When it comes to beehives, it is recommended to start with at least two. In this way, if one of the colonies does not survive, you can use bees from the other one and ensure survival. Even though a beehive might seem like a complicated structure at first, soon you will realize that it is actually quite a simple construction. You are practically looking at boxes, stacked one upon the other, with a lid that prevents the rainwater from entering into the hive.
- Hive stand – a beehive should never be placed directly on the ground, as the excessive dampness can affect the health of the bees and destroy the hive; do not waste your money on a store-bought hive stand, as you can use a wide range of items for such purposes (for example, a pallet or a concrete block)
- Floor – the floor comes after the hive stand, being actually a mesh that is fixed in a wooden frame; made from stainless steel, it will serve as support for the brood box and also facilitate the ventilation process within the beehive (the floor is more than necessary, as it protects the bees during cold weather)
- Brood box – this is the box in which the queen will lay the eggs, leading to a new generation of bees; in the situation that your colony grows too rapidly, it is recommended to add a second brood box (in this way, you will keep the risk of swarming down to a minimum)
- Queen excluder – lying on the brood box, the queen excluder serves the purpose of separating the queen bee from the rest of the colony; however, the flat grid allows for the worker bees to pass, in order to reach the upper boxes and store the honey (the queen is too large in size to pass through the grid)
- Honey supers – these are located on top of the brood chamber, serving the purpose of storing honey (3/4 boxes are recommended for such purposes)
- Frames – these are located inside the boxes, being either made from wood or from plastic; wooden frames are often chosen by beginners, as they are easier to use; plastic frames are both solid and strong, presenting a reduced risk of damage during the honey extraction process (preferred by those with experience); two of the most popular types of frames are Hoffman (best frame for the brood chamber, 10 in each box) and Manley (best frame for honey supers, 8-9 in each box)
- Frame feeders – these are plastic frames as well, serving the purpose of feeding the bees with sugar syrup (if necessary)
- Foundation wax – this is recommended for the beehives that do not already have bees in them; this wax sheet will fit within the frame, having a similar shape to the one of the honey comb; interestingly enough, the bees will rely on the foundation wax to build their honey comb
- Crown board – not a mandatory part of the beehive, it is located at the top of the most superior box, right under the protective lid
- Lid – while there are many designs out there to choose from, the flat and telescopic lid remains the best choice, as it guarantees the best flexibility; the one thing that you have to make sure is that your lid has a zinc cover, in order to prevent rainwater from getting into the beehive; if you are live in a hot area, it is recommended that the lid is painted white.
Among the other equipment/tools that you should consider purchasing, there are:
- Hive tool – enough though it is only a simple bar made from metal, it is indeed one of the most useful pieces of equipment when it comes to beekeeping; it will help you approach the areas that are otherwise difficult to reach, due to the bees having used propolis to glue them together.
- Smoker – it is a known fact that smoke has a calming effect on agitated bees; all it takes is a little bit of smoke applied at the entrance of the hive, in order to obtain the desired effect. The one thing you have to make sure is that your smoker has a protective grid; in this way, you can use it without having to wear gloves or worry about burning yourself
- Division board – if you are interested in splitting your hive into two separate ones, then you will need this useful tool; the division board is, for example, recommended when you want to begin with a hive that has two queens (in this way, you will maximize the production of honey).
If you are just beginning in this field, it is recommended that you purchase a full body suit, in order to reduce the risk of stings. As you gain more experience, you can still with a half-body suit or use only the hood with the veil. In general, it is indicated to wear a suit with a hood that can be unzipped, thus making it easier to throw it back when you are done working the bees. The full suit is also an excellent investment, in the situation that you are working with more aggressive bees or lots of colonies. In any case, if you want to avoid being stung, you will need a good pair of gloves (preferably made from leather). The gumboots can provide the adequate level of protection in the feet area as well.
When it comes to beehives, it is recommended to purchase them from a local beekeeper. In this way, you can ensure that the bees are already installed; however, even though this is an easy way to start out, you have to watch out for disease and use enhanced methods of protection (the beehive will already have guard bees read to defend the nest and attack any predators, including yourself).
A less conventional but nevertheless possible option is hiving a swarm. What you want to do is obtain a swarm from a beekeeper and pick his/her brain, asking for assistance on how the bees should be properly installed. Another possibility is to buy a nucleus of bees; this usually comes in a box, containing several frames (1 brood frame, 1-2 honey frames, 1 honey comb frame). Inside the nucleus, you will also find the laying queen. The advantage of this possibility is that the brood is already prepared to emerge, thus being able to contribute to the growth and survival of the colony.
It is also possible to purchase bees in a package. A regular package contains between 8000 and 12000 bees, having four sides made from wood and two screens (anterior and posterior). In the package, you will also found a laying queen, established in a separate cage (made from wood as well). However, if you decide to go with this alternative, you will have to be prepared to wait for another three weeks before the emergence of the brood.
