Starting a new honey bee hive?
A new honey bee hive needs to be set up and started properly so that the hive stays healthy.
One of the hardest parts about beekeeping is putting freshly arrived honey bees into a new bee hive. If you’ve never handled bees before, it can be nerve-wracking and exhilarating all at the same time.
Before you order bees, make sure that you’ve already either gotten the bee hive equipment that you’ll need or if you don’t have it yet, that it arrives a few days before your bees will.
You’ll want to have plenty of time to get the hive situated and ready before the bees come.
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Setting up equipment for your new honey bee hive
As I mentioned above, you’ll want to make sure that your equipment is set up and ready to go before your bees arrive. The day that the bees arrive, you don’t want to worry about anything except getting them into the new hive.
Choose a location that is away from foot traffic but easy for you to access. You’ll be moving equipment back and forth with you.
The second year, you’ll also be moving honey and you don’t want to have to carry it over tough terrain.
Our honey bee hive is located about half an acre from our house down a farm road. It’s close enough that we can easily check it, but it’s far enough away that we don’t worry about disturbing it frequently.
Make sure that the ground under the hive is level. Level it if you need too. Raise the hive off of the ground using a hive stand. This will keep the hive from getting damp.
If your hive needs to be assembled, go ahead and do that. You’ll want to paint any pieces that could potentially get hit with rain if the hive is unpainted.
Don’t paint the inside of the hive box.
Bees want the inside of the hive to smell like bees, not paint. Paint could also be toxic to them.
Assemble your new honey bee hive from the ground up. Place the hive stand first, making sure that it is level and sturdy. Put the bottom board down.
Next, put one brood box on top of the bottom board. Slide the entrance reducer between the brood box and bottom board, making sure that the smaller entrance hole is the one facing out.
Hang the frames from the brood box and add the inner cover and top cover.
Do not put another brood box or honey box on the hive yet. The hive population needs to build up and fill in the hive before you start adding boxes. You want the bees to be able to guard and protect the new honey bee hive. They can’t guard it properly if there aren’t enough bees to cover the entire space.
What you’ll need the day your new honey bees arrive
There are a few key things that you’ll want on hand the day that your honey bees arrive. Make sure that you have all of these, just in case. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it, right?
Here’s a Quick List of What You’ll Need:
- Organic cane sugar for making sugar water
- A spray bottle
- Hive tool
- Beekeeping suit
- Top feeder with sugar water or bee feeding liquid
- Bee brush
Sugar Water and Spray Bottle
You will want sugar water to mist the bees and the inside of the new honey bee hive. The sugar water prevents the honey bees from flying. Spraying the inside of the hive encourages the bees to explore the new honey bee hive.
It’s a good idea to provide them with a supply of sugar water to start building the comb with. They don’t have to leave the hive to start building comb if they’ve got sugar water inside of the hive. Mix sugar water in a 1:1 ratio using organic cane sugar and warm water.
I know, you’re probably thinking I’m crazy. Hear me out on this one.
The queen will arrive in her own cage within the box of bees. There will be a cork that you have to pull to open her cage up. When you pull the cork out, you’ll see either a hole and the queen or sugar candy.
If you see sugar candy, you won’t need the marshmallow. If there isn’t candy blocking the queen, you’ll need to stick a marshmallow in the hole. Honey bees need to eat through the candy or marshmallow to release the queen.
You can check with your honey bee supplier before your bees arrive and see if you’ll need marshmallow or not.
Your honey bees will arrive in a shipping crate.
The crate will have wooden sides and metal screening. The metal screening is stapled to the wooden sides. You will need the hive tool to pry the crate open. You may also need it to pry the cork out of the queen’s box.
The first time that you handle your bees, you’ll be nervous. Having a bee suit will help to protect you and make you less nervous. Make sure that you’ve got a complete suit with gloves and a veil to protect your face and hands.
This is optional depending on who you ask.
Honey bees will fly off and start locating nectar and pollen almost as soon as they arrive in the new honey bee hive. However, I think it’s crucial to provide a feeder within the hive with sugar water.
The honey bees won’t have to travel far to get what they need to start building the comb. The queen needs comb to lay eggs in, which needs to happen fairly quickly to build your hive up.
