The art of beekeeping is trending among gardeners, and unless you’re apiphobic (afraid of bees), it’s actually a very beneficial hobby to keep. Beekeeping not only encourages the health of bee populations and pollinates your garden, but you also can harvest your very own, homemade honey, in fact 50-100 pounds of it!
Some best practices to prepare for your hive include making sure that your garden is filled with diverse plants and flowers such as local natives, perennials and herbs to attract bees, and avoiding pesticides. You’ll also want to consult with local regulations as well as your neighbors since your new hobby will affect them too. If they’re a little wary at first, the promise of homemade honey might be enough of a lure.
Lastly, before you buy or build your hive, prepare yourself. Beekeeping isn’t as leisurely a pastime as playing chess. It requires a big time commitment, physical strength and upfront costs. Honey filled boxes can weigh an average of 50 pounds, so be sure you can lift this amount of weight. Also, your hive can cost around $250 and a package of bees to start, around $120. However, this isn’t an annual fee, so aside from adding on new hives, you’ll only pay it once.
Preparations aside, beekeeping is a noble hobby—one the beekeeper and environment benefit from alike. A lot of our food relies on pollinators, and recently bee populations have been declining. Backyard beekeepers are helping to turn that around. You can too by building or buying your own beehive.
11 Step Guide to Building a Hive
1. Chose a Method
Your first step will be to decide how you want to build your hive. You have three choices:
- Buy a complete set (which can be pricey)
- Buy separate parts and assemble them
- Build all of your own parts which can save you up to 50% of the cost
Regardless of your choice, always buy parts from an esteemed seller for the integrity and durability of the hive as well the health of the bees. Your hive should be built out of untreated pine or cedar, and your boxes and supers won’t have a bottom—you’ll only need materials for the edges and supers. If you do choose to build your hive, you will still have to purchase frames, outer lids and an excluder, as these are items best left to the experts.
2. Build Deep Supers
Deep supers are the large boxes that bees build their hives in. You’ll use 1-2 per hive with 8 or 10 frames in it to hold the wax. Build these boxes, which won’t have tops or bottoms, with 2 short sides (16.25 x 9.56 inches) and 2 long ones (20 x 9.56 inches). Use tongue-and-groove or dovetailed ends for the joints.
3. Build Honey Supers
Honey supers will be the same length as the deep supers, but the height will depend if you want it to be shallow (5.75 inches) or medium (6 ⅝ inches). The honey supers and frames are where the bees will build their wax and honey. This box sits on top of the deep super with a queen excluder in between.
4. Assemble Supers
Use a dab of waterproof wood glue to put together the interlocking joints on each super. Slide them into place and use vices to hold them together until the glue dries. Once it does, secure your supers with a few nails.
5. Buy or Build the Bottom Board
The bottom board is just a flat piece of solid or screened wood with raised edges the same dimensions as the supers. It’s height will be 0.375 inches. We suggest buying one that is reversible for the correct seasonal entrance because it’s more cost effective and you won’t have to store a secondary base.
6. Add Entrance Reducer
During summer, the entrance should be 0.75 inches, and 0.38 inches in winter. This helps to regulate the hives temperature throughout the season. You want to reduce the size of your entrance because any larger will allow rodent infestations.
7. Paint the Box
This step is optional, but should you choose to, painting your box a light color or white non-toxic, outdoor paint will help reflect light and keep the hive cool. Just don’t paint the insides.
8. Buy an Excluder
Unfortunately, this is an item you can’t make at home. It fits on the top, inside of the deep super, and prevents the queen from moving into the honey super. The intricate nature of this piece is best left to professionals.
9. Buy Covers for the Box
Another purchase, but you’ll be glad you did (they have to match). The inner cover is wood and has a hole on top as the entrance. The outer cover is metal (now you see why you have to buy them) and covers the top as well as securely fits over the sides. You will use the outer cover during adverse weather.
10. Buy Frames
Beginners shouldn’t try to tackle frames. Their complex wire/foundation composition is hard to replicate at home. Frames for the deep and honey supers are made of wood or plastic and slide vertically into place. You’ll want 8-10 for the deep supers and 6-8 for the honey supers.
11. Assemble the Box
Layer all of the components on top of a stand. You can purchase a bee box stand, but any elevated surface that keeps the hive off of the ground, such as a small table or bench, will do. Layer your pieces in this order:
- Hive stand
- Bottom board
- Slatted frame (optional to purchase, for ventilation)
- Seep super(s)
- Queen excluder
- Honey supers
Now you’re good to go! If you’re still apprehensive about starting your own hive, we understand. We’re trained stay away from bees to avoid being stung, but really, it’s all about managing and reading the bees’ behaviors and avoiding putting them on the defensive.
6 Safety Tips to Consider
Follow the following safety tips for best beekeeping results:
1. Wear Light Colored, Smooth Garments
Bees are agitated by bright colors and can stick to textured fabrics, like wool. Avoid wearing these as well as jewelry since the bright reflections and movement will attract them. Make sure to avoid any gaps in your clothing by tucking everything in, even you pants to your socks, and protect your head by purchasing a beekeeping veil. If you feel more comfortable in a complete beekeeping suit, then by all means get one.
2. Acclimate Weather
Bees are more aggressive during the cold and stormy weather. When you can, approach your hive on bright, sunny and warm (above 57℉) days.
3. Time Collections
Collect your honey when the bees have gone to nectar. This means, the majority of them have left the hive to gather food. This happens when flowers are in full bloom. You can check the exact time depending on your climate.
4. Use a Bee Smoker
Smoke masks the odors and hormones that agitate bees. Use a bee smoker and wait a few minutes before entering the box to allow the smoke to calm the bees down.
5. Prepare to Be Stung
It’s an occupational hazard of beekeeping—at one point or another, you will get stung. Beekeepers say that the more it happens, the less it hurts because you develop antibodies to the bee venom. However, if you are allergic to bees, it is best to get your homemade honey from someone else.
6. Bees Smell Fear
So keep calm, cool and collected. They aren’t out to hurt you, and if you keep calm and make slow movements, the bees will hardly notice as you harvest the sweet honey they’ve made you.
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