As we mentioned in our Newbees post, we’re gearing up for our first honey bees this spring. Before the bees arrive however, we need to ensure we have a place to put them!
Although there are a few different styles of hives available to today’s beekeepers, we opted to use the most common hive type available, the Langstroth hive. Availability of hive components was our primary reason for choosing the Langstroth hive, as we still have numerous other projects to complete on the farm in the next couple of years, and building our own hives from scratch, at the moment at least, would be a significant diversion.
The typical Langstroth hive is composed of a hive stand, a bottom board, a series of boxes, called hive bodies, that contain the hanging frames where the bees build their comb, and a roof.
The traditional Langstroth hive bodies come in three different standard sizes:
A “Deep” hive body: also known as the brood chamber, houses the tallest frames, where the Queen typically lays her eggs.
“Medium” hive bodies: placed on top of the brood chamber, may contain a combination of brood and honey.
“Shallow” hive bodies: also known as honey supers. The queen is usually excluded from this part of the hive, to prevent her from laying eggs in the shallow supers, which contain the honey stores, relished by bees and beekeepers alike.
Not all beekeepers use all sizes of Langstroth hive bodies, and there may be various combinations of different sized hive bodies that comprise any individual hive.
The standard Langstroth hive set-up can be quite complex and may require storing up to 3 different sizes of hive bodies, and 3 different sizes of frames. As we have no desire make beekeeping more complicated than necessary, nor a desire to build a dedicated bee-keeping storage shed, we’ve opted to keep our hive setup simple.
The All-Medium Langstroth
After doing our homework, and consulting with other area beekeepers, we’ve decided that we’d prefer to start out with a modified Langstroth hive system. Our hives will consist purely of medium hive bodies, no deeps, and no shallows, just mediums. The principle advantage of an all medium hive system is that we’ll only need to store one size of hive body, and any hive body can be placed anywhere on any hive. One year a hive body may house brood, the next year it may house honey.
Many commercial bee-keepers use single sized hive body systems to simplify bee management too. Some use all deeps, some use all mediums. All deep hive body systems need less total boxes per hive, but each individual hive body, full of bees, brood, and honey, is heavier than an individual medium hive body.
In addition to keeping the hive bodies all one size, we’ll also only need to purchase, maintain, and store one size of frame for the hive bodies too.
The standard Langstroth hive setup places 10 frames, that the bees drawn their comb on, within each hive body. Some beekeepers for ease of maintenance will remove one frame, reducing it to 9 frames and spacing them evenly within a 10-frame box. However, recently smaller 8-frame hives and equipment have become more readily available. We’ve chosen to use 8-frame hives as this will help to reduce the weight of our hive bodies even further, as the 8-frame hive bodies are dimensionally smaller than 10-frame boxes.
As our hives will be situated on a slope above the vegetable garden, we’d like to keep the weight of the hive bodies down. I’ve already taken a few spills down our slopes, and even managed to give myself a black eye on one occasion when I cracked my head on a shovel at the bottom of the hill. I was empty handed during that fall, so trudging down a hill with a 90 lb box of comb and honey just seems like it might give gravity an unfair advantage. Hopefully the slightly smaller configuration will help to keep things more manageable, and prevent any additional black eyes.
When shopping for our hive components we were advised not to purchase pre-assembled hive bodies, as they typically are only nailed together, not glued and nailed, and thus the joints have a tendency to separate at the corners, especially in our damp coastal climate.
Heeding that advice, we purchased unassembled hive bodies and spent last weekend putting them together. As we’re using all medium hive bodies, we’ll be using two medium hive bodies in place of a single deep for the brood chamber, and expect to need a minimum of three hive bodies per hive through the first summer, potentially four if there’s a good nectar flow and our colonies do well. To be sure we’re prepared though, we’ve obtained five hive bodies for each hive, as it never hurts to have an extra or two around.
Assembling the hive bodies was very straightforward. A tack hammer, rubber mallet and 7d hive body nails is all we needed, in addition to a quality waterproof wood-glue. Titebond II & III wood glues are both approved for indirect food contact, and are recommended for hive body construction. We used Titebond III as it’s what we had on hand. It has a slightly longer open time than Titebond II, but seemed to work just fine.
Each body panel was pre-cut and pre-drilled, so we started out by laying out the panels, being sure to orient the tops and bottoms the right way up.
For each body panel the surfaces that would butt together were all glued, as shown below. We glued the contact surfaces, NOT the exposed ends (marked with the red ‘x’).
To assemble the corner joints, a wood block and rubber mallet was used to prevent marring of the wood surfaces. The joints were a snug fit, and it took a fair amount of force to bring the joints together.
Once the corner joints were glued and assembled, 7d hive body nails were inserted into each of the pre-drilled holes, and seated using a tack-hammer.
Of course this step was done under strict supervision to ensure we did it right…
A total of 32 nails, and a few dog-licks later, the box was finally complete, and ready to set on the hive stand…only 9 more boxes to go.
We still have a few hive bodies to put together, and the frames aren’t all assembled yet. The frames typically are fitted with wax foundation, or starter strips, on which the bees will build out their comb. We’ll get more into frames and foundation versus foundationless systems in a later post.
With the boxes complete the hives really started to come together. The top hive body is usually fitted with either a solid or screened inner cover, which sits over the frames, and directly underneath the lid.
Now we just need the rain to stop, so we can prime and paint our hives!
The half-pint hive to the right in the photo above is our medium nuc. Nucs are essentially temporary bee hives, used for housing bees short-term. Again, keeping things simple, the nuc takes the same size frames as our hive bodies, and we’ll use the nuc as a bait hive to capture feral swarms, or for splitting (dividing) healthy colonies later in the season. This weekend we’ll wrap up the last of our hive construction, and weather permitting, hope to start clearing the area where our hives will be placed in the garden!