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Back to the Basics

You have set up your hives and installed your bees with the queen cage attached to a frame. We know that you are eager to check on them to see how they are doing but disrupting the colony will hinder them. Give them time to acclimate to the new queen and release her on their own (will typically take 5 to 7 days). Once you have given them time to release the queen on their own, you can open up your hive and see your bees hard at work!

When you first open your hive to remove the queen cage, you may notice no substantial changes. Your bees are working frantically to draw out comb, giving space for your queen to lay her eggs and room to store their nectar. There will be some foraging bees sent out to bring in nectar and pollen but the majority of the force will be building up the frames. Providing feed during this time is vital. As the bees work the frames, they will be consuming feed almost as fast as you are providing it for them. Keep the feeder on the hive!

Other things to be aware of:
  • Don’t be frightened to find that your colony seems smaller then when you installed it. This is a new colony and it will take them time before they will grow in population. The population will begin to decrease before it starts increasing because the newly laid eggs must be raised out to replace the older bees.
  • As the bees begin to work the frames, drawing out foundation, they may draw out a queen cup. There is no reason to fret. A queen cup does not mean your hive is queen-less, but is a precautionary measure your worker bees take to ensure they can raise a new queen quickly if something were to happen with the current queen. A queen cup is a single cup which is located in the middle of the frame, and will not have an or larva inside.
  • When you begin working your hive, your first instincts are to look for the queen. The queen is one of thousands of bees throughout the hive. Although she is much larger than the worker bee, she will be extremely hard if not impossible to find. An alternative is to check the frames for eggs. Eggs signify that the queen has been released and is laying. Eggs are also difficult to see (less difficult than finding the queen) but they appear as small white kernels that are similar to rice.
Installing your package is just one of the first steps into this exciting hobby. Once your queen has been released and starts laying eggs, you will begin to see a large field force in your garden, buzzing from flower to flower.

Here are some helpful hints to help you in these beginning months:
  • Even though you see that your bees are bringing in nectar and pollen, feed still needs to be provided for the colony. They are still trying to build their honey stores and if there are days when it is rainy, your bees will need that feed. However, you should remove the feeder once you add the first honey super. We want to harvest honey, not sugar water!
  • A great looking brood frame will have a central section of brood in different stages. You should find eggs, larvae and capped brood. If you find that your brood frames are spotty (small patches of brood with many empty cells around the brood patches) you could have an under-productive queen. This can happen with a newly installed package, as the queen gets settled into her new environment. If the problem persists, she may need to be replaced.
  • Once you find that your outer frames are being worked and comb is beginning to be drawn out on them, it is time to add on the next brood chamber. The rule of thumb is that if 6 to 7 of your frames are drawn out, add the next super. Adding the next story will give your queen the space she needs to lay and can alleviate congestion in the hive.
With the first steps behind you, you will begin to see the true joy of beekeeping. Keep feeding your bees and let them build up in population.