If you are wondering about the best time to purchase bees, this is in the spring, as this will give you the opportunity to see the entire development of the colony (going from a small colony or nucleus to a thriving beehive, ready to provide you with delicious honey and other related products).
Once you have gathered the necessary equipment and you have purchased the bees, it is time to get started. One of the first tasks that you will have to accomplish is place the beehives in a suitable location, one that will allow the bees to thrive and your neighbors to live in the peace, without the fear that bees will bother them. A good location will ensure a thriving colony and thus provide you with generous amounts of honey.
Beehive positioning in country areas
If you have decided to position your beehives in a country location, there are a number of things you have to be on the lookout for. First of all, you must ensure that the bees are not located too close from other properties, so that they do not bother anyone. Second, you must ensure that the beehives are protected against common weather elements, such as wind, frost or rain. A thriving colony will need to have flowering plants in the area as well. As for you, you have to be able to access the beehives without too much effort (on foot/by vehicle).
Before you establish a permanent location for your beehives, make sure that there are good nectar sources in the nearby area. The same goes for water, as the bee colony will need a good source in the area (so as not to visit the neighbors for such requirements). A source of pollen is a must as well, as this is necessary for the proper rearing of the brood. It is equally important that the beehives are not located in an area that is prone to floods or in one that is located too close to a power line. Last, but not least, you have to make sure that the beehives are not near weeds or tall grass (remove them if necessary).
A common problem when establishing the location of beehives is drifting. Basically, the bees will go into the wrong hive, which means that you must re-arrange your beehives. In order to prevent such problems, it is recommended that you stick with a horseshoe pattern. You can also arrange your beehives in a wavy line or in pairs, as these patterns will prevent drifting as well.
Beehive positioning in urban areas
Even though you might not think possible to position beehives in urban areas, it has been proven that excellent honey can be produced from such arrangements. Both city parks and green urban gardens represent excellent sources of nectar, so it is understandable why urban beekeeping is a genuine possibility.
Many beekeepers establish their beehives on the rooftop of a building, as this is a good and isolated position (no risk of upsetting the neighbors, plus the bees thrive in such locations). Another option would be an enclosed garden but you have to make sure that it has high walls, so as not to bother the people who live in the area.
When you set up your beehives in an urban area, you also have to ensure a steady water source for your bees. It does not necessarily have to be a source of fresh water, as bees actually prefer any source of water. It is a good idea to establish your beehives in a garden that is located to a public water supply, such as a river or a lake.
In order to reduce the risk of receiving complaints from people who live in the area, it is recommended to keep a small number of beehives and ensure a regular water source. You should also go for the gentle type of bees, collecting any swarms that might have come out and putting up high fences. Providing your neighbors with a steady supply of honey is also a good idea to keep them satisfied.
Hive with bees
If you have purchased a hive that already has bees, you have to give careful consideration to its final position. You need to make sure that the beehive is positioned in a way that allows for sunlight to reach the entrance as early as it is possible. In this way, you will stimulate the bees to start their day. First of all, you need to place the beehive on the chosen stand, and then tilt it in a forward direction. Then, unblock the entrance to the hive and wait for a couple of days, until the bees have settled down.
If you have purchased an empty hive, with separate foundation frames and nucleus bees, the procedure is a little bit different. First of all, each nucleus would have to be placed on top of the beehive, making sure that the entrance faces the same direction as the beehive. Then, you will have to unblock the entrance to the nucleus and return to the beehive the next evening. For the next step, you will have to open the body of the brood and remove a couple of frames from the central part, replacing them with the ones from the nucleus.
Once you have achieved that, it is time to close the entrance, in a way that allows for one single bee to enter and leave the hive. Go to the edge of the box and take out another frame, adding the frame feeder instead (this will be filled with sugar syrup you have previously prepared). You will have to
close the beehive and wait for another week. Upon inspecting the beehive, check out the queen, making sure that she is alive and that she has laid eggs. The tilting of the beehive in a forward direction will ensure the necessary protection against rain.
As soon as the package of bees has arrived, what you want to do is deposit it in a room that is both dark and cool. The temperature in the room in which the bee package is deposit should not be above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Brush the surface of the screen with sugar syrup, as this will have a calming effect on the bees and will also ensure they are fed. In general, it is recommended that you install the bees in the afternoon, as this will allow for a more efficient process of settling in and will reduce the risk of drifting.
Use a bar of wood to reduce the entrance to the hive, and then remove the wooden cover of the cage. Remove the feeder and also the queen cage (check to see if the queen is alive). Puncture the candy that is found in the queen cage, as this will allow for the worker bees to release it in an easier manner. Remove five frames, then place the queen cage between two of the frames. Then, replace the frame and place the package at the entrance to the beehive. Fill the frame feeder with sugar syrup and you are all done.