Congratulations! You’ve decided to adopt a colony of backyard honeybees. Keeping these smart, organized, and resourceful little creatures can be a very rewarding hobby.
Before you purchase or otherwise acquire your bees, you’ll need to set up a hive for them to live, breed, and make honey in.
While you may opt to build the hive yourself, there are commercial hives available for purchase online and from beekeeping suppliers. Either way, it’s best to use new hive components and equipment to ensure the very best results and avoid any potential hidden issues. But you certainly don’t need to spend a fortune.
Locating Your Beehive
Before you begin, you’ll need to decide where you’re going to locate your hive on your property.
A bee colony may be comprised of as many as 50,000 bees.
They will need a sheltered position that’s warm in winter and cool in summer, and away from heavy human traffic. (Under a deciduous tree is ideal). It needs to be off the ground as well, to make working with it easier.
Make sure the hive location is:
- Out of the wind
- Shaded in summer
- Has a clear flight path
- Entrance to the hive is away from doors, footpaths, and traffic
- Near a very shallow source of fresh water
The hive needs to be level both side-to-side as well as from front-to-back.
If you have more than one hive, they can be placed close to each other but you’ll need to be able to work between them. It may also be better for each hive’s bees to have their own local territory.
The Best Materials to use for a Beehive
- Most hives are made from wood, which is by far the best material for a hive. Plastics should be avoided – they will draw moisture and warp. Avoid treated wood of any kind.
- While plywood will work and is a cheap option, you’ll get a more durable hive if you use hardwood or pine. Choose a readily available wood that is durable but not too expensive.
- Pine is the most widely-used option for building a beehive. Cedar is another good option.
- A great, environmentally-sustainable option is composite wood – this is a synthetic product made from recycled plastics bonded with wood fibres. It is rot-proof, termite-proof, weather-resistant, and easy to clean.
- AVOID treated wood of any kind and black walnut. Mahogany may also be an issue as it may be toxic to bees.
Regardless of the material, the bees will coat the interior of the hive with propolis.
- Hive Stand – lifts the hive off the ground – it may be a bench, table, or cinder blocks.
- Bottom Board – the first layer of the hive box. It is a flat piece of wood and may be solid or screened. A screened board provides an entrance and ventilation.
- Entrance Reducer – prevents larger pests like rodents from entering the hive.
- Slatted Rack – an optional flat wood panel layered between the bottom board and the brood chamber above – prevents the formation of ladder comb.
- Deep Super – this is a large box in which the bees build their hive. Each honeybee box has one or two of these and each of these has 8-10 frames.
- Frames – these are individually inserted to the deep super and hold the wax and wire foundation on which the bees build their wax.
- Queen Excluder – this is a flat rack with small holes through which the worker bees can pass but which the queen can’t fit through. It prevents her from laying her eggs in the honey and is placed between the deep super and the honey super.
- Honey Super – a large (ideally shallow) box placed at the top of the deep super – the bees will store their honey here.
- Honey Super frames – made of plastic or wood, these are inserted vertically into the honey super. The bees build their wax here and this is what is removed to harvest the honey.
- Inner cover – the lid placed over the honey super. It has an entrance and is changed over depending on the season.
- Outer Cover – metal lid for weather protection.
The easiest option for a beginner is to purchase your hive fully assembled.
What you Need to Know Before you Acquire your Bees
- You’ll need to coat the top bars of the hive with natural beeswax along their spines. This will encourage the bees to build honeycomb.
- While you may attempt to catch a swarm of bees, it’s easier to purchase a colony online.
- Once your bees have moved in, resist the urge to constantly open the hive to check it out.
- When you do open the hive to check for disease etc, do so in the late afternoon.
- Be ready with a fresh new hive when the bees begin swarming – this means the colony has outgrown the hive.
- Don’t forget to register your hive – it’s the law. (Check with your local government, to find out what the laws are in your local area)
This is just the tip of the iceberg on what you need to know – but it’s the first step to getting you on the road to having your own backyard bee colony. The more you research and learn about beekeeping the better prepared you will be when starting out with backyard beekeeping.