Keeping bees. Part 5: Collecting your bees

Alison Benjamin

17 May 2012

The bees you ordered should be ready: here are my tips for collecting your bees and getting them settled.

If you have to travel some distance to pick up your bees, best use a car. If you don’t have a car, borrow one or get a friend to drive you.

Why? Carrying a box full of 10,000 buzzing insects on the train or the back of a bicycle is not advisable – although it has been done.

The bees will come in a ventilated travelling box whose entrance is blocked. The box should contain five frames of bees (including a laying queen), brood (eggs, larvae and pupae) and food stores. Wedge the box in the car, so it doesn’t tip up.

When you arrive you’ll need to get your bees into their new home – the hive.

The easiest way to do this is to place the box where the hive will be located, unblock the entrance and leave it for 24 hours so the bees can get their bearings.

This gives you time to prepare a welcome bee-friendly energy drink.

To do this dissolve 2 kg of sugar in warm water and keep adding water until the solution is clear. The warmer the water, the easier it is to dissolve (though it will have to be cool before you give it to the bees). 

Now to transfer the bees to the hive.

To do this, put on your bee suit, light your smoker and have your hive tool handy. Go back to your travelling box, give the entrance a couple of puffs of smoke, gently move the box aside and put the empty hive in its place.

Open the box and prise out each frame with your hive tool – gently placing them one by one in the centre of the hive in the same order as they were in the box. Now give the box a firm shake over the hive to get out most of the remaining bees.

Next fill the space in the hive on either side of your five frames with new frames and beeswax foundation. Depending on the type of hive you bought, it will hold 10-12 frames.

Put the hive’s cover board on top of the frames, and over the hole in the crown board place your feeder with the meal you prepared earlier. Place an empty super box on the hive and put back the roof.

Leave the travelling box leaning against the hive in case there are a few stragglers. Reduce the entrance of the hive to an opening of 5 cm and leave undisturbed for a week.

There is a great temptation as a new beekeeper to check on your bees every day, but you need to allow them to settle into their new home.

If the weather is cold or it's raining, preventing your bees from getting out to forage, keep topping up the feed - but don’t open up the brood box.

Well done. Now you're a beekeeper.

Next month: Inspecting the hive.

Alison Benjamin is co-founder of Urban Bees with Brian McCallum. Their latest book is "Bees in the City: The Urban Beekeepers' Handbook" (Guardian Books, £12.99). To buy a copy, visit our Shop.

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