This Spring, in the excitement of having our own house, we likely have taken on far too many projects than we can comfortably handle. Regardless it has led to something I have wanted to try for a long time. BEES! I’ve always been fascinated with colony insects and bees bring this to a whole different level with their delicious honey. Hell who even cares about the honey when you get to watch thousands of stinging insects make a home in your backyard right?
Initially looking into beekeeping was a confusing mess. I was overwhelmed and frustrated trying to find consistent information. I eventually realized that beekeepers have as many opinions as there are beekeepers. I gathered the basic knowledge of equipment and care and decided to simply go for it. This spring I will be starting 3 hives of Italian bees and hoping for the best!
I’ll go over a brief rundown of everything I got for my hive and some quick knowledge of bees themselves. Information I’ve gotten may be incorrect or very vague but endure with me, I'm learning.
First off let me state that beekeeping is not cheap. Everything from the bees to the paint on the boxes can take a good junk out of your wallet. Thankfully most of this is a onetime expense but I would not go into this hobby expecting to make fistfuls of cash.
There are many types of bees out there, and each has benefits over the other in various traits such as disease resistance, weather tolerability, and rate of growth. My pick of Italian bees was mainly dependent on availability and their recommendation of being an excellent starter bee. Second in line to my decision was the Russian bee which is similar to Italians but hardier in colder climates, these took a backseat due to them being a bit more complicated to work with. My bees were purchased from Farm & Fleet as I was a bit late in ordering them. Order early from local sources as they go fast.
Here is a simplified layout of a modern Langstroth beehive (the most commonly used) . Know that each box contains 8 or 10 frames dependent on the box type and can be stacked higher if needed. From the bottom up we will go over the parts.
Stand - Keeps the beehive off the ground, it is not necessary but will keep your hive from rotting away very quickly. Beehives are often placed slightly raised above the ground to discourage pests and keep things dry.
Floor / Bottom Board - This is the entrance of the hive, the carved wooden entrance you see in the diagram is the reducer and can be interchanged for an array of pieces to keep out pests or to limit the traffic of the hive.
Brood Box - The home of the queen. Within the frames of this box the queen lays her eggs, with some pollen and honey stored in these frames. This box is not used for harvesting honey and is only disturbed when checking on the health of the hive.
Queen Excluder – A barrier that prevents only the queen from passing through it. This keeps eggs and other queen activities out of harvestable honey.
Honey Super – The general term for a box of frames that only contains honey for harvest. The box and frame sizes can vary but they are all generally called a “super”….confusing.
Crown board – A board below the roof that aids in both feeding and keeping the bees out of your way when removing the top. Can come with or without a hole and is often covered up when not feeding.
Roof - Protects the hive from the elements, often metal or a weather resistant top.
I went a bit overboard in purchasing the pieces to my hive and likely ended up with more than I needed. There are many additional pieces you can add on to a hive for pest control, ventilation feeding, etc.
First off I decided on the larger of the two standard box sizes, the 10 frame hive body. This is opposed to the 8 frame hive which is slightly smaller. The only major difference between the two is the weight, 10 frame equipment will be much heavier when full of honey. My back may regret this decision later but I can always switch to smaller ones if needed. I used this size for all the boxes in my setup, keeping it simple and reducing the number of items I had to get. I bought the boxes un-assembled to save money and to have some fun assembling them (but mostly the saving money part).
Next up are the frames to go in these boxes, there are so many different types out there. Each one claims to be better than the last. I decided to try out both the wooden and plastic frame, plastic being cheaper. I purchased these assembled as it was a very minor price difference and who has time to assemble nearly a hundred frames?
These next three items were optional but considering how much I was already investing in this I figured why not.
The screened drawer is essentially used to trap and monitor varroa mite levels in the colony. These are parasitic mites that cause lots of harm to colonies. It has a wire mesh bottom with a pullout drawer. It is placed on top of the bottom board and acts as the new entrance.
A slatted rack is mainly used for climate control
of the hive. In the winter is adds an extra barrier between the entrance and hive bodies which helps reduce drafts. In the summer bees are able to sit on the rack and flap their wings to promote airflow and keep it cooler. There is debated benefits to the slatted rack and queen health but I couldn't find anything definite.
The baggie feeder is just one of the several ways to feed your bees. It adds extra space to fit baggies of sugar water. These are placed on top of the hive but below the roof.
This item is the protein for the bees in hard times. It allows the colonies to grow and survive when actual pollen is not easily available. It can be fed in the dry form or made into patties and placed inside the hive (this prevents outside hives from stealing it).
That’s it; we are mostly done with the technical stuff! Up next will be the hive box construction and the preparation of the beehives.