Bee Housing


lucy(If you haven’t yet, read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice for some context before beginning this one.)

Before you start assembling your hive or hives, consider where you will put it or them.  Start with two hives if you can.  Two hives gives you a comparison point, which can be helpful when you are wondering if something is normal, and can see that one hive looks quite different from the other.  Bees drink lots of water, so consider their closest water source.  Your neighbors may not be keen on your beekeeping venture if the nearest water source is their kiddy pool!  Bees will drink water from a faucet with an almost non-existent drip, a bird bath or a fountain, though they prefer water that’s still to water that’s moving.  Ever seen a bee swept away by a current in a creek?  No?  That’s because bees are smart and like I said, they prefer still water to moving water…

A spot that offers some wind and sun protection is also ideal.  Our hives are nestled under some giant oak trees with a patch of wild blackberries at their back.  They face north (which is good, but not essential), and have a cistern and creek a short flight away, though they prefer drinking out of irrigation spigots following watering, and on foliage where drops of water congregate.

So–you have a spot in mind–you’ve leveled the ground and put a couple cement blocks down to elevate your hive off the ground and you are ready for your hive boxes.  You might think about checking out Craigslist for used hive boxes, but I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS.  Especially with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) still ravaging honey bee populations.  The standard recommendation is that you start with fresh equipment, free of disease, mold, moth infestation, and other creepy things.  If you know the bee keeping practices and trust the person from whom you are purchasing hive supers and frames, you might consider them.  Especially if the option means you simply can’t afford to get started with bees.  All other equipment is fine to get used: bee suit, hive tool, smoker… I’ll introduce these pieces of equipment as you need them.

We chose the Langstroth beehive set-up, which is standard in many parts of the world.  It is easy to use and the bees take to it well.  We also choose to use wooden frames with wax foundation.  You can use wooden frames with plastic foundation, or entirely plastic frames.  I just about hate all things plastic and wouldn’t want to live in a plastic house when the alternative is a wood one, so I can’t see subjecting Fern Creek bees to plastic either.  You may feel differently…

Look at the picture above and I’ll identify the parts starting from the concrete block. First is a screened bottom board (which serves also as the bees entrance to the hive).  Next are brood and honey supers (what I’ve been referring to as “boxes”).  The two deeper boxes are for brood–which is where the bees live and hatch out.  You’ll see a narrow white band, which is our queen excluder–I’ll talk more about that optional and controversial piece later.  On top of that is one shallow box, the honey super, which is where the honey you will harvest is stored.  On top of that is the inner cover (for ventilation and sometimes feeding), and outer cover.  Inside the supers are frames, the assembly of which is the focus of the rest of this post.

You can buy a fully assembled set-up.  Or you can find directions on-line and build the whole thing yourself.  Here is a demo by Primitive Builders showing how to build a Top Bar hive, which is not the same as Longstroth, but also somewhat standard.

Or you can do some of each, which is what we do.

Assembling some of our equipment is both an economic choice and a personal preference.  I like learning to build and then building things.  Mark has been a great teacher.  Building things (including a bridge over our small creek!) makes me feel capable.  So we bought our inner and outer covers, screened bottom board, and then the pre-cut pieces to assemble the brood and honey supers (essentially boxes without tops or bottoms) and the frames that fit inside the supers.

Ruhl Bee Supply or Amazon for that matter, will ship all their tools, parts and pieces, so if you don’t have a local bee shop, check them out.  But I encourage you to try to find a local supplier who will then also be able to assist with getting your starter bee packages (the queen and couple thousand bees), and can be a resource along the way.  For instance, while you can perhaps buy equipment for Ruhl Bee Supply, unless you are in the Portland area, you will not likely be able to attend any of their one-day seminars on beginner beekeeping, swarm management, raising queens, etc.

If you want honey this summer, you need to be ready to receive your bees by early April, which is when packages arrive in Portland.  That means you have ordered your bees (we do this through Ruhls Bee Supply), assembled and painted the exterior of your supers, and assembled your super frames by the end of March.  Constructing the brood and honey supers (the boxes) is fairly straight-forward, though if you assemble a couple of frames first, you’ll get the concept of gluing and nailing corner pieces that fit together down, if that’s new to you.

As seen above, supers and frames come in two sizes.  The “deeps,” or brood supers, is what you’ll need to focus on before your bees arrive.  You just need one brood super to start with, but will add a second one as your hive fills with newly hatched out bees, and the honey supers (the “shallows”) need to be ready a bit after that.

Tools to assemble:tools

Your frames will likely come with finishing nails for assembly.  You’ll also need a bottle of wood glue, a box of foundation sheets (ultimately both deep and shallow ones), and a bag of metal clips which help stabilize the foundation in the frame (not necessary if you are using plastic foundation).

Because we have a compressor and an air stapler, I use them instead of the finishing nails provided.  Wendell Berry would most certainly use a hammer and nails.  I admire that and wish I was more like him in this regard.  If you use an air stapler, you’ll need two sizes of staples—about 1/2” and 1”.   Remember ear protection if you are using a compressor/air stapler.


Step One: Separate the bundle into the three different parts.  Top bar, bottom strip, and sides.













Step Two: Snap off the thin ledge on the top bar pieces and set them aside.  You’ll staple these back on as the final step.









Step Three: Put a drop of glue on each end groove of the bottom plank where the side pieces fit, and snuggly set in both side pieces (try this without glue first if you are unsure how to proceed).


Step Four: Put a drop of glue on the top edge of each side piece and fit the bottom strip into place.  Push all edges down so they are flush with each other.  Repeat for all of your frames.


























Step Five: Reinforce the glued corners with a 1” staple in each corner as shown.


Step Six: Take the foundation and set it into the frame, placing the edge into the groove on the bottom strip. If you are using wax, then use two metal clips on each side (you’ll see holes in the side pieces for this purpose.)  Repeat with all frames.











Step Seven: Take the pieces you snapped off and place them back into their original spot.  This helps secure the wax foundation.  You want to be sure the wax comes down far enough on the frame to be secured between the two pieces of wood (see images below). Use two of the ½” staples to staple in place.










final-stapleYou are done!  I can put 20 of these together in an hour, and it’s an hour I thoroughly enjoy.  The whole time the room is infused with the sweet smell of beeswax (another plug for beeswax over plastic!).  I save the tissue paper that comes between each sheet of wax to use as gift bag tissue paper, as it retains its fragrance for some time.


Once you’ve painted and assembled you boxes you are well on your way toward readying yourselves for the arrival of your bees!  Ultimately assemble 2 brood supers for each hive, and 1 or 2 honey supers.  If you have questions, I’ll do my best to answer them!



Leave a Reply

8 × 3 =