3. Choosing and Setting up a Beehive

There are several different types of beehive each of which has specific advantages and disadvantages and the choice depends upon your personal beekeeping preferences. Most modern hives are based on a design published by Reverend L. L. Langstroth in America in 1853. The Reverend Langstroth noticed that bees built their wild comb with a specific distance between the combs (the bee space) and he designed a hive with movable frames set apart so that this vital bee space could be maintained. Furthermore, he separated the colony into a brood box, in which the queen laid her eggs, and a honey super in which the colony stored its excess honey; variants of this design are used to this day by most beekeepers.

To help you choose the beehive which best suits your needs, listed below are the different types of hive which you may come across:

Ten-Frame Langstroth Hive: The Langstroth hive is the most common beehive used worldwide and by American non-commercial beekeepers. These hives consist of several boxes which are stacked together to form a hive. Because the Langstroth hive is so widely used, it is easy to find supplies and spare parts but it is a large and heavy hive so it can be hard to manipulate the boxes and move the hives.

Eight Frame Langstroth Hive: This eight frame version of the traditional ten frame Langstroth hive is slightly smaller in its construction. Although this means that you will be able to store a smaller amount of honey and the brood box is also smaller, it is easier to assemble and manoeuvre.

The WBC Hive: If you ask people to draw a beehive it is most likely that they would draw a WBC hive. Named after its creator, William Broughton Carr, it is an attractive design that is popular as a garden ornament as well as being a practical beehive. The double-walled design insulates against extremes of temperature but the brood boxes and super boxes are slightly trickier to manipulate than for other types of hive which is time-consuming for those who have many hives; however, this remains the second most popular hive in Britain.

The National Hive: This is the most popular beehive in Britain and these hives are widely used by amateur and commercial beekeepers alike. The National Hive is similar to the Langstroth hive but is smaller and easier to handle; they take 11 British Standard brood frames and measure 18 1/8″ square externally.

Top-Bar Hive: Unlike the Langstroth-style hive which functions vertically, a top-bar hive operates horizontally and the comb hangs from removable bars. These hives are considered by their supporters to encourage a more natural form of beekeeping. Top-bar hives are rectangular in shape and are typically more than twice as wide as the multi-storey framed hives commonly found in English-speaking countries. Top-bar hives allow beekeeping methods that interfere very little with the colony but are usually not readily portable. The brood nest is stored at the back of the nest and the honey is produced at the front of the hive. This small, horizontal structure enables one to keep bees in a small garden or another small storage space. The hives are lightweight if they have to be moved, are easy to maintain, and the bees are able to construct natural cell sizes. However, despite these advantages, top-bar hives can result in poor ventilation for the bees if they are not properly constructed and the bees are also more prone to dying in cold winters. Because these hives are less popular than Langstroth-style hives, it is more difficult to find local support and advice.

Warré Hive: A Warré hive consists of several small, square hive bodies and top bars without any frames or foundation. A Warré hive also utilises a quilt and a vented, angled roof. This lack of foundation and the overall size and shape of a Warré hive make it a more natural hive for bees with superior moisture management. However, despite the advantage of minimal inspections by the beekeeper, the frames cannot be moved in a Warré hive as the bees will build and attach comb to the inside of the hive walls. Management of Warré hives calls for the addition of extra boxes to the bottom of the stack, unlike Langstroth hives, causing comb to be regularly harvested and taken out of use. This prevents old comb from being reused and therefore removes any environmental and agricultural chemicals and toxins.

Once you have chosen your preferred type of beehive, you will need to decide where to keep the hive. In order to sustain a healthy and productive hive you will need to select a space where the temperature, prevailing wind and sunlight positively affect your hive. The colony in the hive needs to be able to moderate its own temperature so it is advisable that the hive be sheltered from direct wind or sunlight. The hive should be positioned on level ground but tilted slightly forward so that rain will not run into the hive through its opening. It is recommended that hives should be placed facing the south/south east, where possible, and close to a bush or tree so that they receive morning sunlight and are protected from strong winds. If you intend to maintain multiple hives, ensure that you allocate sufficient room between each hive in order to walk around them and carry out your daily beekeeping tasks – you will need more space than you first think!

Now that you have chosen your beehive and where to place it, you can begin to construct it. Listed below are the various components of a beehive and how they function:

Hive Stand: your hive will require a solid foundation. Many beekeepers choose to use several breeze blocks with wood on top but you can also purchase a hive stand. This structure serves as the bottom part of your hive and may have an angled landing board for your bees.

