Bees 101 – Starting our Colony

My husband and I are Beekeepers in Union County, North Carolina.  We have 4 hives.  We have been Beekeepers going on 4 years.  I went to my first “Bee Class” in January 2010 (shortly after finishing my Master Gardener program).  I had no idea what fascinating creatures bees were.  At that first class I was given more information than my little brain could contain, but I wanted to learn more.   So we started with our first hive in May 2010.

Starting Our First Colony with Package Bees

We were so green….we did not know anything.  But the bees soon taught us.  We started our hive with “package bees”, and they are just that.  We ordered what is called “package bees”   They come in a wooden box with screened sides to the post office (or in our case they came to a business that ordered and sold bees).

Bee Installation - Box of Bees
Bee Installation – Box of Bees (Photo: Gladys Hutson)

The bees that are received are all female bees.  The Queen bee is a female and all of the worker bees are female.   The Queen comes in a small separate wooden box with screened sides with a few attendant worker bees.  The Queen has already been mated.  Queens make male bees (Drones) in the spring for mating purposes only.

Bee Installation - Queen Cage
Bee Installation – queen cage (Photo: Gladys Hutson)

From Package to Hive- Steps to Unifying the Queen and Hive

We were following instructions from the “Bees for Dummies” book.   We had the hive all ready for the worker bees and got them out of the larger box and into the hive.

Dumping bees into hive. (Photo: Gladys Hutson)
Dumping bees into hive. (Photo: Gladys Hutson)
Bee Installation - Bee in the Hive
All bees in the hive (Photo: Gladys Hutson)

The book then instructed us to take the Queen bee box and remove the cork on one side.   There is a candy plug under the cork that the attendant bees eat from one side and the worker bees in the hive eat from the opposite side, which releases the Queen into the hive.

The Queen bee has to be introduced slowly so that the worker bees can get used to her pheromones or smell that she gives off.  The pheromones of a Queen bee serves as a social “glue” unifying and helping to give individual identity to a bee colony.

Unfortunately, our first attempt to unify the Queen and hive of bees failed because the Queen was released too quickly.

First Lesson Learned – Wait to Remove the Cork!

The book failed to say that the Queen box should be placed in the hive for about 3 days before the cork is removed.  We found out the hard way……the worker bees killed the Queen bee (called balling the Queen) because she was released too soon.   So our hive was without a Queen.  This is bad because the Queen bee keeps the hive populated by continually laying eggs.  She can lay up to 1500 eggs per day.

A Queen lives anywhere from 3-5 years and a beekeeper may replace her depending on how well she is laying.  A worker bee only lives about 30 days and to keep the population up in the hive, there must be a Queen and the Queen must continue to lay eggs during the warm months.

Fortunately, we were able to get another Queen and merge the two together successfully.   Our bees taught us our first lesson…….and there would be many more to come!

For more basic information and terminology of beekeeping you might like to see


-Gladys Hutson
North Carolina -Union County Extension Master Gardener
Union County Beekeeper’s Assoc.

2 Replies to “Bees 101 – Starting our Colony”

  1. So excited for you and how brave you are, to take on such an interesting hobby! Give your bees a great big thank you, for all their hard work and delicious honey!

    1. Thanks Lauren,
      This is exciting for me too, to talk to the world about my bees.
      Let’s hope for a big harvest!

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