Beekeeping – What Equipment do I Need? – The Hive
My plans to start beekeeping are progressing. I’ve been doing lots of research into the equipment I’ll need and whether or not our garden will be a suitable location for the bees. I’m not sure about the latter yet and want some advice from an experienced beekeeper first, but as far as the equipment goes I think I’m beginning to know what I need / want.
This post explores the options as far as the beehive itself is concerned.
There are an almost overwhelming number of beehive options and the choice is important as it does afterall provide a home for your bees and is where they will produce and store the honey. The bees themselves don’t seem to mind which type of hive they are in, but there are pros and cons to all of the options. Cost, ease of use, honey yields and aesthetics all play a role in making such a decision.
The National Standard Hive
The most commonly used hive in the UK is the National Standard Hive. It isn’t cheap, but isn’t the most expensive either. As it is widely used parts and spares for it are easy to obtain and much of the beekeeping literature and expertise will revolve around such a hive. It is also relatively easy to use for the beekeeper and likely to be the hive that is used in any classes that I attend. It is also possible to modify it so that it suits the local environment, the bees and the beekeepers needs.
The WBC Hive
The traditional cottage style beehive that everyone associates with beekeeping is known as a WBC hive. It is double walled, looks really nice and is also the most expensive. The frames and such like that fit inside it for the bees to draw out comb and store honey are all compatible with the National Standard.
Our beehive will be a bit of a garden feature, the good looks therefore have to be taken into account so the WBC hive is an option. However, the downsides are the cost of the hive and the fact that it is a little more fiddly to use due to the need to remove the external layer before the hive can be examined. Also, the double walled nature may keep the bees protected from the cold winds and driving rain here, but it also means that it takes longer to warm up on sunny spring days meaning that the bees may be later to emerge.
There are other hives such as the Langstroth (which is the most commonly used hive worldwide), the Commercial and many others, but as these aren’t so common in the UK I have given these little attention. They all operate in a similar fashion to the National Standard.
The Top Bar Hive
Another option however is a Top bar Hive. These are much simpler affairs and could easily be made at home from some bits of timber. They don’t require frames, are much cheaper and are easier to use. Getting the bees settled into them isn’t so easy though and they aren’t quite so easy when it comes to treating for diseases and such like. Also, the honey production from these hives isn’t quite as good as the others simply because the bees have to build their own comb rather than being provided with frames containing wax foundation on which to build their comb.
I have yet to make a final decision. The Top Bar Hive is attractive because of the cost and the more natural approach to beekeeping but I’m not sure how much help and information I would get locally with such a hive. I’m not too worried about the amount of honey we’d get as that isn’t the main reason for keeping bees for us, but it would of course be nice to get some. I think the WBC option will just be a little too expensive, so probably the best option is going to be the National Standard. I may be able to make it look a little prettier in the garden by adding a stand and a gabled roof to it.
So, National Standard it is. Choosing a type of beehive is one thing, but then there are all manner of ways in which a hive can be configured.
The Brood Box
The first option is the size of the Brood Box which is the bottom box of the hive and is where the queen bee lays her eggs. It seems as though the brood box of the National is now considered too small for the laying activity of modern strains of queen bee. This has led to many beekeepers operating the National with a larger 14 x 12 inch brood box which gives a brood size similar to the Commercial or Langstroth. Another option is to add a Super (see below) above the brood box to give a “brood and a half”. The Brood and a Half provides more room for the brood, but also increases the number of frames that have to be checked during an inspection.
This is the base of the hive that has an entrance for the bees to get into the hive. The standard is for a solid wooden floor, but an option of an open mesh floor is also available and seems to be preferred. Not only does an open mesh floor allow for improved ventilation in the hive, but it also means that Verroa Mites (a parasite of honey bees) drop through the mesh and out of the hive after being groomed off the bees. With a solid floor, the mites can simply climb back into the hive and reattach themselves to a bee. It would seem to me as though a an open mesh floor will be the way to go.
Supers are the upper boxes on a hive where the bees store their honey. They are usually smaller than the brood box, but you can add more than one allowing the bees to store more honey. As far as I can tell I’ll need a minimum of 2 Supers on my hive.
A queen excluder is a mesh divide between the brood box and the supers that allows the worker bees through but is too small to allow the queen through. This prevents the Queen Bee from leaving the brood box and laying eggs in the honey supers. If she did and a brood develops it is difficult to harvest a clean honey product. Most of the complete hives I’ve been looking at come with a queen excluder.
Frames and Foundation
In modern beehives such as the National Standard, beekeepers add wooden ‘frames’ containing a wax ‘foundation’. This foundation is imprinted with a honeycomb pattern and the bees use it as a starting point for building honeycomb. This gets the bees started and allows them to concentrate more of their efforts on honey production. There are of course various sizes of frames and different ways of spacing them within the super (or brood box), but as a beginner I think I will stick with the standard options here.
So, that’s it, a ready assembled Cedar National Standard Hive with 14 x 12 inch Brood Body containing 11 14 x 12 Hoffman Frames, a slotted steel queen excluder, 2 Supers each with 10 SN1 frames and foundation on castellated spacers, a crown board, gabled roof and a stand. Time to start saving!