Wednesday, June 4, 2014

How do I install a package into a TBH?

I wish I had photos of the package install I did last Saturday. Unfortunately, my husband is allergic to bees, so I packed him off as soon as I started opening boxes. However, lots of people have described this process (and everyone has a slightly different method), so I figured I'd just compile a few videos/links to instructions here and let you figure out what works for you.


Demonstration by Christy Hemenway

Christy Hemenway's video on how to install a package cracks me up because there are no bees in the demonstration. As a result, installation seems like a cake walk. In truth, although installations isn't difficult, it's just not traipse over cloud nine that she makes it seem. In reality, there is the uncontrolled and uncontrollable chaos of thousands of buzzing bees trying to to escape, whirring through the air, clambering up the sides of the hive... You get the picture. However, it's still a good demo, and she clearly describes the process.

One thing I might do differently from Christy is hanging the cage. Different folks have different preferences for which direction the candy plug should point. Some people hang it pointing up, some people hang it pointing down... I would go with horizontal. It seems to me that if someone should go wrong with the plug, it's easier for the queen to get out/not be drowned in dissolved candy, etc.

Demonstration by Wyatt Mangum

I love Wyatt Mangums book on TBHs, and he has detailed instructions in the book, I believe. However, if you don't want to purchase the book, he also has a video on YouTube demonstrating how he does it. Unfortunately, he doesn't show how to open the package, but he does show everything else.

You'll notice in Mangum's video that he uses flat bars. Each bar has a piece of foundation attached to it. These attachments serve as guides so that the bees build straight comb.

When I installed my packages, I didn't use any foundation since my bars are wedge-shaped. Instead, I rubbed beeswax on the wedges. I also had 1 flat bar. On it, I attached a piece of comb and hung the queen cage.

Alternative Method: Place Queen Cage on Floor of Hive

In these instructions, Dean the Beekeeper tells how you can avoid hanging the queen cage altogether. Why would a person want to do that? Some people feel that hanging the queen cage can encourage bees to build crooked comb. Dean's method involves poking a hole in the candy plug and placing the queen cage on the floor of the hive. Bees release her, and you don't have to worry about crooked comb.

The one concern of mine with this method is weather. If you live someplace warm (like Texas, which is where I think Dean resides), you don't have to worry about the queen freezing. However, if you are in New England, like me, the queen may freeze if nighttime temperatures dip below 50 degrees (which they did the weekend that I installed).

Alternative Method: Direct Release of the Queen

Some people, like Michael Bush, are big proponents of what's called a direct release. This means that when you install the package, instead of leaving the queen in her cage in the hive, you pull out the candy plug immediately. The rationale behind this method is that the bees have likely been in transit with the queen for about three days. This means that they have had plenty of time to accept her, so one doesn't need to fear them balling her in the hive. Also, this method means that 1) the bees will be less tempted to build crooked comb and 2) chances of the queen freezing on the floor of the hive are eliminated. (Sorry, I don't have instructions for this method.)

However, there are some caveats as well. This method is not recommended for packages that haven't had time to accept the queen. Also, one has to be very careful about releasing the queen to ensure that she goes into the hive and doesn't fly away. (Remember, she hasn't been laying for awhile, and she may have slimmed down.) It might also be a good idea to close all the entrances until after dark, too, to make sure they don't abscond. Just remember to open an entrance up, though, after the sun has set.

Some More Tips for Installation

Make your hive a home. If the hive smells lived-in, bees are less likely to abscond. Ways you can make your hive more homey include:
  • Adding a few (3-4) drops of lemongrass oil to the walls of the hive. This smells like queen pheromones to bees.
  • Attaching a piece of comb to a bar.
  • Rubbing beeswax on the bars.

Center the queen cage under the top bar. If you plan to hang the queen cage, try to center it under the top bar as much as possible. This will help reduce cross combing.

Give the bees some privacy for several days. Think about wild bees. Do they have people poking around in their hives all the time? Do they want constant visitors? Absolutely not! So leave them alone for several days while they release the queen, start building comb, and bringing in resources. The more they invest into their home, the less they'll want to leave it -- just like any normal woman would feel. If you start messing about in it, you increase the chances of them absconding. This includes observation windows, btw. Leave them closed until they've settled in. The bees want a hive -- not a disco.

Give the bees control over the hive atmosphere. I've encountered many well-meaning folks losing their bees because the weather got hot, and they tried to cool the hive of by opening a screened bottom or more entrances. In the wild, hives may have very slim cracks for openings, but bees are able to control the atmosphere of the hive just fine. Opening up a screened bottom provides too much ventilation and light for a new package. Likewise, if you have holes for entrances, keep only one of them open. If you have long slot for an entrance, you might want to reduce it.

Put feeders behind the follower board. If the feeder is behind the entrance board, you don't have to open the bees' area when refilling. I've seen lots of people use feeders that attach to the outside of the hive (like boardman entrance feeders). From what I've heard, a lot of those people have had issues with robbing bees, wasps, ants, etc. However, I've never personally tried this type of feeder, so I won't tell anyone not to try one.

Plastic queen cages. The videos above show wooden queen cages which have a little strap that they hang from. However, you might get a package (like I did) with a plastic queen cage. To attach my cage, I made a "fish hook" out of some thin wire. Then I slipped the "hook" through the mesh to attach it to a bar. If you do this, just be careful that you don't hook your queen!

Wear a veil/jacket if you need to. No doubt you'll see/hear many beekeepers who tell you that you don't need a veil or jacket when hiving a package. No doubt it's true. However, if you're a new beekeeper, the sight of so many bees at once -- especially flying up in the air near your face -- can be unnerving. There is  no shame wearing a veil or jacket (or both) if you feel more comfortable. You'll have enough to focus on without worrying about being stung in the eyeball.

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