Hiving a Package of Honeybees

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With spring comes beekeeping season! Although we have overwintered our five colonies of bees, we are also adding three new colonies this year to our small apiary. Hiving a package of honeybees is a simple process once you get the hang of it. Here’s how we do it.

Hiving a new package of honeybees.

Our five colonies of Russian honeybees survived the long Alaskan winter. We have brought them out for the spring and are so happy to see them flying around again. However, we are also adding three new colonies this year of Old World Carniolans. We are excited to expand our little apiary and welcome new bees to our homestead.

Our new bees will come in what is called a package of honeybees. The package is full of four pounds of bees, a queen, and a can of sugar water. Once we pick them up, we bring them home and, as long as the weather is decent (a temperature above 50 degrees F is best), we transfer them to their hives.

Hiving a package of honeybees can seem daunting but after several years of learning, we work well together and get it done quickly for the sake of the bees. These are the steps we take.

Getting Ready

The day before we pick up our new bees, we make sure that the equipment we will need is in order. Their hive will consist of:

  • Bottom board
  • Entrance reducer
  • Brood box
  • 10 frames
  • Inner cover
  • Outer Cover
  • Sugar water feeder (filled with room temperature 2:1 sugar water)
  • Insulation

We put all of this in our house the day before to warm it up for the bees. It’s still chilly here in Alaska when beekeeping season begins so extra care must be taken with lower temperatures.

Other equipment to have ready includes:

  • Hive tool
  • Piece of cardboard (approximately 2 by 3 inches, for hanging queen cage)
  • Spray bottle full of sugar water

Before Hiving a Package of Honeybees

Prior to hiving, place the brood box on top of the bottom board in its permanent location for the season. Remove the two frames in the center of the box and set them aside.

We wrap 1″ insulating foam around all four sides of the hive and secure it with a bungee cord. This insulation will stay on until early to mid-June when there is no more danger of low temperatures. We also place a pollen patty on top of the frames for an extra treat for the new bees.

Hiving a new package of honeybees.

Opening a Package of Honeybees

Using the hive tool, very carefully lift up the can of sugar water. We quickly grab the queen bee, who is safely inside a small cage, and replace the can to avoid releasing too many bees.

Package of honeybees.

The queen is tucked into one of our front pockets to keep her warm for the next few minutes.

Beekeeper holding the queen bee.

Hiving a Package of Honeybees

Once the queen is safely tucked away, it’s time to hive the bees. We often spray the outside of the package with sugar water to help keep the bees calm when they are released. Especially with more aggressive breeds like Russians and Old World Carniolans.

The can of sugar water is completely removed this time and set aside. The package gets turned upside down and we shake it to get as many bees out as possible.

There will always be a few stragglers so we just set the package aside near the hive so they can find their way out and into their new home.

Hiving a new package of honeybees.

Introducing the Queen

For the bees to accept their new queen, her release into the hive must be slow, ideally a couple of days.

The small cage that she comes in will be sealed with a cork. This cork can be removed and replaced with a small marshmallow. The bees will eat through the marshmallow and release the queen when they are ready for her.

A small piece of cardboard with a slit cut into it will hang the queen cage in between two frames so the worker bees can still tend to her until she is released.

Finishing Up

Once the queen is in, it’s time to close up the hive so the bees can stay warm and acclimate to their new home. Replace the previously removed frames carefully. The bees will eventually make their way down into the box.

The inner cover goes on first.

Then the outer cover goes on. Our lids have one-inch holes cut out in the center for the bees to access their sugar water.

We used to use in-frame feeders for sugar water. These work great but take up a lot of space. Two frames must be removed to fit them. We switched to top feeders so that the bees could still have all ten frames in the box to work with.

These feeders are made out of two-gallon food-safe buckets. The lids have a small two inch square cut out of them. A larger square of screen is attached to the inside of the lid covering the hole using silicon.

Honeybee sugar water bucket feeder.

The buckets are filled with room-temperature 2:1 ratio sugar water. Once the lids are secure, we tip them over and align the screen over the hole in the outer cover. Now the bees have access to sugar water until they can forage for their own nectar, which isn’t until late-May here in Alaska.

With our five colonies of overwintered honeybees and our newly welcomed colonies, we are excited for a new season of beekeeping! Until we extract some honey later in the summer, we will enjoy the presence of our bees and check on them regularly.

Keeping honeybees is an amazing experience that we love more each year. Hiving a package of honeybees is the first step you’ll take to becoming a beekeeper.

Be sure to keep thorough records of all of your beekeeping activities! You can get my free printable beekeeping records here.

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5 Comments

  1. Wow… I really had no idea about the process to introduce/setup a new hive. I think I just thought you get the whole hives setup with the bees delivered. Interesting.

  2. Thank you Leslie! That might be an option in some locations, I’m not sure. But up here, you have to do it yourself! We were fortunate to have an experienced beekeeper guide us through the process our first year.

  3. Great info!!! we added two new packages of bees this spring! So far they are doing awesome, we just had to split one of our old hives and now I’m wondering what we are going to do with all of these bees!! Great article!!

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