrance reducer or grass and leave it blocked for about a month. Check the queen cage in three days to see if the queen has been released. If she has not been released, remove the screen and let her walk into the colony. Then, do not disturb the colony for 10 days. At this time, examine the frames for a brood pattern. If a brood pattern and eggs are found, then you have successfully installed the package. Remove the package container and replace the frames removed earlier. Close the colony.

Other Methods of Bee Installation There are variations of the installation method mentioned above, including differences in releasing the queen and the workers. After suspending the queen cage, gently shake the bees from the package onto the bottom board. Lightly mist the bees with sugar solution. Replace the frames, being careful not to crush any bees. Close the hive and proceed as above. Another method of queen introduction is to place the queen cage on the bottom board, shake a cupful of bees onto the cage, then shake the remaining bees onto the bottom board. Also, the queen may be released more immediately by removing the cork-only plug end of queen cage. But likelihood of queen acceptance is reduced using this method of release.

Source: Skinner, Parkman, Studer, and Williams. 2004. Beekeeping in Tennessee. University of Tennessee Extension PB1745. 43p.

EXTRA: For a handy .pdf poster of installing package bees, see the following University of Minnesota Instructional Poster " Hiving a Package of Honey Bees .pdf"

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.