Tips for Starting a New Colony

Keys for success with your new package! (Based on the mistakes we see new beekeepers make!)

  1. Feed, feed and more feed!

New colonies have a lot of work to do and the more resources they have in the form of food, the quicker and more efficiently they can get it done. Don’t worry, about making them dependent on you.  Feeding for us means a 1:1 syrup fed until they have at least the first deep box filled, its ok to keep it going until the second box is about full as well. Nectar (or the sugar syrup you are feeding) is required to fuel the hive, build wax and put away winter stores. It takes about 6-8 lbs. of honey to build a pound of wax. You will do more good feeding early on, than skipping it and trying to make up for it later. We add Pro-Health to our syrup (basically a natural essential oil supplement that they like and results in faster feed uptake). We also offer pollen patties, basically a pollen substitute. Some hives eat a lot, some don’t touch them. It really depends on the local resources. They can’t raise brood without pollen, 1 lb of pollen is needed for every pound of brood, so if they are short pollen the supplement patties help get everything started. Nothing wrong with feeding a couple of pounds to hives starting out, we generally dole it out ½ lb at a time to new hives.

  1. Don’t be the Bear!

Every few years we get a report of a colony absconding after they have already got a good start, when we dig deeper we find that the beekeeper has been checking on the hive and taking it all apart every week or more! If you had a bear tearing your house apart that often, you might leave too.  Its important to verify the queen is out of her cage (plug gone and no queen), bit it isn’t important to see the queen. Once she is out, leave them alone for a week they know what to do.  When you check them a week later, look to see evidence of a queen: eggs (they are small and can be hard to see) and larva. If that’s there, they are good to go, so leave them alone for another 10 days or so. Checking for eggs and larvae and health of the hive is important, but every time you dig in the hive you risk killing or injuring your queen.

  1. Did we say feed?

It is important to understand what is happening to the bee population of your hive.  Your 3lb package of bees starts out around 10,000- 12,000 bees. Every day that population shrinks a little as old bees die. Once the queen is out, she will start laying eggs, in three days those eggs hatch, and larvae start growing. New bees will start to hatch at 21 days. So, mark your calendar, at about day 25 of installing your package the hive will start an exponential growth as new bees quickly replace the old workforce. This 25-day period is pretty critical to the success of your package. If they don’t have a queen during this time the hive will eventually dwindle and die. If they don’t have enough food, it really limits the amount of wax built and the number of replacements bees raised during this time period.

  1. Check out our mentor-ship blog, every few weeks you will get to check in to see what you should bee seeing in your hive!
  2. Have the right tools on hand!
    1. Bee boxes, when you put one on the hive, have the next one ready to go. Start in a single deep. Add the second when 60-80% full.
    2. Hive tool,
    3. spray bottle with sugar water (we add a tsp or 2 of Pro Health)
    4. Bee Brush
    5. Entrance Feeder and sugar water
    6. Protective Gear: Bee jacket, suit, veil, gloves, etc
    7. Smoker (will not need right away, but will want at some point)

2 thoughts on “Tips for Starting a New Colony”

  1. Robin R Smith

    Hi, Wondering if you could post some pictures or videos of what a new hive should be looking like about now. I am trying not to be a bear (ha ha), but I am new to this and want to get a better feel for what I should be checking for. I have been checking You tube but want to have information that is consistent with our area.

    1. Absolutely! Check out the posts from last year around this time (1st hive check April 28 last year) for what is up and coming, this weekend marks 2 weeks since hiving so we will be checking bees this weekend and posting what we’re seeing this year!

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