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Buying and Maintaining Your Bee Hives

Honey Bees

Setting up a hive is an investment and maintaining your bee hives should be a priority.

When starting a new colony it is important to plan ahead. There are many steps to finish before adding your new bees. One person mentioned to me that they were thinking about getting honey bees. It was late in the season so I told them they had plenty of time to prepare for next spring but it was too late to start this year. They said, “I was just going to set up a hive in the yard. Don’t they just go into it?” Umm, not usually. On one rare occasion I did have a swarm enter an empty hive I had still setting up, but it was early in the year when swarming was very active.  It is NOT usually that easy to start a hive, but it doesn’t have to be difficult either.

Choosing your style:

I would say that in my option, this was the hardest step for me. There are many options and styles out there to choose from but once you make that first purchase, are you stuck with it? Different styles do not always work with each other.

Langstroth hives

This type is the most universal and easiest to get. They also come in several sizes; deep bodies, medium, and shallow (mainly used for honey supers). Each of these have a different height but the width and length match for easy stacking. They also come in 8 frames and 10 frames width. This is how many frames the boxes with hold. This is the style I started with. Mainly because it was the only option available for me to buy within my budget when I first began keeping bees. It was the most popular style and easy for me to purchase new components for it. Also, the honey extractor was designed to accommodate the frames from this style hive. (Another thing to consider, how will you extract your honey?)

Top bar hives

Top bar hive are growing in popularity because of their ease of use. Unlike the langstroth hives, which require you to lift heavy boxes to perform maintenance, it is not necessary with a top bar. The frames are lined up beside each other across a wide box, not stacked on top of each other. A simple ‘bar’ is placed across a V-shaped hive body for the bees to build on. There is no foundation for them to start on. This allows the bees to build more naturally. When removing a bar which has been built on, care is required not to turn it sideways. Because the comb is only attached to the single bar, it is possible for it break off.

Cathedral hives

These have been making their appearance lately as well. This style takes the pros of the top bar hive and the langstroth hive and meshes them together. The body is like the top bar, wide and stable without the need to lift heavy boxes. The bars however, have sides. This allows the comb to have more support when moving them. Instead of just one attached side, it has three sides to anchor to. The shape is like the top half of a hexagon.

Cathedral hive
Cathedral hive
Cathedral hive

There are also many other less popular types you can look up. Each hive style has its own unique characteristics and personalities; each with its own pros and cons. Take your time in this first step and choose the style that best fits your preferences and wallet.

Once you have chosen your style hive, it’s time to care for it.

The hives will be setting outside and they need protection from the weather.  Painting the hives is the most common but not only option. I chose to paint mine for simplicity and cost. When painting, it needs a minimum of two coats of paint (check out this video for tips). Staining is another option. This allows the natural beauty of the wood to show, but when staining, use and minimum of four coats of clear coat. Another possibility is waxing the boxes. This one I have not done. A large enough container, filled with hot bees wax, is required so the whole box can be sat in it. This allows the box to absorb the wax which will protect it from the elements. I see several pros and cons with this process; nevertheless I wanted to share this option as well.

Allow the hives to cure for several days after this. The fumes may harm the bees if they are installed too soon afterwards.

Fall time:

In the fall, after the honey harvest, is when I like to do hive maintenance on all the parts which are not being used but had been. I scrap off all the extra propolis from the frames and boxes, freeze the frames that have been in the have (this video talks about why), clean the extractor, repaint any boxes which may need it, store everything for winter, and any other little maintenance items that needs to be done. By doing this during the fall, I am prepared come spring for anything that I might need.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!