Tips for Installing New Honeybee Colonies

One of the most exciting steps for any beekeeper is installing a new honeybee colony into their beehive. It can, though, be a worrying time as we consider how best to provide our bees with a new home. 

As with many aspects of beekeeping, planning can go a long way in helping you achieve a successful outcome. Starting off on the right foot from the outset and your beehive installation can help make it a fun and fascinating success.   

Obtaining New Bees

There are 3 main options for beekeepers hoping to bring new bees into their bee yard. No matter which type of bees you choose to purchase, consider sourcing your bees raised locally as they’re acclimated to your local weather conditions. *Be advised – many honeybee suppliers do sell out early (see here for further details), so if you haven’t purchased your bees yet, consider finding a source ASAP!* 

Package Bees

Package bees are typically sold as a 3lb screened-in “box” of honeybees and a mated queen. The queen is generally in a small cage, with attendants, allowing the other bees in the package to become acclimatized to her. Packages are sometimes shipped from suppliers through the mail, but the shipping process can be rough on the bees. PerfectBee recommends finding and collecting packages from a local supplier. Package bees are available in a wide variety of bee species and varying behavior traits.   

Nucleus Colonies

A nucleus colony, often called a “nuc”*, is quite different from a package. A nucleus colony is a box full of 3-5 drawn frames full of resources (some honey, some pollen, and some brood). Importantly, the queen supplied is already accepted by the colony, has already mated, and is laying. In short, a nuc is a fully productive, small colony, with bees in all phases of life, from egg to foraging worker.

“Nucs” are also available in a wide variety of species but are often “mixed genetics” as suppliers breed according to the best traits of previous colonies. Nucleus colonies are often the preferred option for new beekeepers as they are more established from the start and expose the beekeeper to many aspects of bee life, from the outset.  

* The term “nuc” can be a little misleading. It is often used to describe the bees and the box described above. But keep in mind that the physical box (without bees) is also commonly called a “nuc”. Something to keep in mind! 

Catching a Swarm

Honeybee swarms are often thought of as “free bees” and though they technically are that, they aren’t necessarily the best way for a new beekeeper to start. In addition to the difficulty of locating and catching the swarm, a swarm can bring a lot of uncertainty and possibly pests and/or diseases (like varroa mites) into your apiary. You will also have no way of knowing the age or status of the queen, she could still be a virgin who still needs to complete mating flights. But for experienced beekeepers, capturing swarms is a very effective and enjoyable way to obtain bees. 

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Tips for a Stress-Less Beehive Installation

Below are some great ways that you can plan & prepare to make some wonderful memories on the day you install your new honeybee colonies into their beehives and new homes.

  • Get ready ahead of time – Ensure your equipment, tools, and installation instructions (based on the type of bees you are bringing home) are on hand and ready in advance of the installation. Make sure your hive is painted and dried ahead of time and set up your equipment in the chosen hive location before you get there with the bees whenever possible.   
  • Plan for the car ride home – If you’re picking up your nuc or package locally or traveling with a swarm of bees in a box, keep the vehicle properly ventilated to ensure your bees don’t get too warm. Bees can quickly overheat and possibly die without enough cool airflow. On especially long rides, or when the weather is hot, bring a spray bottle with water to help keep them cool and offer a sponge with sugar water. Use a mesh laundry bag or “nuc bag” from your supplier to put around the outside of your nuc colony or package to catch any escaping bees. 
  • Think about the weather – If it’s still cold in your area or will be rainy on the day you bring your bees home, it’s good to have a backup plan in case of inclement weather. If you’re unable to install your bees the day you pick them up, consider keeping them in their nuc or package box, in a well-ventilated garage or shed until the weather gets better (no more than a day or two).   
  • Keep smoking to a minimum – Many beekeepers, especially those new to the hobby, sometimes over-use their smokers. Especially with package bees or a swarm, using too much smoke can stress your bees and mask the scents they rely on to communicate within the colony, a.k.a. pheromones. Keep a lit smoker close by, but instead of heavily smoking your new package or swarm, consider having sugar water on hand instead. Lightly spraying sugar water on top of frames and even on the bees can have a similar calming effect with less hassle and concern for both you and your new bees.  *Important Note: Using smoke with a nuc can be beneficial and have a more calming effect during installation as a nuc has a more established colony to defend and brood and resources to protect.  
  • Let them get acclimated – Keep your package or nuc next to their new hive (in their shipping box or nuc box) for at least 20-30 minutes prior to completing the installation, so they become acclimated to their hive location.  
  • Water Source – Having a water source nearby before installing your bees allows them to locate & use it quickly, instead of your neighbor’s pool!  

After Installation

No matter the type of bees you end up choosing (or hope to catch), there are a few ways to help ensure the health and success of that colony going forward, starting the first day in your bee yard:   

  • Testing & Treating for Varroa Mites – Even if you purchase bees from a trusted supplier that treated them recently, it’s a good idea to test for varroa mites soon after installation. Sugar roll testing can be done within a week post-installation since the bee population is still small. If mites are found, then treatment is needed. In packages and swarms, you can take advantage of the broodless period to apply an oxalic acid treatment (dribble method or vaporization). 
  • Supplemental feeding – Many nucs and packages will be installed before ample nectar and pollen sources are available in the local environment. Consider supplemental feeding with 1:1 sugar syrup to help them build wax easier and/or pollen patties to stimulate brood rearing.   
  • Recordkeeping & Photos/Videos – From the first day you bring new bees home, it’s great to get in the habit of taking your camera and beekeeping logbook with you to each inspection, to make note of what’s happening and have photos/videos to review things later.   
  • Plan for Upcoming Inspections & Potential Treatments – Newly established colonies should be inspected often (roughly every 1-2 weeks) after bringing them home. Use our PerfectBee Contributor Marta’s amazing beehive inspection checklist to help with this, too!   

Learn More

PerfectBee has you covered with many excellent resources on sourcing and installing your new beehives:

Colony members can learn more through these member-only Academy lessons:

Not yet a Colony member? Want to learn more about accessing our PerfectBee Academy Syllabus, Colony Forum to connect with other members, monthly live Cluster meetings, and much, much more? Check out our Colony page here.