Installing Bees in a Top Bar Hive

We picked up our package of bees (read the previous post about how we got our bees here) and headed home.  For the first hour and a half going home, they buzzed quietly in the back seat.  We made sure they weren’t in direct sunlight and that they were getting fresh air, and twice I sprayed them lightly with a very light sugar syrup.  They were happy, we were happy, everything was right with the world.

Until…

…we got to the dirt and gravel road leading to our property.  Bummer.  You see, here in California it’s legal to grow marijuana if you have doctor’s orders saying that you need it.  Unfortunately, the county in which we live has been very permissive on how much you can grow, so several commercial pot growers have purchased or leased properties adjacent to us.  Why is this so unfortunate?  For several reasons – the most important of which is because of the drought we are currently having here in California.  Marijuana takes a lot of water to grow.  A whole lot.  So the commercial pot growers are draining all of the wells in the foothills, drying up streams and stealing from others.  You can’t even leave a water hose unattended anymore!  So, when the “growers” well goes dry and they run out of options to get cheap (or stolen) water, they have to pay to truck in water.  Some of those trucks haul in 2,500 gallons of water at a time – or more!  Let’s see – 2,500 gallons x 8 pounds per gallon – that’s 20,000 pounds (not even counting the weight of the truck itself) traveling across our dirt and gravel road several times per day!  Needless to say, they have torn up our road so much that it has become one rut and pothole after another.  The entire 1.6 miles of it!  Now we literally bounce and slide our way home.

Which brings me back to the bees.  With every bounce, bump, jump and jostle, they started buzzing louder and louder.  Let me tell you, they were not happy!  🙁

Once we finally got home we set the bees in the shade of their new Kenyan Top Bar Hive, I sprayed them down with a little more light sugar water, and we left them alone for about an hour.  Sure enough, by the time we came back, they had calmed down again.

Whew!

So now, the fun part was to begin.  Installation!

Kenyan top bar beehive

There it is: our version of a Kenyan Top Bar Beehive! To see how we made it, click HERE  

Have I told you how nervous I am about getting stung?  The fascination with the bees has partially overcome my fear of being stung (along with a nice bee suit and gloves), but nonetheless I decided I should be the photographer for this momentous occasion. 😉

I am blessed to have a very brave and understanding husband, and let me tell you, he looked like a pro while he was installing the bees!

Installing bees into a top bar hive

Doesn’t Ray look like a pro? Here he is getting ready to dump in the bees. You can see the queen cage, laying on top of a couple of the top bars, is covered already in bees!

The first thing we had to do was remove several of the top bars so that the bees could be dumped into the hive body.  We also placed a light sugar water solution in the feeder and a

How to get bees into a top bar hive

You can see the “bee patty” at the bottom of the hive, which is a first food supply for the bees. It has lots of protein, vitamins and minerals and gives the bees a kick-start for a healthier colony.

“bee patty” in the bottom of the hive. We do plan to raise our bees organically and naturally, and using a sugar water solution and a bee patty isn’t necessarily natural.  However, we did want to give our bees every advantage to get started, so we opted to make our own sugar water solution out of organic sugar.  The bee patty was just another bit of insurance, though we don’t really know how organic it is.  That being said, we will not be giving our bees any more bee patties, and will only give them sugar water if they need it.   Ray removed the queen cage from the box so that she could later be hung in her cage between two of the top bars.  Ray accomplished this task without any problem – just like they showed us during the demonstration at the Olivarez Bee Company Bee Day.  Once the queen cage had been removed from the bee cage and set aside, Ray set about the task of dumping the worker bees into the hive.

Just as instructed during one of the demonstrations given at the Bee Day, Ray removed the can of sugar water solution that the bees had been living on for a day, which also releases the bees.  A few bees started to fly out, already looking for and locating the queen.

Ray gently turned the box upside down, and shook it a few times.

Fwooommmph

Seriously – that’s the sound it made!   Fwooommmmph!

Most of the bees fell in one large clump into the hive!  It was so cool to watch!

Once most of the bees had been shaken into the hive, I sprayed them again with the light sugar water solution.  The sugar water solution hydrates the bees as they lick it off of their furry little bodies.  Because it has a little bit of sugar in it, it also feeds the bees and a fed, hydrated bee is a happy, complacent bee, less likely to sting!

top bar hive bee installation

Ray carefully placed two straws along the top of the little queen cage so that he could hang it between two of the top bars. Look at that – no glove on one hand!

We then replaced all of the top bars except one.  Ray stuck a couple of pieces of straw (carefully!) through the top of the queen cage and these pieces of straw were placed between two of the top bars with the queen cage hanging in the space where the one bar used to be.  In this way, the queen could be accessed by the workers from all sides.  Once this was done, we replaced the lid and roof, wished the bees good luck, and stepped back from the hive.

