One of the first steps to becoming a beekeeper is understanding the hive - where a colony of bees lives.
The hive is a fairly simple structure, but its parts can be confusing to a beginner. Let's go through all the parts of the beehive.
In this video, you'll learn:
- The parts of a hive & their purpose
- How to put a hive together
- How to use a hive
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I am using the Langstroth-style hive because it is the most common beehive used in the United States. When getting started, I recommend buying whatever style hive is the most commonly used hive in your area. This is because it will be much easier to find help when you have a question and easier to buy equipment.
Before we lay down the first part of the hive, we need to find a good spot for our bees. When considering where to put your bees, you want to find a spot that is:
- Out of the way
- Facing a bush, fence, building or area that is not commonly used
It is common for people to mention the direction your hive should face. However, I have not found that the direction of your hive affects the bees much at all. My bees face all different directions.
Next, you want to sit your beehive on something so that it is not directly on the ground. You can make a hive stand from palettes, cinder blocks, bricks or laying 2x4’s across cinder blocks. You can also purchase a beehive stand from numerous beekeeping supply sites.
My beehives are on palettes and I have found this to be sufficient.
Most importantly, you want your hive stand to be at least 18” off the ground, not only to save your back, but also to keep skunks, mice and other animals from nosing around the beehive.
Tip! To prevent bears from attacking your hive, put an electric fence around your hives BEFORE they attack the bees. Once a bear knows there is sweet honey inside, it will be difficult to keep them away.
The bottom board in the floor of your beehive. It can either be a solid bottom board or you can get a screened bottom board. Most beekeepers use a sold bottom board. However, some beekeepers in warmer climates use a screened bottom to allow more ventilation in the hive. It can also be helpful if your bees are in a very rainy area and rain continues to pool up inside the hive. I live in a very humid climate with a high small hive beetle population. I have found that screened bottom boards not only allow a lot of beetles to get into the hive, but that it encourages the growth of mold inside the hive. What I like to use are screened bottom boards with an oil pan below. See the link here to view one. This prevents beetles from getting inside the hive and keeps the hive closed up, but also does a great job killing small hive beetles.
The entrance reducer reduces the size of the entrance of a beehive. When a hive is small, the full entrance on the hive can be too much for the guard bees to protect. A smaller entrance will keep the hive safe from other bees and wasps looking to steal this small hive’s food. The second time an entrance reducer is used is in the late summer or fall when there is not a lot of flowers blooming. When this happens, it is very common for the smallest hives in the area to be robbed to the point that the hive collapses. An entrance reducer makes it easier for the bees to defend the hive from these intruders.
Did you know? Honeybees from other hives can kill your bees! A common cause for a colony to collapse is due to robbing from other honeybees.
The brood box is 9-⅝” tall. It is also referred to the brood chamber or the deep box. It is where the queen lays her eggs. We call these baby bees, before they hatched, brood. The brood is usually in the lower section of the beehive, and the upper section is mostly honey.
There are two different sizes to choose from for your deep box. You can get a 10 frame or an 8 frame box. The 8 frame box is narrower and so weighs a little bit less. 10 frames boxes are commonly used by commercial beekeepers, and although they weigh a little bit more, also hold more bees and honey.
Most beekeepers choose to put two deeps on their hive, giving the queen two boxes to potentially lay eggs in.
When the bees start to build honeycomb and fill up the frames with food and baby bees (brood), you will then add a second box to the hive. Learn more about when to do this in my article, When & How to Add a Box to Your Beehive.
CONFUSING PARTS EXPLAINED: You'll see quite a few names for the boxes of a beehive. "super" or "hive body" refers to the boxes, no matter their size. "Brood" or "deep" refers to the taller box on the hive. These are 9-5/8" tall. The shorter boxes are usually called shallows, mediums or honey supers.
The brood box is completely empty with just a shelf on the sides. This shelf is for hanging frames. Frames are, literally, just a frame. They have four sides with a space in the center.
Within the frames, most beekeepers put foundation. Foundation can be made of plastic (but coated with beeswax) or beeswax. Alternatively, you can choose not to use any foundation and put empty frames inside your beehive. Bees build their honeycomb off of the foundation. It forces them to make every cell of the honeycomb the same size. If you want to prevent the bees from making too many drones (male bees) or want to prevent the bees from building honeycomb that goes in a variety of directions, thus making it hard to inspect your hive, foundation is what you want.
Want to learn more about frames and foundation? Curious about foundationless beekeeping? Check out this blog post explaining everything you need to know about them and how to use them.
Black foundation can make it easier to spot those little white eggs the queen lays.
Green foundation is used for the male drone honeycomb and is optional to put in your hive.
Yellow foundation is often the color used in frames for the honey supers.
The honey super is placed on top the second deep box of your beehive. It is where the bees will store their honey. There are two sizes for honey supers - shallow and medium. If you want your honey super to weigh less, then get a shallow box, which will weigh roughly 35-40lb. The medium box holds more honey, but will weigh about 10 pounds more.
A queen excluder is a flat sheet full of small rectangle-shaped holes. They can be made of metal or plastic. The holes of the queen excluder are large enough for worker bees to fit through, but too small for the queen to fit through. The queen excluder is placed on top of your second brood box and under your first honey super. It is used to prevent the queen from laying eggs in your honey boxes.
Although, in theory, the queen excluder sounds like a great idea, I do not like to use queen excluders on my beehives. The reason for this is because it can encourage your bees to swarm. Bees swarm not because they need room in the hive, but because they need space in the brood chamber, where the queen is laying eggs. If the brood boxes are full and there is no excluder on a hive, the queen can potentially move upwards and start laying in the honey boxes instead of swarm. If a queen excluder is on the hive, then the queen has no choice but to lay fewer eggs and eventually the bees will swarm, leaving your hive will no queen and about 10-20,000 fewer bees.
TIP! Practice your queen spotting skills when you first get your bees. At this time the hive is small and it is MUCH easier to spot her.
The inner cover is used under the outer cover and sits on the uppermost box of the beehive. It can make it easier to take the outer cover off of your hive, is used in the winter time to insulate the hive, gives the bees an upper entrance and can help with humidity control. Learn more about the inner cover in this article.
The outer cover is the lid of the beehive. It protects the hive and everything and everyone inside it. There are two types of lids - outer covers, what is shown above, and migratory lids. Migratory lids are used by beekeepers who move their hives. It is only used in the warm months and does not hang over the sides of the beehive, allowing the beekeeper to fit more hives on a truck when moving the bees. I do not recommend migratory lids to hobby beekeepers. However, if you live in an area that does not get below 70F in the daytime and does not have a lot of rain, then you can save some money and used a migratory cover instead of an outer cover. In this article, I go into more detail about the differences between migratory lids and outer covers.
Some additional items
Some additional items you will want to purchase before keeping bees, but that is not a part of the beehive is:
- Veil, jacket with veil or beekeeping suit
- Hive tool (or 2 or 3)
- Sting-resistant gloves
If you’d like to watch how to use a beehive and when to use the parts, click the video below. It automatically jump to the appropriate section.
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