A top feeder can be put directly into the new honey bee hive.
This soft bristled brush can be used to move bees into the hive from the crate if needed.
The Bee Package
Plan ahead for the day that your bees come. You may have to pick them up at your local post office. You may get lucky and have them come directly to your house.
The shipping crate is wooden and metal screening. You can easily pick the crate up by grasping the wooden sides.
There may be a few dead bees at the bottom of the crate and that’s ok. If you see that a large number of the bees are dead you can call the supplier that you purchased them from. A few dead is normal though.
There may also be one or two stray bees that are on the outside of the crate. Don’t worry, they didn’t escape the crate.
When the bees were boxed up, these one or two bees didn’t make it into the box with their hive. They will travel with the crate the entire way and hold on to the outside of the shipping crate to stay with their hive.
When the bees arrive, put them into a cool dark room until they can be put into the hive.
You can spray them lightly with sugar water to give them some nourishment until you can get them into the hive.
Putting your bees into the new honey bee hive
You’ll want to put the bees into the new honey bee hive at dusk. This gives them time to get used to the hive before they start working the next day. Have all of your equipment ready to go the day that you put them into the hive.
Remove the top and inner cover of the hive.
Spray the frames and inside of the brooder box with sugar water.
If you want to put a feeder in, remove one or two frames and put the feeder in. Fill it up with sugar water.
Once you’ve sprayed the hive down, spray the bees lightly with sugar water while they are in the crate.
Use your hive tool and pry open the crate over the hive. When it’s open, give it a firm shake over the hive to get the majority of the bees out. You can shake it again or use your bee brush to remove the bees and get them into the hive.
Putting the queen into the new honey bee hive
The queen will come in her own box.
The small queen box will have a cork that needs to come off. Use the hive tool to remove the cork.
Check and see if there is candy between her and the exit. If there isn’t candy, insert a marshmallow so that the worker bees can eat through it to release her.
The queen cage can go into the brooder box once the worker bees have been put in there. Put the queen cage between two frames, near the center of the brood box. The screen side of the queen cage should face up.
The worker bees will start trying to get her out. They should have her released within a few days.
Now that the queen is in, the hard part is over with! You can check in a few days and make sure that the queen gotten out of the cage. If she’s out, remove the queen cage from the brooder box.
Starting Your New Honey Bee Hive
The hardest part about starting a new honey bee hive is getting the bees into it. Once the bees are in the hive, they do all of the hard work. You’ll want to check it from time to time and make sure that they are thriving.
If you put a feeder in the hive, make sure that it keeps sugar water in it. A top feeder, like the ones shown in the picture, takes up space in the box that would normally hold frames. If you remove the feeder, put frames into the hive where the feeder was.
A week after you put the bees into the new honey bee hive, inspect it. Open the hive up and gently pull out frames. The bees should be making good progress on comb building. You may even notice a few areas where they have already put some honey away.
Two weeks after you put the bees into the hive, check it again.
The queen should be laying by now. Check the combs around the middle of the frames. Eggs are hard to see sometimes because of how small they are.
It’s a good idea to snap some pictures and then look at the pictures close up when looking for eggs.
Eggs are a good sign that your hive is starting to grow. From this point, monitor the hive and add another brooder box and honey boxes as the hive grows.
A brief recap-
The day your bees arrive, make sure that you have
Spray down the inside of the hive and the bees with sugar water.
Fill the feeder and put it into the hive. Open the crate and put the worker bees into the hive first.
Remove the queen cage and uncork the candy end. Put a marshmallow in the hole if needed.
Place the queen cage in between two frames, screen side up.
Check in a few days to make sure she got out and remove the cage.
Check one week later for comb production and another week later for eggs.
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Start your honey bee hive the right way.
Set the hive up in a good location and have it set up before the bees arrive. Make sure that all pieces that will be in the weather are painted well before the bees are put in so the parts have time to air out.
When the bees arrive, gently put the workers into the hive and put the queen cage between two frames. Remove the cap and check for candy. If there isn’t candy, put a marshmallow in the hole.
Check the bees weekly to make sure that the bees are producing comb and honey. Also check for the queen and make sure that she is starting to lay.
Do you have questions about starting a honey bee hive? Let me know below!