When starting a brand-new hive, you’ll buy a bee package or nucleus hive — both of these already include a queen bee. If you have an existing colony and need to re-queen, you’ll purchase a queen bee separately. A queen, however, cannot create a colony on her own — she must be united with a workforce of bees. How you install your queen bee depends on if you’ve purchased a nuc, package, or queen. Here, we explain each process, step-by-step.
Important Note: If you’ve purchased a package or a queen bee, the queen will be contained within a cage. Do not just remove the queen from the cage — follow these steps to help the bees acclimate prior to her release.
California Queen Cage
Three Hole Queen Cage
JZ's BZ's Queen Bee Cage
When you receive a bee package, the queen is secured within a cage to keep her safe — a screened wooden or plastic box with one or two corked or otherwise sealed openings. This separation allows time for the bees to accept the unrelated queen while they’re all in transit. You will need to remove the can of sugar syrup and the queen cage, then place the queen between some frames before installing your bee package into a hive.
When installing a new queen, attach her cage to a frame you’ve pulled from the center of the hive’s bottom box. In order to place the queen, you will need:
Once you’ve gathered the necessities, follow these steps to place the queen cage:
After the queen cage is secured to the frame and the package has been installed, the package bees on the outside and the attendant workers on the inside will eat the candy plug, slowly opening the cage to release the queen. Two to three days after installation, check to see if the queen has been released. If she’s still inside the cage, check for signs that the workers are still feeling aggressive towards the queen. Use the “brush test” to determine whether the colony has accepted the queen: Using a gloved finger, gently try to brush the bees away from the screen or mesh on the cage. If they stick and won't budge, bite at the cage, or are still aggressive toward the queen, they have not yet accepted her. If they move aside easily, they’ve likely accepted her and you can unplug the candyless opening to directly free the queen.
Check again seven to ten days later. By this time, your queen should be out of the cage and laying eggs. Look for the queen — either by spotting the queen herself, or search for the presence of eggs and young larvae — to ensure that she is alive and well inside the hive.
It usually takes between two to six days for the colony to accept the queen and release her from her cage. Signs the bees may not have accepted the queen include:
A new queen is unfamiliar to the colony — her pheromones and body odor are new and different and the worker bees may see her as an invader. The bees need an acclimation period to become used to the queen and accept her as the sole queen of their colony. If she’s released too soon, the bees may reject and kill her. Queen installation always includes some amount of risk, and some queens will occasionally be killed by the bees despite your very best efforts.
A nucleus hive, or nuc, is a fully established colony — the bees within are already familiar with the queen. Because they’re already working together, a nuc’s queen is not contained within a cage. She’ll be transferred to the hive along with the frames when you install your nuc. She may be hard to spot, but she’s there! Don’t poke around too much: Install the frames, let the bees and queen settle, and check in later to ensure the queen and colony are healthy.
You will need to install a queen as part of a bee package installation, or when you requeen an existing hive. For nucs, you need to be mindful of the queen, but she comes “preinstalled” in the small colony. These installation steps help your bees acclimate properly and provide the best chance for the queen’s — and colony’s — success. Explore our Beginner’s Beekeeping Guide for more tips for keeping your colonies happy and healthy.