Installing bees into AZ hives

Install day was such an exciting day! It started with an early morning drive to a neighboring town; it’s about an hour’s drive, and we haven’t been out much in the past two months due to the world’s battle with COVID, so it was a welcomed excursion made even more exciting by the fact that we were finally picking up all our girls!

We installed six packages into our AZ hives and two more into some of the Langstroth hives that we have on our bee deck. Our AZ hives are brand new this year, so this is going to be a massive year of growth and learning for us. The basic concepts that go along with caring for the bees during inspections will be the same as when we work with our bees that live on the bee deck in the traditional Langstroths hives. However, if you’ve read my post on why I’m “all in” on AZ hives, then you know that there’s a lot of differences in the way these two styles of hives are managed.

I’m the type of person that when I’ve decided to learn about a topic, I dive into research. I read all the books, search all over the internet for resources and ask all the questions. I like to prepare as much as possible, but as I soon came to realize that information on AZ beekeeping isn’t so easy to find. As I searched, I continued to hit dead ends. It’s not that the there’s no information is out there… it’s just that a lot of it isn’t in English! I did eventually find a few resources, but honestly, there was only one book I found that was helpful, and when you search on youtube for tutorials, the search results are minimal. Here’s the deal though… The concept of AZ beekeeping was so intriguing to me that I continued my research, and I scraped together enough information on what I felt were the essential concepts. I then spoke to a few other trusted beekeepers about my plans, and when I felt confident moving forward, I took the plunge jumped in with a splash. So here we are, beehouse and hives built, and bees finally installed! I plan to share my experience so that others who are interested in the fascinating world of Slovenian beehouses and AZ hives have a resource to reference for questions and information. 

The initial process of installing bees into AZ hives is different from Langstroth hives in that you can’t just “shake” the bees over the top of all the frames. I considered three different installation options and ended up using two. 

#1 The Hive Table

When working with AZ hives many people insert a special tray-like piece of equipment (known as a hive table) into the bottom of the hive as they work. The hive table allows you to pull out frames and brush bees into it (instead of the ground where its easier to step on them); it’s also a place to rest other tools as you work. For installation purposes, one can take a new package of bees and shake the box out into the tray. As long as you move the queen cage into the hive, the shaken bees will march right in on their own. 

We only have two trays (as it’s just myself and my son who work with the bees). Since we were installing so many packages all at once, we decided not to use this method as I wasn’t sure how long it would take for an entire package of bees to march into their new home. I wanted to make sure that all our bees were installed on the same day as not to leave any of them sitting too long in their packages.

#2 Package In Empty Super

In this method, you empty the middle cavity “super” of its frames and place a thick piece of paper with a 4″ diameter hole in the center over the ten frames in the bottom cavity or “brood box”. This method allows you to take your package (after removing the feeder can and queen), and simply place it (hole side down) on top of the cutout in the paper. Of course, you’ll need to remember to hang the queen in the brood box below. (This will assure that your bees will make their way down to the queen and into the brood box.)

We had planned to use this method for all our hives. However, after installing our first hive this way, I realized that the paper we used (poster board) wasn’t quite sturdy enough as the edges were bending up under the weight of the box. The sides that were slightly bent up allowed bees to make their way from the brood box below, back up to the empty cavity where the package was sitting. I was worried that maybe too many bees would establish themselves in the empty super above with the package box, and after that first hive, we switched to another method. 

#3 Package In Brood Box

The bottom cavity of an AZ hive is the brood box. In this method, we removed seven frames leaving only three on the right side. After taking out the feeder can and attaching the queen cage to the inner frame, we slid the entire package into the brood box with the hole facing the three frames, then closed up the screen door. 

We ended up using this method for the rest of the hives as it went quickly and seemed relatively simple. 

We went back after 24 hours to take the packages out of the hives and replace them with frames. We opened up the screen doors to the lower cavity/brood box, removed the packages, and slid in the missing seven frames. This method worked okay, but it also left a lot of bees crawling around on the back of the hives, confused and looking to get back in.

In hindsight, my preferred overall way of installing the bees was the method #2, where we left the package in the empty cavity/super above the brood box. We had initially abandoned this option after installing just one hive, as we were worried that too many bees would find the empty cavity enticing. However, when we came back, the bees were all neatly below our paper divider happily at work. The bonus is that we didn’t need to open the screen door to take out the package. The ten frames were already in place, and it was way less disturbance to the bees overall. 

Thanks for reading, don’t forget to check back to catch our video and recap of our first hive inspections!

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