My New Book


Russian Bee Installation

I’m so bummed, I took video of Mr. Neil‘s first ever bee installation yesterday and I left the video card in my bee suit out at his house.  Gr.  I’ll have to get it on Sunday.

We started our first great bee experiment this year.  We’re going to have a total of 7 hives:  3 packages of Russian bees (why we’re trying Russians) arrived yesterday.  This weekend we’ll four more packages of bees: 2 Carniolans and 2 MN Hygienic bees.  For some reason, all of the bee talk got incredibly naughty yesterday–decidedly not safe for work.  I think it had to do with Mr. Neil.  In all the years we’ve been keeping bees, he’s never been home when we do an installation, always off doing writer/movie guy stuff/Doctor Who stuff.

I started by calling him a Bee Virgin and comparing him to girls who claim virginity because they’ve don’t everything but vaginal intercourse (what’s up with that anyway). It soon went to telling him not to be nervous about inserting his Russian package (that’s big like bull) into the hive for the first time.  Everybody is nervous the first time.  Non Birding Bill frequently asks if I’m 13 years old and I think I am.

Neil did well, he did all three packages–it’s only fair since we’ve done the rest.  I will say that he broke new ground.  No one has ever been stung when we hiving packages, Mr. Neil got stung twice!  He was a brave little toaster though and continued on with no squealing or flailing of limbs.

Here’s how you hive a package:

Remove 4 frames from an empty hive and block the entrance with loose leaves and grass (that encourages the bees to spend the night).  We used some of our frames from old hives, some that still had drawn comb, honey and pollen in there to help give them a head start.  We give all of our bees a food pail but that just sugar water.  Some wax foundation and food stores helps them have a head start.  And considering it’s April 20 and I woke up to the sound of a snow blower removing last night’s snow, I think the bees will appreciate it.

Spray the bees inside the shipping container liberally with sugar water.

Bonk the box so that all the bees hanging on the food tin and queen cage fall to the bottom in a sugar water coated clump.  Use the hive tool to pry open the top of the box.

Remove the queen cage, flick off the outer attendants and put the cage in your pocket (or give it to your personal assistant, Lorraine).

Remove the feeder tin from the bee package and then spray the bees inside again with sugar water.

Shake the bees into the empty hive.  I know I posted this last night, but it makes me larf.

Spread the bees gently like pizza sauce–which they will also do as they explore the hive.

Then take out the queen cage in your pocket and gently pry open the staple holding the screen and release the queen.  Above, the screen is already gone but you can see our queen with her attendants.  She was marked with white spot to make it easier to find her in the hive later this summer.

These Russian queens were a bit different.  Normally, queens are moving fast and sometimes even attempt to fly away when we install bees.  The first queen we put in wouldn’t leave the cage, then crawled on Mr. Neil’s glove and wouldn’t get off, soon causing workers to crawl on to his glove.  It took some gentle nudging to get her onto one of the frames in the hive.  I’m pretty sure it was the cold that caused her to be so slow and sluggish.  The second queen was fast and running around all over–must be a bit more cold weather hardy.  The third queen…well…she looked dead.  Mr. Neil even tried blowing warm air on her to get to her to move in the cold–a little mouth to bee resuscitation.  She still looked dead.  The place we ordered the Russians from is sending us a new queen.  We’ll have to do the slow release method with her but I’m hopeful that all will still go well with that hive.

After we installed the queen, we gently replaced the frames we took out at the start, put in the feeder pail and a pollen patty and closed up the hive.  Hopefully, they will get to work drawing out comb and the hive will grow.

The bees are raring to go.  One of the boxes already at the start of a small piece of comb going–I think these Russian bees are going to do great things for us this year.

Something different this time was that our bees came with a few drones–we usually only get workers and a queen.  Drones don’t contribute to the hive, they don’t build and they really aren’t around in the winter.  I think these came from Tennessee so maybe it’s been warm enough there to produce drones.

Because of the cold weather, the bees didn’t fly around too much.  If they started to fly, they soon landed.  All of us had a good portion of sluggish bees on our suits when we were finished.

So, part one is complete.  Part two comes this weekend.

22 comments to Russian Bee Installation

  • I always enjoy your bee posts, and I’m looking forward to the video.
    I wonder if the honey will taste different, from the new bees?

