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  • Writer's pictureBrowns' Family Farmstead

Setting Up Your Beehive: A Step-by-Step Guide to Installing Bees

Setting up a beehive is an exciting and rewarding endeavor, offering numerous benefits such as fresh honey, improved pollination, and a closer connection to nature. This guide will walk you through every step, from preparation to maintenance, ensuring your beekeeping journey starts off buzzing with success.

Table of Contents

Why Set Up A Beehive?

Beehives are structured homes where bees live and work together. They consist of frames, supers, and a bottom board, providing space for tasks like honey storage and brood rearing. Led by a queen bee, the colony includes worker bees gathering nectar and pollen, and drones aiding reproduction. Essential for pollination and honey production, beehives play a vital role in ecosystems and agriculture globally.

There are many benefits to setting up a beehive, including:

  • Pollination: Bees are essential pollinators, contributing to the growth and reproduction of many plants, including crops that provide food for humans and animals. Without bees, the pollination process for plants would be severely compromised, leading to reduced crop yields and potentially impacting food availability and biodiversity.

  • Honey Production: Beekeeping offers a wonderful opportunity to harvest fresh, natural honey, which is not only delicious but also versatile in culinary and medicinal applications. As a sweetener, honey can replace sugar in many recipes, offering a unique flavor profile and enhancing dishes with its natural richness. Beyond its culinary uses, honey is valued for its medicinal properties, such as soothing sore throats and serving as a natural antiseptic for minor wounds.

  • Self Sufficiency: Beekeeping provides a sustainable source of honey and beeswax, supporting a more independent lifestyle and contributing to environmental conservation through pollination.

  • Supporting Bee Populations: As global bee populations face challenges such as habitat loss and pesticide use, beekeepers play a crucial role in supporting and protecting these vital pollinators.

  • Education: Beekeeping provides a hands-on learning experience that deepens understanding of biology, ecology, and environmental stewardship. It offers insights into the complex social structures within a hive, the process of pollination, and the critical role bees play in ecosystems. For students and enthusiasts alike, observing bees at work fosters curiosity and appreciation for the natural world.

  • Therapeutic Benefits: Beyond education, beekeeping can also be therapeutic. The calming hum of bees and the focused attention required for beekeeping tasks provide stress relief and promote mindfulness. Many find solace in the rhythmic routines of hive management, which can help reduce anxiety and improve overall mental well-being.

  • Community and Sustainability: Beekeeping can foster community engagement and local sustainability efforts by promoting awareness of environmental issues and encouraging responsible land stewardship.

Ordering Your Bees

There are several key considerations to ordering bees whether it is your first time or your fifth.

Find a Supplier

We recommend you find a reputable supplier that sells healthy bees and has a good reputation with their clients.

You can acquire bees through various methods, such as purchasing from an online distributor, connecting with your local beekeeping community, capturing a swarm, or arranging for pickup from a nearby apiary. Each method offers its own advantages and considerations, depending on your location, experience level, and specific beekeeping goals.

Due to our location and lack of nearby apiaries with bees for sale we decided to purchase bees from a reputable online supplier and have them shipped via USPS to our local post office. Buying bees online can be a convenient option, especially when local sources are limited or unavailable.

Having a reputable supplier was critical as we lost a hive within 24 hours of installation. The Mann Lake team was very kind and worked with us to quickly replace the hive. Their dedication to customer service was appreciated and turned a negative experience into a positive.

Selecting a Bees

If you are purchasing bees, you will need to decide between buying packaged bees or nucleus colonies (nucs), each offering different advantages and considerations for starting your beekeeping venture.

Package of italian honeybees

Nucs vs Packaged Bees

  • Packaged Bees: Typically includes 2-5 pounds of bees and a mated queen in a ventilated cage. They are typically a temporary grouping of adult worker bees and a mated queen bee, gathered from different hives and packaged together for sale. It will take some time for them to become a fully functioning colony with established brood, honey stores, and a stable population.

  • Nucleus Colonies (Nucs): Small colonies with established frames containing bees, brood (developing bees), and a laying queen. Established beekeepers often prefer nucs because they tend to adapt more quickly to their new hive environment and can begin producing honey sooner than packaged bees.

Order In Advance

It is important to order your bees well in advance, as suppliers often have limited availability, especially during peak beekeeping seasons (spring and early summer).

Living in Pennsylvania, we aim to order our bees in February/March to ensure a May delivery. We have found that after the last frost works best for our installations as bees do best when transferred to a hive when it is warm and consistently above 40 degrees fahrenheit.

Preparing for Beekeeping

In preparation for your hive, we recommend gathering the following gear to ensure a seamless transition.

Recommended Tools:

For detailed information about other tools we recommend, click here to visit the dedicated post.

Assembling Your Beehive

The first step is to ensure the hive is assembled according to manufacturer instructions and is placed in a stable, level location with morning sunlight and protection from strong winds.

Once the hive is prepared (ideally before your bees arrive), place several frames evenly spaced within the hive box, ensuring adequate space between them for bees to move freely. To facilitate easier clustering and faster comb development, it is recommended that you start with fewer frames. For example, in a hive that can hold 10 frames, begin with 5 or 6 frames initially installed.

