After getting all set up with our hives a few months ago, this past weekend, it was finally time to get some bees in the hives! This post will, in detail, outline how to hive bees.
This was a magical moment for me. I've dreamed of having bees for years and years and when dreams like that culminate into these moments, it can be overwhelming (in the best way possible).
Thankfully, our local beekeeping group knows just how overwhelming these “firsts” can be, particularly with beekeeping. In order to facilitate us “new-bees” they not only coordinated a giant group order and pickup for our bees, but also were willing to give us a hiving demonstration.
Thank you, sweet Jesus.
What followed was extremely easy, though I wouldn't have know how to do it without these simple instructions from the bee supplier. And thus. Here I am. Sharing them with you!
Truth be told, after hiving our two boxes of bees, I wished we'd purchased even more hives! Like most beekeepers, I've really come to enjoy their company and their presence on the farm. I want more to play with!
Yes. Play with bees. I know that sounds weird…
PS: If you ever get stung by a honey bee (which does happen), make sure to always have this stash of oils on hand. It's the very best combination for bee stings to reduce the reaction, pain, and swelling.
How To Hive Bees
Let's suit up, shall we?
1. Acquire a box of bees.
Oh. What's that? You already did that? Perfect. We decided to start our hives with three pound packages of bees. Each three pound package, or box, has one queen. See that can on the top? That's full of sugar syrup and is feeding the bees while they are ‘hiveless.'
And see that teeny little metal clip to the right of the can? That's the clip that's keeping the queen attached to the box. She's a teeny-weeny little cage of her own, inside the big cage. This is to keep her safe while the workers and drones get used to her pheromones. In a few day time, they come to ‘accept' the queen, but until then, she remains in the separate box.
2. Prepare your hive.
Is it all ready for your bees? You don't want to give them too much space at first – it's important that they build it up, one box at a time. We started our hives with one box, filled with 10 frames – each of which holds a foundation (Here's a great example of the set up).
First we selected a well-protected and sunny spot that we can access easily and keep an eye on without much fuss. This spot is down by our barn, facing South for good sun exposure. It's about 350 yards from the house and in an area we don't mess with often. We can easily check it from the barn, where we are at least twice a day for milking. It's also surrounded by sage, which should help with the horrible winds we get up here:
Then, we set our bottom board up on some cinder blocks to encourage good circulation around the hive and to ensure it's slightly safer from vermin, water, etc.
Here's the hives set up, with their top boards and lids. And my husbands backside. Ahem. *Blushing* He's hot, I can't help myself:
3. Now that you have your box and ready hive, let's hive those bees!
The first step is to gently spray the bees, through the box, with a 1:1 sugar syrup (one part sugar to one part water). No need to drown the bees, just a light misting. (See the bottom of the post for more directions of making sugar syrup.)
4. Slam the box of bees down on the ground 3-4 times, until the (now sticky) bees fall down to the bottom of the box.
5. Pry the tin, sugar-syrup filled can out of the box.
6. Remove the queen, still in her cage, and set her aside.
A pocket is a great place to keep her for the time being.
7. Prepare the frames.
Remove the lid from your hive. Remove 3 frames, so there are just 7 remaining. If you don't remove the frames before dumping the bees in, they'll have no where to go and will instead just pile on top of the frames – so don't skip this step!
8. Dump the bees into the hive.
Dump and shake the bees into the hive through the open hole that the removed can left (you'll have to be pretty aggressive). They'll all fall to the bottom in a giant pile. Don't worry. That's what they're supposed to do! Continue to shake the bee box until you get as many bees out as possible.
9. Gently put the removed 3 frames back into the box.
The bees with slowly move out of your way. So now you should have one box with it's ten frames back in. With the bees inside.
10. Prepare the queen.
Now, let's turn our attention back to that queen that's in your pocket. You'll notice in her little cage, she most likely has a small hole that's been plugged with a cork. Using a screwdriver or knife, gently pry the cork out. Quickly put your finger over the hole so she can't climb out. Then, carefully, stuff the hole in the queen's cage with one, mini-marshmallow.
I know—that seems really weird. But in the time it takes for the bees to eat through that marshmallow, they will have had time to acclimate and ‘accept' the queen and she will sort of ‘self-release' herself from the cage in a few days time. Some people prefer to manually release the queen 2-3 days after hiving them, but we decided to let them enjoy a marshmallow instead.
11. Arrange the queen.
Now that the queen has her marshmallow, gently wedge her cage in between two frames. Make sure the hole is facing in a direction that she can climb out of once the marshmallow is eaten, like so:
Notice that the screen part of her cage is also facing inward towards the hive where the other bees can easily smell her pheromones. They're already checking her out! Gentlemen, gentlemen, give the lady a few days, will ya?!
So here we are—one hive box, ten frames with foundation, three pounds of bees dumped inside, one queen in a cage that's plugged with a marshmallow that she will eat out of in 2-3 days time. Right? Are we good? Everyone with me still?
12. Set sugar syrup.
The last step in hiving the bees is giving them some sugar syrup to drink while they build their comb. Because they don't have comb yet, they don't have a way to store any food. Because of this, it's important to supplement them until they have time to build up their hive, store food, raise new bees, etc.
What's that? You don't know how to make sugar syrup? AND you don't have a bee feeder? Fear not, my dear friends. That's why I'm here. Because I didn't either until last weekend.
Homemade Sugar Syrup
You will need:
– Filtered water
1. Combine equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat up until the sugar completely dissolves. Allow to cool to room temperature before using.
2. While the syrup cools, let's make some feeders! All that's required is three small nail holes in a mason jar lid. I used the hammer to pound the tip of the nail through, like so:
3. Pour the cooled syrup into the jar and assemble.
To attach the feeder to the hive, we simply flipped the mason jar upside down – the syrup won't leak out of the holes but the bees can access it – on our telescope cover (this sits on the top of the box under the lid). An empty box around the feeder helped to protect it from tipping over.
See the hole that's in that cover? The bees can access it from the inside of the hive, making it a perfect drinking hole.
The jar goes on, with the top facing downward into the hive:
And an empty box frame around it to protect it from tipping over in the wind:
13. Close the hive.
Lastly, the lid goes back on the top to protect the whole contraption. And obviously, those three bees in the photo above don't realize they're trying to drink from the wrong end of the jar.
I know it seems like a lot of steps but even though this was our very first time hiving bees, it only took us about ten minutes (TOTAL!) to do everything I listed above. And that was for two hives.
My intimidation of the process quickly gave way to the incredible awestruck feeling of getting to see the bees automatically begin to work and make their home in the hives. After checking them about four days later, we were happy to find that the queen was out of her box and comb was already being drawn. We'll check the bees again in a few days (about a week after hiving) to see if any eggs have been laid by the queen yet.
I'm crossing my fingers she's gotten down to business already!
The more I learn and work with these creatures, the more I am truly baffled by their incredible work ethic, knowledge, and stamina.
I see many, many, many more years of beekeeping in our future. And that's something to look forward to!
Happy hiving, my friends!