Garden Geekery

Andorian Installation–Package Bees

Ok, so here’s the recap of the installation of my second hive. (Star Trek trivia: Andorians were one of the four founding members of the Federation, as were the Vulcans. Fitting name for a founding member of my bee yard. The bees aren’t blue, unfortunately.)

Box o' Bees

These bees were “package bees.” This is literally a box of bees, not necessarily from the same colony, shipped with a random queen (i.e., also not from the same colony as the rest of the bees). The queen is kept in her own little cage inside the box. Since the bees don’t know her, they’d kill her if she weren’t kept separate. It takes a few days for her pheromones to pervade the colony enough for them to accept her as their own.

Package bees generally come from one of the southern states. They’re shipped in the mail just as you see in the picture: a screened box of buzzing bees. If I’d ordered directly from a supplier, I’m sure I’d have received a frantic call from the post office to “COME PICK UP YOUR BEES NOW” when they arrived. That could have been amusing. As it was, I ordered from a local guy who ordered directly from the supplier.

It was cold and REALLY windy when I picked them up last Friday, so I brought them inside overnight. I had to spray the screen with sugar water a few times to make sure they had enough food until I could install them. Very cool to watch their little tongues slurp up the water from the screen. They do ship with a can of syrup, but there was no way to know if it was empty or not. It was kind of neat to watch them go from a buzzing box when I brought them in, to a quiet clump of sleeping bees in the morning, back to buzzing when it started to warm up again.

It was warmer and less windy the next afternoon, so that’s when I moved them into their new digs. First thing was to put 4 or 5 frames of foundation into the hive. Some people say to spray the foundation with sugar water, too, to encourage the bees to start building comb. Then to the bees.

The box has a small piece of plywood stapled on top, so that had to be pried off. Under that was a big hole with the can of sugar syrup. Had to use pliers to get enough of a grip on the can to lift it up and out of the box.

Syrup can removed

At this point, the bees are really trying to crawl out of the box. You have to bang the box on the ground to get them to fall to the bottom, but that didn’t seem to work great. Good enough, though. Took a bit of time and a few escaped bees to cover the hole with the plywood again. I also had to slide the queen cage out and cover that with the plywood, too.

Queen cage

Now, the queen cage is a little screened box containing just the queen and a couple of her “attendants.” (The queen is marked with a blue dot in the photo.) At one end is a hole plugged with a piece of soft candy. The mass of bees will eat through the candy, eventually releasing the queen from her cage. And while they’re busy doing that, the queen’s pheromones will have had time to disperse, so they hopefully won’t kill her when she’s released. In order to give them a bit of a head start and disperse her pheromones a bit more, you’re supposed to make a hole through the candy with a nail (without sticking the queen in the process). I did this, but stupidly pushed the nail in too far and couldn’t get it back out. So I had to mess around to get another nail to stick in through the side of the cage to push the first nail back out. Yay, me.

Queen cage in frames

Once the cage is ready, I wedged it between two frames in the hive. In the photo, you can see I tried using a nail to make sure the cage didn’t fall down into the hive. I decided that it wasn’t really necessary, and I wasn’t sure if the feeder box would fit on top correctly, so I got rid of the nail. The cage stayed in place just fine.

Dumping the bees

Now it was just a matter of dumping the rest of the bees from the box into the hive. Literally. You bang the box on the ground to get the bees to fall to the bottom, remove the plywood from the hole, and dump them into the hive. It takes a few rounds of banging and dumping, but you eventually get the majority into the hive. For those that are left, you just set the box in front of the hive and hope they eventually smell the queen and move in (which they did). Put the rest of the frames into the hive (without squishing bees), put the feeder and cover on top, and you’re done.

Some interesting things to note: 1) Once you install the package, you’re not supposed to disturb the hive at all for about a week. If you do, the bees might blame the queen for the disturbance and kill her. So I’ve been impatiently waiting to check on them for about a week. Can’t wait to open the hive on Saturday to see if they’ve released the queen.

2) You’re not supposed to use smoke when you install package bees. I haven’t read why, but I’m guessing you don’t want to mask the queen’s pheromones–you want them to get every bit of scent from her they can, so they’ll accept her more quickly. But that’s just a guess. Package bees supposedly aren’t very aggressive, anyway, since they don’t have brood or honey or even their own queen to defend. They were definitely flying crazily all over the place, but I’m not astute enough yet to know whether they were just screaming “Where am I??” or “You there! You must die!” Either way, no stings were had.

3) How do the bees know to go into their hive and not the Vulcan hive 2 feet away, you might ask? I might answer, I have no idea. We did see a couple of fights, with a bee or two from each hive rolling around on the ground trying to sting each other. But only one or two instances. With the package bees not being tied yet to the queen, I really don’t know why they stay together in one hive. But they did, for the most part. Must do some more reading. After about a week of observing the bees flying in and out of the two hives, it does look like there might be a couple of Andorians (the brighter orange Italian bees) that have been assimilated into the Vulcan hive (darker-colored Carniolan bees). Maybe I should have named them the Borg. Or they could just be some brighter-colored Carniolans. No clue. But for the most part, the two hives have stayed separate.

As a bonus, here’s a photo of the Vulcans (my first hive) busily bringing pollen back to the hive!

Bringing back pollen

4 thoughts on “Andorian Installation–Package Bees

  1. Brian

    Here is a suggestion for gloves.

    8mm Latex — Diamond Grip Plus — from Masterman’s 800 525-3313. I bought all my latex gloves from them for years they are good to do business with.

    Benefits of using Latex Gloves around the hives:
    - Easy on/off
    - Keeps hands from getting honey/propolis on them
    - Change when going from one hive to another so don’t transfer anyproblems
    - If you do get a bee sting on your hand, the stinger is removed when you
    remove the glove

    Good luck
    Brian

  2. mobey

    I love your blog! It’s really interesting (and funny) to read and see the process of setting up the hives, since we couldn’t be there. I’m glad I know some
    Star Trek “stuff”, or I’d be confused. :)

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