We survived the drive home with bees loose in the car, we survived installing a bee nuc, and we (and the bees) learned how to coexist. See how we did it.
The last time we got bees was… not a success. The biggest mistake we made was choosing to get a bee package to install into an empty hive. As brand new beekeepers, this was a terrible decision.
This time around we smartened up (a little) and got a bee nuc colony instead. A bee nuc is a small nucleus colony of bees that are already established and ready to become honey makers.
The Difference Between a Bee Package and Bee Nuc
Bee packages are essentially a box full of bees that are shipped to your door or local post office. The package contains a queen bee, worker bees, and some sugar syrup to keep them alive until they reach their destination.
Once you pick the bee package up at the post office, you essentially dump them into your hive and let them get to work. Your new hive has to begin from scratch by first building comb, filling it with brood, and then the bees can focus on filling the frames with honey.
Bee Nucs (short for nucleus) are small bee colonies created from larger colonies. A bee nuc is a small box set up as a temporary hive with a queen bee, her bees in all phases of life, and usually 5 frames, 2 or 3 frames of brood, and 2 or 3 frames of comb with honey and pollen.
The frames are taken from the nuc and placed directly into the hive. The bees simply continue their work where they left off.
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Equipment Gathered to Install the Bee Nuc
- Bee hive
- Deep bee hive frames
- Beekeeping jackets
- Beekeeping gloves
- Hive tool
- Bee frame grip
- Bee brush
Our Experience Installing a Bee Nuc Colony
Bee Nuc Pickup Day
The farm was an hour and a half from our home. We had a lot of time for anticipation to mount. Upon arrival we found a line of cars waiting to get in. We weren’t the only crazy people picking up bees that day. We chatted with a few of the other soon-to-be (soon-to-bee?) beekeepers while we waited.
When it was finally our turn we drove up to the pick up spot to see about 10 bee nucs sitting on the ground. Almost all of them were surrounded with a cloud of bees. I had read on the website that it would be smart to bring our bee jacket and gloves because a few bees may escape the box on the way home.
A few bees was not what I was seeing. I didn’t anticipate this.
My husband and I looked at each other with worried faces, trying to figure out how in the world we were going to drive an hour and a half home with a cloud of bees in the car.
We breathed sweet relief when the owner walked over with a box that only had two bees floating around it. Two bees I could handle. She duct taped all the cracks closed and popped the box in the back of our car. We chatted for a quick minute about procedure.
She said to leave them in the box tonight but to set the box next to the new hive and unplug the cork tonight. She said to install them into the new hive tomorrow.
The Ride Home with Bees
We hopped into the car and started back down the driveway. I looked into the back to see two little honeybees crawling around on the back window. I made a mental note to try to keep track of them so I could shoo them away if they tried to join us up front.
I looked back a few minutes later to see two more bees had joined the gang, crawling around frantically on the back window. The previous two had made it to the backseat and were crawling every which way. We were barely five minutes away from the farm and had a long journey to go. We talked nervously about the escapees and hoped there wouldn’t be more. We both pulled our shirt collars up around our necks and opened the windows, hoping the wind would at least keep them in the back.
During the next hour and a half we both glanced nervously into the back of the car as more and more bees joined the escaped rebels.
I’d never been so torn about having bugs in my car before. On the one hand, these were our bees, they belonged with their bee friends and we didn’t want to lose them to the wilds of western NY. On the other hand, they were insects with stingers loose in our car, constantly threatening to join us in the front seat. Every time one of the little bees flew out the window I was both relieved and sad.
We finally made it home without a single bee sting. We probably lost ten bees along the way. When we pulled into the driveway I put on my gloves and carried the bee nuc box to the side yard where our hive was set up.
When I opened up the cork bees came pouring out of it. They walked around on the ground, some of them flew a little loop around the area. This is probably me anthropomorphizing them, but they actually looked confused. They seemed stunned to be in a new location and curious to check it out.
We left them alone for the rest of the night, and spent lots of time reading up on installing a bee nuc to make sure we were ready for what was to come tomorrow.
Installing the Bee Nuc Frames
The next day we prepared to install the bee nuc frames into our bee hive. I made some sugar water so we could feed the bees after we got them all set in their new home, found all our bee tools, and got our beekeeping jackets and gloves ready to go.
I was surprised at how fearless I felt this time around. The last time I handled bees was four years ago and it was downright terrifying. This time I felt confident. I knew that the worst that could happen was that I would get stung, and if that’s the worst, I can handle it.
When it came time to install the bees we suited up and got to work. We used our hive tool to pry the wooden lid off the bee nuc box. As we anticipated, the top of the box was covered in bees, and they were absolutely everywhere inside the frames. We used the smoker to gently smoke them a few times to calm them down and get them to go down into the frames.
My husband worked the smoker while I carefully and slowly lifted each frame out of the nuc box using a bee frame grip and into the bee hive. We made sure to put them in the same orientation they were in the nuc box. I was astounded at how many bees were on each frame.
We tried to spot the queen but couldn’t manage to find her. It was mega hot inside those bee suits and we wanted to get the job done quickly. My husband installed the last few frames then lifted the nuc box and turned it upside down, giving it a quick shake to empty the bees out of it.
Every video I had watched and post I had read online said to put at least two empty frames around the full frames when installing the nuc, but for us there just plain wasn’t room. The comb on the existing frames was so big and so covered with bees there wasn’t space for any new frames.
We put the queen excluder on the top of the first box and added our second box on top of it. The feeder was filled with sugar water and placed on the top. Then we set the box next to the hive so stragglers could find their way into the hive on their own.
Obsessively Checking on the Hive
For the next several hours I checked the hive obsessively. I have some deep-seated fears of our bees leaving the hive, since that’s what happened last time.
Every time I went outside I expected them all to be gone, but that wasn’t the case. Each time I checked on them I noticed more and more bees were hanging out on the nuc box instead of going into the hive. There were probably a thousand bees on the box.
I looked online and could find no information about what to do in this situation, all of them said to leave the box next to the hive. The nuc box had some comb on it, and the bees were obsessing over it. So, I made a gut decision to move those bees into the hive and move the nuc box away from the hive so they wouldn’t worry about it anymore.
I suited back up, grabbed the bee brush, opened the hive again, and quickly but gently brushed all the bees on the nuc box into the hive. I then closed everything back up and moved the nuc box into the front yard.
This did seem to help. From here on out every time I checked on the hive there were less and less bees flying outside of it. The cloud of bees was slowly dwindling as time went on. At sundown I did one last check and found that the last few bees were making their way inside, and many of them had pollen on their legs!
I was feeling extreme relief and hope that this time around we did it right.
All told, this time around was WAY less stressful than the last time we got bees. Partly because I had already handled bees several times and wasn’t nearly as terrified as I was the first time around. Also we now have two bee jackets and my husband can help with the bee activities. It was great to work together as a team and both take part in this new homestead development.
Like most adventures on our homestead, we have learned to expect the unexpected and try to go with the flow. You can do your best to prepare for everything by reading and researching, but then the only way to learn is by doing it.