Once the bees were mostly in the hive, we replaced the lid and roof and stepped away.  The box that the bees came in was left right below the entrance, so the stragglers could find their way to their new home.

Once the bees were mostly in the hive, we replaced the lid and roof and stepped away. The box that the bees came in was left right below the entrance, so the stragglers could find their way to their new home.

There were about two dozen or so bees still left in the cage, but we were instructed during the demonstration at the Bee Day to just leave the cage near the hive in the shade, and these bees will find their way into the hive to be with their sisters.

We had our granddaughter’s birthday party to attend later that evening, so we made sure the hive was secure, latched the gate on the enclosure surrounding the hive, and said our goodbyes to the bees.  There was nothing more we could do for them right away.

The next day when we got home from the birthday party, there they were, flying in and out of the hive! It looked like some of the bees were still doing their orientation flight, which is the first flight out of their hive.  The bee will exit the hive door, fly right, then left, then up and down.  Once the little bee has done this, it will fly away to find pollen, nectar, water or whatever it’s job is.   It was amazing to see that some of the bees flying into the hive already had their pollen sacs full!  Jeeze Louise, these bees certainly didn’t waste any time setting up their house!

top bar bee hive installation

Here is ray checking to see that the queen has been released from her cage. Yes! She was free!

Now we had to wait at least three days, then check to see if the queen had been released from her little cage.  You see, she comes inside a cage for her own safety.  If a queen bee is introduced into a hive right away, the worker bees will most likely sting her to death because they see her as a foreigner!  However, if she is left in her little cage and the workers are exposed to her pheromones for 3 or 4 days, the will most likely accept her as their queen once she is released.  How does she get released?  Her escape route is plugged with hard candy, which the workers eat to get to the queen.  This usually takes about three days – sometimes four.  Clever system, huh?

So, after four days, we opened the hive to see if the queen had been released.  At first when we saw movement inside the little cage we were disappointed that she had not been released.  Then, on closer inspection, we saw that it was a worker bee in the cage, not the queen.  She had, in fact, been released!  Then we found her.  Olivarez Bees marks all of their queens, and this year an iridescent blue was used.  This is so that it is easier to find her and make sure all is well with the hive.  Well – there she was – in all of her iridescent blue glory, on a small comb that had already been constructed for her!

Top Bar Kenyan Bee Hive installation

Our first sneak peak into the hive through the viewing window. See all those little workers clustered? They had already started to make some comb and were clustered on the comb and around their new queen!

Well I’ll be.  We actually (ahem, my husband, Ray) installed our first bees with complete success!

And guess what – No Bee Stings!  🙂

So, now, the real adventure begins.

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8 thoughts on “Installing Bees in a Top Bar Hive

    • Thanks, Joy. It was a very exciting adventure! I am so glad I didn’t get stung because that may have been a game changer for me! I will post on the hive progress soon. Have a wonderful weekend!

    • Yeah – the sting thing. 😉 I have to tell you, however, that my bravery jumps ten-fold when I have my bee suit and gloves on! It has been absolutely fascinating watching them. I sit on a chair about 10-15 feet in front of the hive and I can watch them all day. It’s fun to see what color the pollen is that they are gathering that day, the drones coming out and flying around the hive like dive bombers, and the guards, patiently sitting at the entrance to the hive, greeting each worker bee as she comes back from her journey. I think you would enjoy it!

  1. smooth and flawless!! wow you guys really paid attention and those little honey makers are settling in just fine it looks like. So glad there were not stings and they like their new homes! too bad about the evil pot growers 🙁

  2. I’ve always been fascinated by bee keeping but, never took the leap to try. I really enjoyed reading your post all about it. Makes me want to try even more. Thanks for sharing at the party & hope to see you again soon. Pinned & shared.

  3. I just found your blog from the Sunday Down Under link party and I am loving your stories. Creating a sustainable off-grid system is so cool. And your bees, I want to sit and watch them too, but I am allergic to bee stings so I am sure I would be a little more squeamish. I am excited to read more as your adventure continues!

    • Good morning, Kati! Glad to meet you! Those bees are so much fun. So far, however, I have been stung once. That was completely my fault, however, because I got too close, breathed on them and was wearing red. Three no-no’s! She got me right on my eyebrow and I ran to the medicine cabinet, took an aspirin, a benedryl and got an ice pack. It still swelled, but not too bad. The next morning, however, I had a bright pink ring all around my eye, like a kindergartener had put pink eye shadow on me! My husband and I laughed so hard! A few days later I got stung by a yellow jacket and followed the same procedure, but swelled up a whole lot more! I will say the honey bee hurt more, but I got a much worse reaction from the yellow jacket. I am considering asking my doctor for an Epi-pen for just in case. I hope you enjoy my stories. There are so many more to come as we build out home, the permanent raised bed gardens, the chicken coop, etc. Have a great week, and I hope to hear from you again!

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