Hiving the Bees


One bee asking another for directions to the hive.


We had set up our hive, and the day had come for us to pick up our bees.  It was really exciting, mostly because with no idea of what we were doing, we had no idea of what to expect. 

How difficult could it be though?  We would be making a 6 hour round trip, half of which would be with a large number of jet lagged bees in the back of our Jeep.  No problem. 

There are not enough bee producers in Canada to supply all of our new bee requirements in the spring, so the bees arrive on an airplane from New Zealand.  With this knowledge, I plan to avoid travelling between New Zealand and Canada in the springtime.  Can you imagine what could happen on that airplane if Canada’s spring supply of bees somehow got loose? Kind of makes me want to wear my super cool bee suit on my next flight…you never know!

The bees are sorted into 2.2 pound groupings, (which I am told equals anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 bees), and packaged into cardboard tubes for easy transport.


Each tube holds 2.2 pounds of honeybees. Enough to start one hive.


We picked them up at the Bee Maid bee supply store in Spruce Grove, Alberta.  This is the same place that we got our hives and equipment from a few weeks before.

Lots of honey storage!

This warehouse has all of the bee keeping supplies you need, as well as being the place that honey is stored until it is packaged and transported for sale in grocery stores.

Warehouse full of honey

We loaded our tube of bees into the jeep, and after checking to make sure that both ends of the cardboard tube were secure, we headed home.  I wondered if anyone had ever gotten into an accident while transporting bees, and if so did they receive adequate emergency care?

A car load of bees. I can’t think of anything that could go wrong.

It was surprising how quiet 6 to 10,000 bees are while driving in the car.  They stayed clung together in their ‘swarm’ and rarely made any type of sound.  There would be a faint buzzing when a door was slammed, but it wouldn’t last long.  We took this as a good sign that they were either very content or very drowsy from their long flight.  Hopefully their release into the hive would be uneventful.

While we were at the supply store, I picked up a book called ‘Beekeeping in Western Canada’.  This was one of the resources that my friend recommended I read before getting bees.  Of course, I didn’t do that.  It made for very good reading on our way home to release or ‘hive’ the bees.  By the time we arrived at the hive I was pretty sure that I was an expert on the topic of beekeeping.  This book is highly recommended for anyone from Western Canada who is interested in starting a hive.  You may even want to consider reading it before purchasing your bees. 

At the hive, we went over our procedure and made sure that we had all of our equipment readily available.  The kids were curious and came along to watch the bees move into their new home.  One produced the video, and the other two moved to watch from an area of safety.  Being ranch raised kids who are used to keeping themselves safe from larger livestock, they watched from the other side of a barbed wire fence…..because that will stop bees. 

Lots of help!

After giving the bees a few puffs from the smoker, and removing the middle three frames to give them room to be poured into the hive, the first step in hiving your bees is to ‘break the swarm’.  Apparently when bees have swarmed from their hive, they find a place to all cling together until they decide what to do next.  Inside this cardboard tube there was a swarm of bees, all clinging together in a big strand.  You need to bang the tube on the ground so that most of the bees fall to the bottom and you can safely take off the lid without losing your bees.  I’m sure this doesn’t upset them at all.

A good view of the top of the swarm waiting to be released.

Hanging from the outside of the lid is a strand of green ribbon.  On this green ribbon hangs the queen in her separate cage.  Holding the ribbon, we removed the lid and began to lift it out so that the queen could be moved into the hive before we released the bees.

That ribbon was quite heavy.  There were a lot of bees clinging to it.  This freaked me out a little, and it was at this point that I considered dropping the whole thing and making a run for it. Thankfully, my nerves of steel kicked in just in time and we finished the job. You can imagine why there are no photos of this…I was going to take pictures, but I got a little distracted!  We have video instead.

Holding onto the queen cage, I used a knife to pry the cork out of the hole that forms the doorway to her cage.  With thumb over the hole so she can’t escape, I inserted a mini marshmallow into the hole.  This took two tries because with my shaky nerves of steel being affected by an upset queen bee, the first marshmallow got dropped into the bottom of the hive.  It’s always good to have extra marshmallows in your pocket.  When the bees decide that this is their queen and they accept her, they will eat the marshmallow and release her into the hive.  It’s a good thing that I’m not a bee; I would probably just eat the marshmallow without going through the proper process of swearing-in the new queen.

The queen’s cage after she has been released by her attendants.

Now with the queen cage hanging in between two frames, we once again banged the tube on the ground to knock the bees to the bottom and inverted it over the hive.  We poured ½ of the bees over the queen cage and the other ½ over the rest of the frames.  At this point they were all a little excited and we thought a few puffs of smoke would be a good idea.  The smoker was out and the lighter was over on the other side of the fence.  That was bad planning, but it went just fine without the smoker.

We placed a pollen patty on the frames for the bees to use until there is more pollen available to them, and replaced the frames that had been removed.  We put the cover and the lid on the hive, and congratulated ourselves on a job well done.  With the bees safely in the hive, all we can do is hope that they accept their queen and their new home.  We will come back and check in with them in 4 to 5 days.


Some pollen showing on willow trees.


It was truly the most exciting thing that I’ve experienced in a really long time.  Scary, but very exciting too! 

The tube was left facing the hive door in case any stragglers still need to make their way home.


“Do one thing every day that scares you”  – Eleanor Roosevelt 





One response to “Hiving the Bees

  1. Whew. Very exciting! (and they always tell you if you stay on that side of the barbed wire fence it will be fine….) Wishing the best luck with your bees – we need all those little guys we can get!.

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