An average hive will have a bottom board and a cover. It has at least five honey supers in between the bottom and the cover, each of them containing ten frames of honeycombs. The honey and pollen are stored in these honeycombs, and they also provide rearing grounds for young bees. The young ones are reared in the lowermost honey supers while the others are used for storage.
You can build your own hive and then introduce bees to it, but it is not a great method since bees do not like new environments. They might get stressed and not produce enough honey, and you cannot afford that. So it is better if you just purchase a package with a hive.
Make sure the hive you use, whether built or bought, is of a standard size. The brood cells should be able to house the worker bees well enough. They should not be too small. Also, remember to keep your bees disease-free by medicating them regularly. If you decide to buy the bees with the hives, do it during the spring season.
Which beehive is the best?
The beehive that is best for you is not necessarily the largest or most expensive. This completely depends on what you expect from beekeeping. What I mean to say is that if you want to get a lot of honey so that you can sell it, you will go for a different hive. But if you only need enough to use at home and maybe give to family and friends, you might want to go for a different type of hive. Most commonly, beekeepers use the Top Bar Hive, the Langstroth Hive, and the Warre Hive. They all have their own advantages and disadvantages. As with the equipment, research into the respective merits of each type would be a good use of your time. Talking to beekeepers about which hives they like, why they use the one they do, and how much honey they yield can be an even better way to learn about each type of hive before you buy. This is prudent before such a large investment.
Top Bar Hive
The top bar hive is one of the oldest types of hives in use. Also known as the horizontal top bar hive, it is a long cavity which has a lot of wooden bars laid across on top of it. The bees start building their honeycombs from the lowest point and fill up the cavity as they go up adding more honeycombs. By the time it is finished, it looks like slices of bread lying next to each other.
The great thing about this model is that it allows you to keep increasing the number of bars as the bees keep filling them up with honeycombs and require more room. If you add a false back, you can continue to expand the hive as much as you want. If you do this in a systematic way, the bees will also build their honeycombs in an ordered manner. Top bar hives happen to be the cheapest hive model out of all. You can use cheap materials to build them and there is no need to use expensive tools and such. They were first introduced in Africa as an alternative to other expensive models.
Since top bar hives do not have stacking frames, they are pretty lightweight. Extracting honey from them is easy and you do not need an extractor for it. You can just harvest it directly if you feel like the hive is getting a bit too full. You will have to cut the honeycombs from the bars, so you can either crush them to collect the honey or sell them as they are. You can also collect clear honey and separate it from the wax if you strain it. You can then use the wax to make candles or balms.
In North America, this one is the most preferred hive model. Invented by Reverend Lorenzo Langstroth in the nineteenth century, its defining feature is the movable frame.
The Langstroth hive uses three types of boxes – shallow, medium and deep – stacked upon each other. The shallow boxes are the shortest and the deep boxes are the tallest. As a beginner, it is best if you start with two deep or three medium boxes. They all come in widths of eight frames and ten frames. If you want your hives to be lightweight, you should go with the eight frame boxes. They also allow all parts to be interchangeable. Most people still prefer to use the ten frame boxes, however.
You can keep adding more boxes on the top as your bee colony expands. This process is known as supering, the extra boxes being known as honey supers. Once your honey supers are filled, you can remove them and harvest the surplus supply for your own use or sell.
There is a foundation inside each frame. It is comprised of nothing but a thin sheet made of plastic or beeswax. These sheets are pressed into hexagonal patterns, which mimics the natural shape of the honeycomb and will promote building. The bees draw out the foundation when they are added to the hive, and they create cells to store honey and develop the brood. The foundation can also have wires running through it to reinforce it and make it stronger. This system also makes it easy to harvest. When you need to take out the honey, you can simply remove the foundation and frames, and then cut off the caps from the cells. The caps are made of wax and serve as a protection for the vulnerable honeycomb and the precious store of honey it holds. Removing the wax caps is not too difficult, and once it is gone you will be able to harvest. This can be done through the use of an extractor and you will be able to easily collect the honey.
The Warre Hive is the invention of a French monk by the name of Emile Warre. He developed it in the twentieth century as a sensible and cost-effective way to build a hive. Before he settled on this model, he prototyped and experimented with over two hundred fifty hives. Warre would come to call it the “people’s hive”.
In this model, there is a stack of boxes with eight top bars, similar to the horizontal top bar. These bars are evenly spaced above each box in the stack and the bees proceed to build their honeycombs from each bar. As compared to the Langstroth hive, the boxes are much smaller. This is because Warre wanted to provide the bees with cells as close to their natural cells as possible, and he found that the cells bees lived in naturally were much smaller than what the other hive models had.
Unlike the Langstroth hive, in the Warre hive, the boxes are not added to the top of the hive. Instead, they are added to the bottom of the hive. This might seem illogical to some of you, but if you look at how bees operate in nature, you will see that they build their honeycombs from the top to the bottom. So it is much more natural for the bees to have extra building space on the bottom than on the top, as that is how they build in nature. In the Langstroth hive model, the bees are forced to build their honeycombs from the bottom to the top. They see this odd structure as an obstacle they must overcome, and so they adjust to the circumstances. In actuality, Bees can build in any direction, and in any shape. If they have space on the right, they will build more honeycombs on the right. This is also true for the space being to the left or above their heads, as discussed with the Langstroth hive. However, the most natural thing for them to do is to build downwards, and that is exactly what they are able to do in the Warre hive.
As you keep adding boxes at the bottom, the bees keep moving their brood nest downwards. The honey stores stay on the top boxes, and it forms an easy and natural way to remove honeycombs. It helps you maintain a healthy and repeatable cycle of honeycomb removal, which is essential for the health and continued existence of any colony. So in this method, you can keep adding boxes to the bottom and removing the ones on the top to take out the surplus.
