Preparing for your bees before they arrive will make things go much smoother on bee installation day. Having all necessary beekeeping equipment, tools, bee colony feed, protective gear ready as well as the beehive site already setup with hive setup greatly speeds up installation and reduces stress on the bees and the beekeeper alike.
Picking a Beehive Site
First, you should have your hive site picked out and already fully prepared before the package bees or 5 frame bee nucs arrive. Ideally, the hive location should be in full sun facing east or southeast with a stable base capable of holding roughly 300 pounds (hives can become extremely heavy when filled with honey). Most beekeepers like about a 12” base height to get the hive off of the ground, while not making it too tall to inspect as you add boxes. A base can be hive stands, cinder blocks, etc. as long as it is stable and can hold the weight. Having said that, we do run some beehive sites in shade, on the ground and facing west due to specific site locations and they do fine – but it is not ideal for the bees or the beekeepers.
Beekeeping Equipment Hive Setup Prep Work
Get your beekeeping hive equipment assembled, painted and aired out prior to the bees arriving. Since the bees are able to detect odd smells it is good to have these steps completed a week or more before the bee package or nuc is installed. This way there is less chance of the bees absconding due to them not liking the smell of your hive parts (absconding is when the entire colony leaves). This also holds true for any cleaning processes you have performed on the beekeeping equipment so be sure there are no residual smells lingering in the boxes, on tools or on protective clothing.
Preferred Setup for a New Hive
The preferred setup of a starter hive is a bottom board, one deep box (also called a brood box), an inner cover and a top cover. A feeder of some kind is also strongly recommended. Start with just one deep box and put the other boxes you may have in storage for a bit. Starting with just one box gets the bees to focus on building out just that box with comb, therefore speeding up frame build up. Once this box has bee activity / build out on 80% of the frames you can add another deep box – see [Hive Inspections] for information on adding additional deep and medium (also called honey supers) boxes. The bottom board has an entrance reducer with it to control the flow of bees in and out of the hive. Install this on the smallest opening – this will allow bees in and out while making the entrance small enough that the guard bees can protect it easily. If the bottom is wide open they can stress over guarding the entire area and other critters such as wasps, hornets, other bees, etc. are more likely to sneak in to rob the hive.
[picture of completed hive with small entrance reducer]
New Bee Colony Feeding Suggestions
When there aren’t a lot of resources available (nectar/pollen) for the bees to forage on they will benefit from supplemental bee colony feeding. This is true in spring before fruit trees/flowers start to bloom as well as late fall. Each beehive site is different. Your new bees will also benefit from feed within the hive as they can build out wax and feed baby bees in any type of weather, thereby being productive even when they can’t leave the hive to forage due to rain/cold/etc. A bee colony with insufficient nutrition resources will stall.
We feed sugar syrup 1:1 ratio as well as a pollen patty when starting a new colony. An easy way to measure the sugar syrup is to pour a small bag of sugar (4lb) into an empty 1 gallon milk jug, then fill it with water and shake it up. The sugar syrup feeds the adult bees and helps promote wax building for the frames. Sugar syrup can be fed in frame feeders, top feeders, pail feeders, boardman feeders which sit at the entrance, etc. You can review the feeder options online or on our website shop. We use mostly frame feeders/top feeders, but they all have their advantages/disadvantages.
Pollen is used to make “bee bread” which is used to feed baby bees. If there isn’t sufficient pollen, the colony will not produce brood as they can’t feed the baby bees. A pollen patty just sits on top of the frames (leave the wax paper on as the wax paper keeps the patty from drying out and the bees will eat through it).
There are additional supplements that can be added to the sugar syrup and these additives will enhance the feeding characteristics of sugar syrup and high fructose liquid feeds. Lemongrass is a common scent in the additives as the bees are attracted to this smell as well as the nutrition aspects of the additives including amino acids and other beneficial components. The additives also tend to stabilize the sugar surup and give it a longer shelf life in the hive feeder before fermentation sets in. Some additives can be combined to give a synergistic effect! Some popular additives are pro health, honey-b-healthy, amino-b booster and more. Each of the additives is different so consult the exact specifications for each before mixing.
NOTE that you should remove feed if the bees aren’t consuming them (typically means they found better resources in nature). You also need to make sure to remove any syrup feed when adding medium boxes/honey supers as you do not want sugar syrup in the honey you will be collecting. Whichever feeder you choose, have it filled and installed/ready when the bees are installed.
[picture of syrup / pollen patty installed]
You will want to have your hive tool, smoker and protective gear ready for use when installing the bees so be sure you have them out and ready to use.