Installing Your Bees

Check the Forecast

Ensure the weather is stable so as to not stress the bees. Ideally we want mild temperatures (not extreme for your area), dry weather, and low wind. If your temperatures are not stable or it is raining, it is recommended to wait before installation. Note, it is not recommended to wait more than a few days after receiving bees to install them as it is possible they would run out of food.

Use the Smoker

Before introducing bees to their new hive, it is essential to use a smoker. Gently puff smoke around the hive entrance and over the frames to calm the bees. The smoke masks alarm pheromones and encourages the bees to retreat into the hive and consume honey, which makes them less defensive. This simple step helps create a calmer environment, making it easier to manage and install the bees safely.

Smoking bees for a calm transition to the hive

When installing the bees into the hive, there are two main methods, either letting them out gradually or dumping them in. Here’s how to do each:

Gradual Release Method

  1. Place the Package: Position the bee package near the hive entrance on the ground or on an object such as a chair or cart.

  2. Open the Package: Gently open the package.

  3. Allow Gradual Exit: Let the bees exit the package and enter the hive at their own pace. This method reduces stress and helps them acclimate more easily.

Dumping Method

  1. Remove the Queen Cage: If not already done, carefully remove the queen cage from the bee package.

  2. Open the Package: Take off the package lid and remove the feeder can.

  3. Shake the Bees: Holding the package over the hive, give it a gentle shake to pour the bees directly onto the frames or into the hive box.

  4. Close the Hive: Once the majority of the bees are in the hive, carefully place the inner and outer covers on top.

Dumping bees into hive

Introducing the Queen

Now that the hive is ready and the frames are set up for the queen's introduction.

Check the Queen Cage

Confirm the queen bee is healthy and alert. Then carefully inspect the queen cage to check if the plug covering the candy (made of either sugar or cork) is securely in place. If it's cork, gently remove it to allow worker bees access to the candy, facilitating the queen's release.

Continue to observe the queen through the cage bars to ensure she is active and surrounded by attendant bees. Her movement and vitality are indicators of her health and ability to lead the hive. Regular monitoring of hive activity, including egg-laying and brood development, will further confirm that the queen is successfully established and contributing to the colony's stability and growth.

Hang the Queen Cage

Carefully place the queen cage between the frames inside the hive. Many beekeepers hang the cage vertically between the frames using a frame lug or a piece of wire. Ensure the cage is secure and won't fall or swing excessively.

After a few days, check if the queen has been released from the cage. If she is out and moving freely within the hive, you can remove the empty queen cage from the hive.

Monitor the Bees

When watching the bees in their new hive, observing them shaking their abdomens, known as "waggle dancing," serves as a vital communication tool within the colony. This behavior helps bees convey essential information about the location of the queen, food sources, or suitable nesting sites.

Witnessing waggle dancing can indicate that the bees are communicating the queen's presence and her location within the hive. This behavior underscores the bees' ability to coordinate and maintain colony cohesion, essential for their overall success and productivity in their new home.

Feeding the Hive

After installing the bees into their new hive, it’s crucial to provide them with a supplemental food source to help them establish their colony, especially if their options are limited. Feeding the hive with sugar syrup (a mixture of equal parts sugar and water) ensures the bees have enough energy to draw out comb, support the queen, and care for developing brood, especially if natural nectar sources are scarce.

Feeding sugar water to a new hive of bees

Place the feeder either inside the hive or at the entrance, and monitor it regularly to replenish the syrup as needed. If you don't have a feeder, simply pour the cooled syrup onto the frames in the hive.

Hive Inspection

After a few days, it’s time to check if the queen has been released from her cage. Inspect the hive carefully to see if the queen is out and moving freely within the frames. If she has been released and is active within the hive, you can safely remove the empty queen cage.

After installing your new hive, it's crucial to monitor its progress regularly. Start by checking the hive 2-3 days after installation to ensure the queen has been released and is moving freely. For the first few weeks, conduct weekly inspections to look for signs of brood, verify the queen is laying eggs, and check the bees' progress in drawing out comb. After the initial period, you can reduce the frequency of inspections to bi-weekly or monthly, focusing on brood patterns, hive health, honey stores, and any signs of disease or pests. This inspection schedule helps ensure the colony is healthy and thriving.

Final Thoughts

Setting up a beehive is a rewarding journey that starts with understanding why beekeeping is important and deciding to order your bees. Finding a reputable supplier and selecting the right type of bees are critical first steps. Ordering in advance ensures you’re ready when the beekeeping season begins. Preparation involves assembling your beehive and making necessary arrangements. When installing your bees, check the forecast, use a smoker to calm the bees, and choose between the gradual release or dumping method. Properly introduce the queen, monitor the queen cage, and hang it securely. Regularly inspect the hive to ensure the bees are adjusting well, feed them as needed, and maintain routine hive inspections.

Each step in this process is vital to establishing a healthy and thriving bee colony. For more in-depth information on each topic, continue exploring our resources to become a successful beekeeper.

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