The First Few Days of a Hive

Our “Newbee Questions, Expert Answers” series, takes the questions of a curious, fascinated, worried, perplexed and sometimes downright confused “newbee” and provides expert responses.

In this edition…

We have our package of bees installed. Nerves are a-jingling – so what happens over the next week?

Mark: I have installed my package bees and I’m excited. What type of feeder should I use?

Ron: There are many types of feeders and each one has its good points and its flaws.  Boardman feeders fit on the outside of the hive and can cause robbing.  They may not be the best approach for a new package of bees. In-hive feeders are a good way feed and avoid robbing.  They hold more than a standard Boardman feeder and there is little chance of robbing.

Three main types of feeders allow individuals to choose what fits them best.

  • The hive top feeder is nice because you don’t have to open up the hive.  Just remove the telescoping cover and you can check the level or add feed and, like everything in beekeeping, there are a number of versions of hive top feeders.
  • Another type of feeder is the frame feeder.  It fits in the hive in place of a frame and holds about a gallon of feed.  You will need to open up the hive to add more feed.
  • Both of the above mentioned feeders are for Langstroth hives.  Versions of the Boardman feeder have been adapted for use inside the hive and can also be used in a Top Bar hive.

Keep in mind the jars used in a Boardman style feeders and some In-Hive feeders work on the basis of a vacuum.  Be sure to invert the jar outside the hive where it will leak a bit until the vacuum takes over, then in stall in the hive.  These feeders can be quite useful but they are prone to some level of leakage as barometric pressure and temperatures fluctuate.

Mark: How do I make the sugar syrup?

Ron: Measure equal parts of sugar and water by volume.  A quart jar for example would be filled with 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water.  Use hot tap water to mix.  Do not using boiling water as it can cause the sugar to caramelize and this causes the formation of hydroxymethylfurfural which is toxic to bees and will result in a high level of mortality.

I might also add that you should NOT use organic sugar when feeding bees (or raw or brown sugar).  The interest in “natural” beekeeping, a subject we will have to talk about someday in detail, has some folks using organic sugar to feed their bees.  While it would seem to make sense, organic sugar is not refined the same as granulated white sugar and contains molasses.  Molasses can cause dysentery and make your bees sick.

White, granulated cane sugar is the way to go.  (Beat sugar often comes from GMO sugar beats.)

Mark: How quickly will they consume the sugar syrup?

Ron:  Package bees come with no food stores and will rely on the sugar syrup you provide until they can find a local source of nectar.  Consequently they can drain a quart jar of feed in just a few hours.  Once a nectar source is located they will usually quit taking the sugar water.  A quick check of your local vegetation will tell you if they have a food source available to them or not.

Mark: Do I need to use an entrance reducer?

Ron:  Definitely.  Ten thousand or so bees may seem like a lot, but its not enough to protect the hive if the entrance is wide open.  Give them the smallest opening to defend while they ramp up numbers, which is going to take some time.

Comb needs to be built before the queen has a place to lay eggs and the first new workers wont hatch for another 20 days or so.  Add in the days it takes for the queen to be released from her cage and you begin to approach a month before new bees begin appearing in the hive.

Mark: How long should I wait before looking inside the hive?

Ron: Like many things in beekeeping, throw this question out to a crowd and you will get a multitude of answers, in this case, anywhere from 1 to 10 days.  So lets think about this a bit.

Sometimes disturbances can be associated with the new queen and the bees will kill her.  So its really a question of how much you are willing to risk.  If you lose the queen you are going to head down a very long road just to get the hive back to where you started when you installed the package.  If you lose the queen you must order a new one, wait for her arrival and once again install her in the queen cage, wait for her release and hope she is accepted.  In the mean time the bees that came with the package are dying.

Bees only live five to six weeks during the summer season and the bees that produce wax for comb are usually the young bees in the range of 12 to 15 days old.  By the time you get a new queen installed, accepted and new bees raised from her eggs, the bees that came with the package are going to be dwindling rapidly.  If you live in a mild climate with a long season this might not be a big deal.  If you live where the season is short it can make the difference between having enough stores for winter or not.

Therefore I tend to play it on the safe side and usually don’t check to see if the queen has been released for 4 to 5 days.

Mark: How close does a water source need to be and how much should I leave?

Ron: Its nice to have it just outside the area occupied by your hives, say 25 to 50 feet away.  The further away the harder they will have to work to get what they need, plus, if your in town you want them staying on your property and not visiting the neighbors kiddy pool. So locating the source of water nearby can be important.

This year I started a new apiary on some friends property and set up a 30 gallon tank that slowly drips onto a slanted wooden board.  The bees love it and I drew them there to quickly find it by placing a partial frame of honey from one of my hives right next to the water source.  They quickly found the honey and the water as well.