In my last beekeeping post, I explained all the parts of the beehive, how to set it up, and how to purchase your bees. Today, I’m going to talk about the role of the queen in the hive, how to install your new bees into their hive, and how to collect your honey.
The Role of the Queen Bee
Your hive’s queen will be spending her time in the brood chambers where the young worker bees will groom her and feed her while she goes about the essential business of laying somewhere around 3,000 eggs each day. The presence of a healthy queen generally keeps the workers from laying eggs and keeps the rest of your hive happy and productive. Without a healthy queen, the rest of your colony will become aggressive, noisy, and generally upset. Thankfully, the queen that comes with your nuc will be young and healthy. She will keep your hive happy for anywhere from 2-5 years.
How to Install Your Bees in Their New Hive
When your package of bees arrives, they will be accompanied by directions for installing them in the new hive. Follow the instructions exactly, and you’ll be all set. We’ll go over the general procedure here, too just so you know what to expect. The queen will be caged separately with a few of her workers, and they will all be enclosed in a box made of screen and wood.
I find it works best to make the transfer very late in the evening, just before dark, because the worker bees will want to stay close to the hive at that time. Before you get started, you should give your new bees a generous feeding of syrup made from two parts of sugar and one part water. Smear the syrup generously all over the screen on the inside of the box and let the bees gorge themselves. They’ll be lazy and docile with full tummies.
When you are ready to release your bees, you will need to leave the bottom super empty of frames. First, you will need to lift out the queen bee’s cage. You will be installing her separately in a moment. Place your package of bees inside the empty super (it’s been designed to fit perfectly) with the open side facing up, and then place the second super full of frames on top of it.
Now remove the paper tab from the queens’ cage to expose a hole that’s plugged closed with bee candy. Punch a few holes in the bee candy stopper with a small nail and then hang her entire cage in between the frames in the super. The workers will eat their way through the plug to release the queen. Put the rest of your hive parts on top as described in the previous post.
Since the bees haven’t produced any honey to eat yet, you will need to provide them with syrup. Take the feeder that was shipped with your bees and fill it with the same syrup mixture described above. Place the can over the opening in the hive’s honey super and refill it daily for the next four days.
That’s it! Other than filling the syrup, leave them alone for the next four days. In four days you can open up the hive briefly to remove the shipping cage and the queen’s cage, inspect the colony, and add the frames back into the bottom super. I use a bee smoker to calm the bees any time I need to open the hive, but some beekeepers don’t. It’s entirely up to you.
I inspect new hives once a week for the first month and then every 3 weeks after that. Checking the hive regularly helps you learn what’s normal and what’s not. You will also need to add supers as the storage cells fill up in the brood chambers and honey supers to keep your bees from becoming overcrowding and swarming.
If you are installing your bees in early spring when pollen is still scarce, you will need to give them a supplemental feeding of syrup for the first few weeks to help them get established and encourage the queen to start laying eggs. I continue the supplemental feeding until they stop consuming the food. That’s the best way to know that they are finding food on their own and don’t need the supplement anymore. In the future, you should reserve some of the hive’s own honey to offer as supplemental food in the early spring.
Harvesting Your Honey
When your honey super is full, you can pull it off to harvest the honey and replace it with an empty one, or just stack another one on top and collect all of your honey at the end of the season. If you want to, you can just cut the comb into chunks and enjoy it, comb and all.
I like to use a honey extractor to extract the liquid honey. A honey extractor will spin the frames very fast to remove the honey from the comb. You will need to use a knife to cut the beeswax caps off the cells before inserting them into the extractor. After the honey has been collected, I like to filter it through cheesecloth before storing it in jars. Extractors can be expensive, so it’s a good idea to try to find one second-hand when you’re just getting started. I actually found mine on eBay. I also save the beeswax for making candles.
Why Bees Swarm
Bees swarm when they outgrow their hive or if it’s too hot inside. If you are paying attention, you will notice them clustering around the outside of their hive when they are getting ready to swarm. To prevent your bees from swarming, make sure to add empty supers as needed. Be sure to place the hive somewhere with shade in the afternoon, too. If your hive does split up and swarm, often you can locate them gathering on a nearby branch and shake them into an empty super to establish a new hive.
Keeping honeybees is a gratifying hobby that can be turned into an excellent source of extra income on the homestead. You will need to make an investment to get started, but once they get going, they are very low maintenance and inexpensive to keep.