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.

Other Hives

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.

Configuration

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.

Bottom Board

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

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.

Queen Excluder

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!

8 Responses

  1. Alan says:

    I’ve been asking about some of my concerns about keeping bees here on a few forums (http://www.britishbee.org.uk/forum/, http://www.honeybeekeeping.co.uk/ and http://www.biobees.com/forum/). I’ll post some of the replies I’ve got below:

  2. Alan says:

    Just glanced at your blog. If you want a conventional type of hive, National is a lot easier and better value than WBC, which is clumsy to use and contains a lot of (expensive) wood. That said, bees quite like living in WBCs in my experience. Have you given any thought to a top bar hive?

    Coastal situations are not ideal for bees:
    There are no flowers on the sea, so the area available to the bees is halved.
    The onshore winds tend to limit flying opportunities for honeybees (bumbles are less affected).

    Is there a sheltered spot a mile or two inland that you could use?

    Gareth

  3. Alan says:

    Hi Al,

    Welcome. We have TBHs due inland of you on the border. I also know Borth a bit (played a wedding ceilidh there a few years back). I’d think a bit about forage…quite a few golf courses, caravan sites etc nearby, quite a lot of salt spray (anyone know how much this might be an issue?). What’s within three or four miles?

    Had a look at your blog. TBH have lots of advantages, cost is just one of them. Building their own comb is much better as you don’t know the provenance of bought foundation and the bees can build as intended.

    Good luck.
    _________________
    Welsh Sustainable Beekeepers group http://beekeeper.webs.com/

  4. Alan says:

    Hey Al,

    There really is so much to learn but I’m glad you have taken some time to read up a bit before plunging in but the real learning curve comes with your first hive.

    Before I answer you questions can you tell us where you are getting your bees and how many there will be i.e. will it be a nuc hive you are getting from a loacal beekeeper? I have written extensively about not importing bees to this country and contacting your local beekeepers association to try and obtain local bees…this also builds up your info/expertise network. Also I wouldn’t buy a brand new hive if you can get a second hand one for cheap locally. Obviously if doing this use a blow torch to scorch hive interior and kill of any bugs etc.

    To answer your queries, yes you are definitely on the right track! I would advise you go for the standard national, get frames with foundation (you can get a mixture of wired and non-wired…..the non wired is for producing comb honey).

    Just go for everything standard for your first hive! If you are getting nuc hive you wont need any supers for the first year as the hive will be too small and will probably (depends on the size of the nuc really) only need the brood box to operate. Also if you are getting a nuc hive and you area is kinda plant barron then you will have to feed your bees. For spring and summer feeding mix one kilo of sugar with one litre of water (1lb:1 Pint). Also see this page.

    Your bees will fly for a few miles to forage. If your area is still lifeless within three miles you are 1. going to have to feed your bees a lot and 2. start planting for the bees in your area.

    If there is a strong wind coming from the see fairly constantly I would face the hive entrance away from this and create a windbreak with bushes and shrubs at the back. If the wind is strong a lot of the time this probably isn’t ideal for the bees as they will need to fly back with full pollen/nectar loads against the wind to return to the hive. This could mean you have a high turnover of foragers?? I cant be certain of this but would seem logical, however I don’t think this would be a reason not to keep them in your garden. Suck it and see dude, if the hive is failing you will probably have to look to its position as the answer.

    Well I hope Ive helped and good luck with your bees.

  5. Alan says:

    I have no problem with what you have chosen, there are differeing views on whether a standard brood or a 14×12 is desireable. You may like to consider a wire queen excluder. I have wire, plasitc and galvanised steel and I prefer the wire ones with the wooden frame myself. The gabled roof looks better in some peoples opinion. However it is common practice to take off the supers and put them on the upturned (flat) roof at 45 degrees. So you might need to consider this after you have opened up a few hives. Check to see if there is a local association you can join.

    I am concerned about the location – close to the sea. Local beekeepers could give good advice I expect.

    Another thing you will need is some spare equipment. Bees will swarm so spares are necessary. Maybe not if you buy a small colony this year (A nuc – nucleus colony) but in the future you will need more stuff.

    Adam

  6. Alan says:

    Hi Al.
    Don’t worry too much about the forage in your garden. Bees will forage up to 3 miles away from the colony and a forage area can cover 8,000 acres.
    Definitely site a hive in a sheltered area rather than a windswept one.
    Check with local beekeepers what bees do well in your area. Your local BKA may well have a breeding programme to supply newcomers with nucs and it will work out a lot cheaper than buying one commercially. Thorne charge £200 + vat for a nuc and BKAs typically provide them for less than half that. Newbies in my BKA paid between £20-£60 for nucs last year although it will be more like £75 this year.
    In your blog you mention that a national brood box is considered too small. That may be true if you keep Buckfast, Carnica or Italian bees, but native types usually fit happily in a single national brood. Steve Rose or Roger Patterson will no doubt be along in a minute to add more.

    Jon

  7. Alan says:

    Hi Al

    Since moving to Denbighshire I have discovered that in some areas in Wales the local beekeepers cooperate together to try to keep bees that are racially compatible and acclimatised to the area. I am not sure if that is happening in your area but I think it’s important that you persevere with your attempts to contact the local association to see what their policy is.

    Jon mentioned your choice of 14 x 12 brood boxes. My view is that if you have a prolific bee, whether its a pure race or mongrel, a large box is better than 2 small ones. However, if you end up with a non-prolific bee then you would be better off with a standard national.

    You might be too short of forage for a large surplus from lots of hives but I would be surprised if one or two hives of local bees in your garden would struggle. At worst you may have to feed them occasionally.

    As for wind, I would try to erect some sort of temporary wind break against the prevailing wind. Your bamboo should do the trick but might take a while to thicken sufficiently. Native type bees are said to have heavier thoraxes than other races and cope better with the wind and I suspect that whatever bee your locals use will share this trait. They also have smaller nests and less brood so cope better during periods when the weather is too bad to fly or when there are few flowers secreting nectar.

    There is a bee farmer near Aberystwyth, whose name escapes me at the moment, (I’m sure someone will chip in with his contact details) who keeps successful local bees so it might be an idea to trace him in addition to talking to association members. Between them they should be able to advise you better than anyone who doesn’t have direct experience of your district.

    I hope that helps.

    Steve

  8. Alan says:

    Hi Al,

    Just a small point. If you are prepared to put up with perhaps a little inconvenience in order have the sheer satisfaction of ‘nursing’ some bees and enjoying their produce, then there is nothing against placing the hive(s) at some distance inland where better forage and calm will ensure that they are happier than being blown about and little or nothing to feed upon. Providing you can get ready access, there shouldn’t be a problem having an “out apiary” if you care enough to get bitten by this wonderful bug. Wind really does upset the critters, just as it does those of us who do not winsurf or whatever. Just a thought. Locals will definitely have the best available advice on this particular aspect and joining the local association is a must.

    Hugh

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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.

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