Where should I put my hive?
Before you begin setting up, there is a lot to consider. One of the first things to make a decision about is the location of your hive. For you to decide the best place to put your hive, you need to consider several factors. These include your access to it, its access to sun and water, the topography, the safety concerns of your neighbors and neighborhood, and the flora of the area where you live.
Ease of access
This is the most important factor when it comes to deciding the placement of your hives. You should be able to access it easily. Bees can overcome any obstacle you throw their way and have few physical limitations, but it is not true for humans. If you are unable to access the hives easily, that could be a big problem. So make sure your hive is placed at a location that allows you to stand or kneel comfortably. It is even better if you place them in a roomier location where there is space for at least two people to fit in.
Early morning sun
It is important for hives, especially the ones in colder areas, to receive good sunlight. When hives are lit by the early morning sun, they are more productive because it helps bees maintain their natural cycle. It does not make much difference in hot areas, but early morning is very essential for beehives in chilly areas.
By considering where the sun hits in your yard at certain times of day, you can plan for the best location to set up the hive for the bees’ health.
Another important thing for bees is access to water. You should never use your neighbor’s pool as a water source for your bees. It is better to build a shallow pool or a birdbath in your own yard. It is essential for the bees, so make sure you provide them a water source.
Dehydration is very serious for bees, as it is for most living creatures. Without quick access to water, they may leave the area in search of it, which would be detrimental to the population in your hive. They could also die without sufficient water to maintain life.
Bees are sensitive to the orientation of their hive, so if their hive is slanted, they will build honeycombs that way. It is preferable to avoid slanted honeycombs, as it will only create trouble for you while removing them. So place your hives on a flat surface and make sure it is parallel to the ground.
Presence of forage
Bees need to collect pollen and nectar, so it is important that they have sufficient flowering plants in the nearby area. You cannot control the amount of flora in your area, but you sure can plant a lot of flowering plants in your own backyard and immediate vicinity. If you have a park nearby, that is even better. By providing your bees with a varied and plentiful selection of plant life, you are allowing them to live as naturally as possible. Diverse plant life in the area around the hive also provides the bees with the opportunity to collect pollen from different flora.
Safety is a very important factor when you are starting beekeeping. It is not only about the safety of your bees but also the safety of your family and neighbors. Make sure you build high fences around your property if your neighbors are not comfortable with having bees around their houses. This will deter the bees from going out of your property. You should also protect your beehive by placing it in a place where natural elements cannot hurt it.
You should be aware of all the laws regarding beekeeping in your area. If it is not legally acceptable to raise bees in your city, you will not be able to take it on as a hobby or as a way to make a living. However, with proper paperwork and permissions, most cities allow beekeeping. Some places make it very difficult to get a beekeeping license, and some others ban the usage of certain models of hives. You should stay up-to-date on all the laws and regulations governing beekeeping in your area.
Depending on the type of hive you use, you will most likely require certain tools to harvest honey from your beehives. The first step in the process is to separate the honeycombs without damaging them or killing the bees. For a small operation with only a few bees, a bee brush is fine for moving bees away from where you need to work. You can gently sweep the bees away and then proceed to separate the honeycombs. However, in a large-scale farm, it is very tedious to use a bee brush, and there is an added risk of losing a lot of bees in the process. An alternative in that situation is the use of escape boards. With the help of escape boards, you can direct the bees in particular directions and get them to move away from the area where you need to collect or remove honeycombs.
You can also use chemicals such as Bee Go or Bee Robber. The smell of these chemicals makes the bees fly away from the area, thereby leaving the honeycombs free for harvesting. But these chemicals require their own special covers called acid boards. If you follow the manufacturer’s instructions, the odor will not remain and affect the honey.
Another option to separate honeycombs is the bee blower. You can place a stand right outside the hive and then use the blower to blow the bees out. The disadvantage with the bee blower is that it is cumbersome, looking similar to a snow or leaf blower. It is also expensive. It is not the best option for someone starting out with beekeeping. For those who are more established and ready to make such an investment, or for somebody who has a large colony, a bee blower will work well and be worth the purchase.
Once you have separated the honeycombs, you can extract the honey. Hand powered extractors can handle two frames at a time while motor powered ones can handle even one hundred or more simultaneously. Extractors are expensive, however, so you may want to start out by buying used extractors instead of new ones. If you feel like expanding your operation, you can buy new ones later and even invest in a big extractor.
Another thing you will need is an electrically heated knife. This will help you remove wax cappings from the honeycombs. This wax lays over the honeycomb, protecting the honey.
For a small hobby operation, nylon or cheesecloth can be used to strain the honey. You will need two buckets, one with the honeycomb inside and the other with the cheesecloth covering the top of the bucket. The honey will be placed on top of the cheesecloth and the wax will be leftover on the cloth. You will want to cut the honeycomb up inside the bucket, into small pieces to release the honey. Then take large handfuls (make sure your hands are thoroughly clean) and place on the cheesecloth for straining. You can leave the cheesecloth and honeycomb along until all the honey is drained out of the comb. When the honey is almost all drained into the bucket, you can squeeze the remaining remnants of the honeycomb to release the last of the honey. Depending on the type of plant or tree used, honey will be different colors.
After that, you have to store it in a warm place, allowing the impurities to rise to the top. For those who want to turn this into a proper business, it makes sense to invest in a tank with an outlet at the bottom to help collect filtered honey.
Equipment for the winter
As we have already discussed, it is important for you to protect your hives from the cold. For that, you will need insulation to wrap around your hives. Make sure the hive is fully and properly covered, and then cover it with plastic to keep the insulation in place. You can then cover the hives in wooden boxes and tie it to something sturdy to prevent wind damage. Winter is a dormant time.