  • Dymphnasis

    Our local community college just offered a series of bee keeping classes. Unfortunately they were all on Saturdays and some when I was already scheduled for work. My daughter thinks one of her teachers keeps bees. We need a hook up as we wood like to incorporate bee’s wax and possibly honey in our soap making. I love the fact that you have Russian bees. Sounds so post cold war. The peaceful infiltration of Russian bees. : )

  • Wen Wen

    I read the Bee Virgin part out loud to my SO, and called you “the Birds and Bees lady”. Haha. Can’t wait for the weekend’s entry :)

  • I love living bee-vicariously. They are so fascinating!

  • Amy

    It’s still cold here in Ohio. At the end of our street is a lovely house with owners that keep bees. I love watching them buzzing around the flowers in my garden when the weather warms up.


  • Dan

    Just curious about why you release the queens from the cages? All the keepers I know here in Ohio just hang the cage between two frames and let the workers chew through the candy plug.
    I dig your colorful deeps. I think we may have to repaint ours something a little less boring than Hive Body White next time we get a chance.

  • This was so fascinating! Beekeeping in an honored tradition in Ukraine (where my grandparents are from), and I’ve grown up hearing stories about beekeeping, as well as folklore surrounding bees and honey, but I have never actually seen a hive up close and personal. Not yet. Your posts, Neil’s and Lorraine’s are the closest I’ve come, and I’ve enjoyed your experiences tremendously. :) Thank you for sharing.

  • Cole

    In soviet russia jokes. On Mr. Gaimans beekeeping page. In retrospect i should have seen it coming when russian bees were delivered, but oh well nvm

  • Lori

    I love love love the bee talk :) thanks for the update

  • I loved the picture enhanced story of all that you did. I wish you were here and could harvest some bees that are living under my siding. I have had a hard time getting any bee keepers to do this. I am even willing to sacrifice the siding. Oh well, I have my own bee colony but it wasn’t planned that way. It isn’t as interesting as yours but I do have to say that my bees live in peace with me.

    Good luck with your bees.


  • @Dan That was what I was taught in my Beekeeping Short Course at the University of Minnesota. If this were a queen who had never met the other workers, I would leave her in the cage, giving the workers a chance to get to know her and absorb her pheromone. But she’s been in her cage with the workers for 3 – 5 days–plenty of time to work out their differences and get to work establishing the colony.

  • SnooziSuzi

    Hi, I am new to this site, having just visited following a facebook link on Neil’s FB feed and I must say I’m impressed that this is the first thing I find :D

    I keep bees in the UK and am still lapping up any stories and hints that I can get from keepers elsewhere, but I noticed that you don’t have a screened bottom board to control varroa… is it standard practice to still have the old style in the US or am I missing something here?

    Happily I have just managed to get my bees through their first winter in fine form and ours was the coldest winter here in about 40 years (temperatures don’t often dip here to -19 but it was known in the last winter).

    keep up the good work :)

  • groover

    We loved the dancing Neil too — makes us snarf!

  • @Su Hi, thanks for visiting. Some of our hives have screened bottom boards. We’ve used them but haven’t noticed that it makes a huge difference in keeping the varroa mites in check.

  • Glad to see you are still keeping bees!
    When we’ve hived packaged bees, we don’t release the queen. The bees will do that in their own time.

  • The only difference I’ve ever noticed between hiving Russian honeybees and any other strain was the vodka. . .

  • Do you use all Lang hives, or have you tried any others? I just got my first hive this spring. It’s a Kenyan TBH and I just hived a feral swarm I captured last night. They were swarming from a hive located about 30 feet up in a hollow tree. Beautiful bees.

  • Doug

    great watching you . we are still in the cold in Alberta you are giving us the energy to go on. perhaps we will get a spring Keep it up your efforts are making us all smile. Thanks.

  • Dan

    A duly noted, good point on the queen cages. Thanks!

  • M. Williams

    God is saving the bees! Thank you for your dedication to the bees. You can tell by the photos that you are gentle with them and that they are content.

  • I LOVE your bee posts!
    I came across this on NPR today – the story of how bees protect their hives from a giant Asian hornet that preys on honeybees… if one of these hornets gets into their hive, the honey bees hover around the hornet in a large group, raising the temp of the hive enough to kill the hornet, but not kill themselves!