Installing Bees For The First Time

Brand new cedar Langstroth hives in a field
New cedar hives in a field

Moving New Bees Into Their Hive

My three previous articles have been for prospective and new beekeepers because this is the time of the year when beginner classes get going. If you are enrolled on such a course, you don’t need me, but maybe you are not doing the classes and still want to start beekeeping next year. Or perhaps you just want a quick snapshot of what one walrus beekeeper thinks you need to know.

The other thing is, I have to find content for my blog, so a series aimed at beginners is one way to do that. Finally, the act of writing and thinking about bees from a ‘newcomer perspective’ is very helpful to me; it helps me clarify what I think I have learned.

Moving Your Bees

If you are starting off with a nucleus colony, the first job is getting them to your apiary. Nucs are usually sold in correx boxes, which are hopefully ‘bee-tight’ and have some ventilation. You don’t want bees streaming out of your nuc box as you drive down the road; it can be very distracting! Furthermore, if your journey is for more than half an hour, you need to be sure that your bees don’t overheat, as that will kill them. Overheating is unlikely in our temperate climate, but if the day is a scorcher, have some windows open and maybe squirt cold water through the ventilation screen/holes every so often.

This brings me to the type of nucleus box that you have. The one I see most frequently is green correx with arrows pointing upwards on the sides. The ventilation is provided by a few holes punched into the panels at each end. These are fine, but the ventilation is poor, in my opinion. If it were a major problem, nobody would use them, so please don’t be put off. There is a similar box sold by BS Honey Bees that has a proper piece of mesh on the end panels, which, I think, is much better.

A correx nuc box
Correx Nuc

In addition to ensuring that the box is well-made (not leaking bees) and ventilated, you should also place it in your vehicle in such a way that it’s not bouncing around. I usually tell people to put it in the well behind the passenger seat; you can slide the seat back to wedge the box securely.

At Your Apiary

When you arrive at your apiary, whether it’s a field or a back garden, the bees will probably be agitated from the bumpy ride. Some people say that you should leave them to ‘settle’ for a few hours (or even days) before moving them into their new home. I don’t do that; I just get them into the hive as soon as I can, possibly after having a cup of tea first.

I place my nuc beside their hive. This is a hive stand, floor, brood box full of frames, cover board and roof. In addition, as I’ll be feeding syrup for a few days, I’ll have a feeder of some type. Normally, the feeder is a bucket-feeder, which means I’ll also need an empty super between the cover board and the roof, which is where the feeder sits. The cover board has a feed hole in the centre, over which the bucket feeder is placed.

Home made hive stands
Home made hive stands

Make sure that you are happy with the position of your hive and the direction it’s pointing. Once you add bees, it’s best to not move it. Bees quickly learn where their hive entrance is, so if you move the hive they will return to where it used to be rather than where it is.

Suited and Booted

Before opening the nuc, I’d recommend getting into your bee suit, gloves and whatever else it is that you have decided to wear when handling bees. I prefer to use nitrile gloves, but when I started it was those clunky leather things. A veil is definitely a good idea, as stings to the face are likely to swell badly. Next, assuming that your nuc consists of 5 frames, remove 6 or 7 frames from the middle of the empty hive and put them aside. This is to make space for the frames from the nuc.

Next, open up your nuc and transfer the frames from the nuc to the hive. It’s worth having an experienced beekeeper with you at this stage because they will be able to inspect the frames. As a new beekeeper, you may not know what to look for, but a mentor will spot anything that looks wrong. They will want to see the queen (or at least eggs), plenty of bees and brood, plus some pollen and honey stores. They will not want to see queen cells or signs of disease. If something is wrong, you’ll have to contact the seller, who will probably be supportive as they want to avoid earning a poor reputation.

Feeding Time

I put the nuc frames into the centre of the brood box, with foundation frames either side. Make sure the brood box is filled with frames (10 frames for a Langstroth, 11 for a National) then put on the cover board. If you are using a bucket feeder, that needs filling with sugar syrup and placing over the feed-hole. Next, put on the empty super box, then the lid. The bees will be flying in ever wider circles as they get their bearings and use landmarks to place their new home in the landscape.

You can make sugar syrup easily enough using warm water and granulated white sugar. People get worked up about whether it’s 2:1 syrup (by weight) or 1:1, but I nearly always use approximately 2:1 (sugar to water) for everything. This is simply 2Kg of sugar dissolved in 1 litre of water. I often add a little thymol (dissolved in isopropyl alcohol) but you don’t need to worry about that.

Leave Them Alone

Tempting though it is to open up your new hive and look at bees, it’s best to let them get on with it for a few weeks. All you need to do is check on your feeder and top it up with syrup when it’s empty. A lot depends on the weather and available forage as to how much syrup the bees will take. You want them to draw out the wax foundation into new comb as soon as possible. After two weeks, they will probably have drawn out the combs. I usually top up a bucket feeder two or three times then stop feeding, and I’ll inspect them after two weeks.

Package Bees Or Swarms

If your bees are not in the form of a nucleus colony, but package bees or a swarm, the plan is very similar. The only real difference is that you will shake the bees into the new hive; there are no frames to transfer. It’s still important to ensure that the brood box is full of the correct number of frames, and they will need more syrup over a longer period than nucs because they have more work to do.

It will help to have one frame of sealed brood in the hive, or even just a drawn empty comb, but it’s not essential. Many beekeepers do a ’shook swarm’ in early summer to move bees onto fresh comb, and this is basically the same thing.

What do you think?

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