Floor: there are two types of floor which you can use; a solid bottom board and a screened bottom board. The screened bottom board has a screen on the bottom with a removable sticky board which catches Varroa mites and other pests which can harm your colony. A screened bottom board offers all the benefits of a solid bottom board whilst simultaneously aiding in effective hive ventilation.

Entrance Reducer: this appliance is placed between your bottom board and your first brood box to prevent pests and rodents from entering and damaging your hive's structure. These are usually made of wood and many beekeepers only use them in the winter months when the bees are in their cluster and not actively patrolling the entry to their hive. Pictured below you can see the installment of and entrance reducer and one in place on a busy hive.

Slatted Rack: this appliance is an optional addition to your hive which offers the bees more efficient ventilation and temperature moderation. It gives more room between the entrance of the hive and the brood chamber.

Brood Box and Frames: a brood box is a hive box that houses the frames that support the wax foundation from which the bees draw the cells that make up the honeycomb where the queen will lay her eggs and some stores will be kept. The brood box frames are usually made from wood, although sometimes of plastic, and hold a wired wax foundation, stamped with a hexagonal honeycomb pattern to assist the bees in constructing their honeycomb.

Supers and Super Frames: a super is a box that holds the frames where the bees will store their honey. Honey supers are much shallower than brood boxes as honey is heavy and, should you be lucky enough to harvest lots of honey, supers that are not too deep make this an easier task. The stamped wax sheets used in the frames in the supers do not need to be wired and, although the bee space is still maintained, may have thicker bars which means that fewer frames are needed in each super.

Queen Excluder: the queen excluder is a device of either a slotted zinc sheet or wire rods; the width of the slots or between the wires is too small for the queen to pass through but the workers can pass easily. The result is that all the eggs laid by the queen, and hence the brood, are in the box below the excluder. Any boxes with frames placed above the excluder will consist solely of honey and pollen which the beekeeper can remove when required or it can be left as winter supplies for the bees.

Crown Board: the wooden crown board is placed on top of the uppermost super and separates the supers from the roof and stops the bees from sticking the roof down. It will normally have 2 holes and, with additional one-way bee escapes, can be used to remove the bees from the supers when the time has come to harvest the honey.

The Roof: The hive roof is constructed with the primary aim of keeping the rain off the hive (bees survive cold weather very well, but damp, particularly in winter, often kills a colony). The most common type of roof will fit over the crown board with sides that hang over the hive's upper super.

All of the components of your hive can be purchased from local beekeeping stores or online. Once you have amassed all of the necessary parts then you can begin to construct your beehive from scratch, should you wish. However, most beekeepers limit their DIY work to hammering together the frames and leave the construction to the experts, buying hives that are ready made.

Listed below is a step-by-step guide on how to construct a Langstroth beehive. For information on how to construct other beehives, see the Useful Links section of this guide:

1. Establish a solid foundation for your hive: In order to prevent your hive from tipping over, it is recommended that you create a solid foundation. Breeze blocks are one of the most commonly used foundations; simply lay 4 blocks beside one another on level ground and place another 4 on top on them for a solid base.

2. Lay down the floor of your hive: Place the opening facing towards you.

3. Place one brood box on the floor of your hive: This will serve as the brood chamber wherein your queen will lay her eggs.

4. Install ten frames in the brood box: You will be able to remove these frames at a later date depending on the size of your bee colony and your personal hive preferences.

5. Place a queen excluder on top of the brood box: this will prevent the queen from laying eggs in the honey stores.

6. Place a super on top of the brood box placed and install ten frames within it: This section will serve as the food storage chamber for your hive.

7. Lay the crown board on top of this super and a roof on top of the crown board to complete your beehive: It is also advisable to place a large stone or weight on top of your hive to keep it securely sealed during strong weather conditions.

Over the course of your beekeeping year you might need to add more supers and possibly a further brood box to cope with your growing colony and their honey stores.

Once your beehive has been completed the most exciting moment has arrived and you can add your bees. There are several online stores where you can order bees and have them delivered to your home. Alternatively, you can contact your local Beekeeping Association for information on where to acquire bees in your area; many people start with a swarm, collected by a member of the beekeeping association which is a very cost-effective method of obtaining bees; however, care needs to be takes as the character of the queen is unknown and you could have a bad-tempered hive with a tendency to swarm. If you are in any doubt, the local association is always ready to help new beekeepers.