By Romie Holl, Wisconsin
For new beekeepers, knowing basic beehive setup, and how to prepare for the queen honey bee, are important for a hive’s success.
There is a decision to be made when starting beekeeping and ordering bees: do you want the two-pound or three-pound hive? You will only get one queen, but how many worker bees do you need right off the bat? That depends on your hive in your honey bee farming project.
If you are starting a new hive (one with no comb on the frames), you will want the three-pound hive. If your hive has comb on the frames, then the two-pound one is fine, unless the comb needs to be rebuilt and you want to get more workers.
When you get the queen honey bee, she is ready to start laying eggs. But she is unable to do so until the comb is built. The more worker bees you have, the faster it can be built. Since worker bees live an average of 21 days, you want the queen to start laying ASAP, and queens live roughly four to five years.
After buying bees, you have to decide where you want to put them. Having the front of the hive face south (or southeast) is the best, because the early morning sun will get the bees out of the hive faster. You will also want five to six feet in front of the hive so they can fly in easier. They can make do with less room, but seem to be happier with this amount of space.
When you place the hive, do not put it on the ground for a few reasons. One is comfort. It is easier to work on the hive when it is roughly waist high. But the more important reason is because of mites that attach themselves to bees when they are out collecting pollen. You will want the bottom of the hive at least six inches off the ground. Your landing board should have a screen built into it. When mites fall off the bees, you want them to fall to the ground. If you have a solid bottom, they can attach a ride with the next bee that walks past them. Some commercial hives also have a drawer on the bottom with sticky paper so you can see the amount of mites that fall. If you have more than one hive, keep three to five feet between them. This makes it easier to work on the hives as the year goes on.
Readying the Queen Honey Bee’s Residence
Once you have the stand and landing board down, I always add a queen excluder. These can be made from plastic, wood or metal depending on your choice. Because the queen honey bee is a lot bigger than the worker bees, this will stop the queen from escaping the hive and taking the bees with her. (I learned the hard way one year.)
On top of the excluder goes the “living quarters” of the queen. You will have to decide if you want an eight-frame or a 10-frame box and then use that size box for that hive. There are three sizes of honey bee boxes for both the eight- and 10-frame: Shallows are 5.75-inches tall; mediums are 6.625-inches tall; and supers are 9.625-inches tall. Normally you will use two “supers” for the living quarters for the queen honey bee.
On the top box, leave one frame out of the box for now (so, only nine in the 10-frame or seven in the eight-frame). You will be using this space later when you install the queen honey bee. After the queen is installed, you will put the missing frame in the box. Put the top on the box and you are ready for when the bees come.
Picking Up Your Bees
Bees are shipped on skids, 120 hives per skid. When you pick up the bees, they will cut the connecting wood between the hives to separate them from the other hives on the skid. Some bee sellers will ask you if you need a mini marshmallow for the bees, same as what is used in hot chocolate. If you don’t have any or don’t want to buy any, you will get one for each hive you are bringing home.
On top of the hive there is a metal can and you will see a strip of metal in a slot. The can is where the food, the sugar water, is kept for the bees. The metal strip is attached to the queen honey bee’s box inside the hive. When you transport the hive home, make sure the hive stays vertical so the sugar water doesn’t leak out of the little holes on the bottom.
When the Bees Get Home
After getting home, I use welding gloves and my bee suit to protect myself and I am ready to install the bees into their new home. Before pulling the metal can out of the wood box, make sure you grab the metal strip securely using a vice grip. You don’t want to accidently drop it into the hive box and have to fish it out surrounded by the bees.
Using a screwdriver, pry out the edge of the metal can until you can grip it. What you want to do is pull the can out, while sliding the metal strip to the hole and pulling out the queen box. Then replace the metal can until the queen is installed, keeping as many worker bees in the hive box as possible. A few bees will escape, but it is easier to work on the queen’s box if you limit the amount.
What holds the queen honey bee in her box is a cork on the bottom. You will remove the cork (I use an ice pick) and put that mini marshmallow where the cork was.
After bending that metal strap that is attached to the queen’s box into a hook, you will hang the queen’s box in the hive over a frame. Remove the can from the hive box and set it to the side. Flip the box over so the opening is on the bottom and shake the box to make the bees fall out and cover the queen. I place the near empty box on the ground next to the hive so the stragglers can find their way to the queen.
Put the inner cover on top of the bees (this is a board with a hole in the middle for feeding the bees). The can might be almost empty from the trip. Place the feeding can on the hole and go make food for the hive. I use canning jars to feed the bees for the first two weeks. This allows me to see from a distance how they are eating and when I need to feed them again. I drill 1/64-inch holes in the lid. This will allow the bees to suck the food out of the can, but it will not drip out when the jar is vertical.
Fill the can one-third full with sugar and the rest with warm (not hot) water. Walking back to the hive, I shake it to thoroughly mix it.
Back at the Hive
When back at the hive, remove the can and set it off to the side so the bees can get to it. Remove the inner cover. By this time, the bees will be all over the hive and not on top. I place a second queen excluder here. This will keep the queen honey bee from laying eggs in the honey boxes later. Replace the inner cover and put on the jars of sugar water over the opening, with the holes down, so the bees can get to it.
By the time it takes the worker bees to chew through the marshmallow (about a day) to release the queen honey bee, the hive will smell like home and the queen should be happy and start laying eggs if the hive has comb already.
In two days, go back to the hive and remove the queen’s box and put in the frame that you had set aside earlier. Put the inner cover and feeder back. Now you are done for about a week when you either remove the canning jars of sugar water and install one of the several types of feeder (frame, top, or others) or replace the canning jar with a full one every week or so, depending on how fast they eat the food.
In Six Weeks
In about six weeks, you will remove the feeder you are using, add the first honey box to the hive and put the feeder on top. The size of honey box you use will depend on how much you want to lift later.
A “super” will weigh 70 pounds when full of honey. A “medium” will weigh 50 pounds when full. And a “shallow” will weigh 30 pounds when full. So while the bigger boxes mean less work in adding new boxes or removing the honey less often as the year goes on, they are heavier than the others. (The weights are based off a 10-frame box.) The bees are in their hive, and the temporary feeders are in place.
What have your experiences been, when installing the queen honey bee and setting up a new hive? Let us know in the comments.
Originally published in Countryside May/June 2016 and regularly vetted for accuracy.