My friend was the official beekeeper of a local private school. They kept a small bee yard adjacent to their lower school playground, and offered a honeybee educational program to their students. Several pests invaded her hives resulting in a mass kill off. (Bees have a lot of enemies to contend with, both human and otherwise.) So one spring she ordered a few bee packages, each containing about 12,000 bees, to repopulate the hives.
At that time, I was taking a beginning beekeeping class and offered to assist her with the installation. Lydia picked me up on a Saturday morning after having picked up the bee packages. The ride to the school was haunting. The car seemed to vibrate with the sound of 36,000 angry bees.
When we reached the school, we put on some beekeeping suits and carried the packages out to the hives. A teacher from the school was also on hand to videotape the action in the bee yard. Lydia had only installed bees two or three times before, but her calm attitude was contagious. I was not as freaked out as I imagined I would be.
Within each package of bees comes a queen cage. This is a small wooden and wire mesh box, about the size of a book of matches, in which there is a queen and a couple of “attendants.” At either end of the queen cage was a fondant candy plug, which would, in about three days time, be chewed open by the attendants, allowing the queen free access to the hive. The idea behind this is to allow the bees some time to get used to the smell of the queen. Without this three day period, they would likely just attack and eat her.
We removed the queen cages from each of the packages and then sprayed the remaining bees with sugar water. This gave them something to do and seemed to calm them down somewhat. We removed a few frames from the empty hives then Lydia banged the first box on the ground, shaking all the bees to the bottom. She then shook the bees into the first hive box. A large pile of bees landed in the hive, and a large amount just flew angrily around us. She immediately covered the hive and put the box near the entrance so that any bees that remained could find their way to their new home.
We did this for three hives and then it was time to install the queens. Lydia deftly placed the queen cages, so that they were held in place between the frames inside each hive. The apiary was certainly abuzz and it began to feel unsafe, despite all the protective gear we wore. It was time to call it a day - a really interesting day.