Whether you are going for a single or two different sizes of hive box (see the last article), there is a lot more going into the eventual home of your bees than the plain boxes. In this article, I will go into those basic parts so you know what you need to buy or make, and keep on hand.

A quick note on DIY: there are free plans available online for most type of equipment as far as hive boxes are concerned. This is what I am using – the Einfachbeute (simple hive box). I have made a few undocumented modifications, so I would recommend printing out the plans you use and comment them as you progress. For example, I make mine a little higher to have room for separators.

If you are into making your own equipment and have the tools (and experience) on hand, go for it. I will not go into that at this point. Just keep in mind that there is no wrong way; that you can make things fit as you go along; and that in some cases, buying is cheaper than making, especially since DIY costs time.

Slippin’ and Slidin’

Something to keep in mind for all these pieces is that you want something to keep them from sliding around. Whether it is a clumsy beekeeper or high wind, you want them to stay in position. For that, I use ledges at the bottom that fit into the top of the bo below. There are other ways, and I have seen beekeepers do well without. Just something to keep in mind.

Hive Box

This is the main ingredient and, at least height-wise, the largest part of any hive. It is also the easiest to make. Boxes hold the frames that in turn hold the foundations that the bees will build their operation on. Most designs I know are square (as is common among boxes) and hold 10 frames. As I talked about in the previous article, there are two different schools of thought. One uses only one size of boxes, the other uses larger and smaller variations. Before you begin your beekeeping adventure, you need to decide which one is for you (although you can transition later, too).

For every colony, you need at least one box, but chances are that your hive will grow during the summer months. If you do not give them more space then, they will swarm on you. Three boxes per colony is a good rule of thumb, although strong hives and good honey years might require more.

Boxes come with a ledge for the frames to rest upon. This ledge can be a simple piece of wood (like in mine), but you can also attach a piece of metal to it to elevate the frames slightly. You need to account for that in your plans to keep the dimensions right. What this metal strip does is it elevated the frames, eliminating wood-on-wood connections. In a colony that tends to produce a lot of bee glue this can come in handy because the frames are easier to pry loose. But in my experience, it works just as well without.

Another vital feature no hive box should be without are handles or grip slats. Sooner than later you have to move those boxes. You do not want to drop a box full of bees as you lift them out of the way, so these handles need to be comfortable and stable. Also, keep in mind that a box full of honeycombs can weigh more than 20 kg. The plans I use have grip slats included in the design. They work really well and keep the sides flat, with no extra hardware needed.

Frames/Foundations

The frames are what the bees will live and work on. In the wild, bees start building combs (seemingly) at random. They add row upon row based on the constraints of the (natural) cavity they inhabit. As beekeepers, we want to keep the colony a little more manageable, so we use wooden frames with thin wax plates called foundations held by wires. They are attached to the frame by heating up the wires so the wax melts around them.

These foundations feature a comb pattern that might be familiar to you from that peculiar kind of beeswax candles. They are made from rolled-up foundations. Once placed inside a hive, the bees will build upon these patterns to create full, deep combs for brood and honey. There are actually different cell sizes available, and there are arguments to be made for each. Suffice to say that when you start out, you should get the most common size and take it from there.

Bottom

The bottom is literally the basis of every colony. After all, this is where the entrance to the whole structure is located. It also supports all the boxes on top, and – in the design I use – offers a way to remove and check the crap that falls down to the floor – or in this case, through a metal grid fine enough so that neither bees nor most predators can pass.

Entrance Hole

An important feature of a hive bottom is that the entrance should be variable. That means depending on the season there should be some way to make the opening larger or smaller. Sometimes, you want a small entrance that is easily defendable against honey robbers – mainly during autumn and winter. When there is something to harvest, though, you want a larger opening to allow as many bees as possible to bring in the goods. The system I keep my bees in uses different pieces of wood with the desired opening cut out. You simply replace one with another when you want to change it.

Alighting Board

There should be a board attached in front of the opening to serve as a landing pad. It will make it easier for the bees to get into the hive. Painting them is ooptional, but cannot hurt either.

This element could be part of where you place the bottom, like a “docking station”, but I find it more versatile to have it as part of the bottom. I have mounted mine using a piano hinge. This way, the landing board is connected to the bottom and can be folded up to completely close the entrance. Which can come in handy when you need to close the hive for whatever reason.

“Hive Diaper”

This refers to a slider underneath that can be pulled out to inspect what fell down inside the hive. They are not mandatory for a working hive box, but they have enough benefits to make them worth consideration.

“Hive diaper” is actually the literal translation of the German term for this, but I kinda like it. There are many things falling to the ground in any beehive. And some are worth keeping an eye on (Varroa, I’m looking at you).

You will find a lot of small wax pieces from when the bees opened up cells – to get to honey or to release matured brood. There will also be some pollen balls that the bees dropped by accident. And the odd leg. But the main thing these slides are used for is to gauge the varroa infestation in the colony.

Lid

The lid is arguably the simplest part of any beehive. A simple board would do, but it is okay to make it a little beefier and add some insulation. I commonly put a sheet of plastic foil between the lid and the topmost box to keep the bees from gluing the lid in place.

Is that all?

No, it is not. But this article covers the basic hive box, the stuff you need to set up a hive. If you have all listed here, you can start keeping bees. All the rest, including what I will be going into in an upcoming article, is optional – although highly helpful. What I am saying is that you can keep bees with this basic set-up for your hive boxes. Those accessories that I will talk about in upcoming articles just make life so much easier.

Thanks for checking out my beekeeping series. There are more articles in there, so have a look if this is the first you are seeing of this. And if you have more questions, feel free to contact me.

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Dominic

It is my passion and mission to inspire you, no matter what you do - woodworking and making, cooking, or roleplaying and paper crafting. Be inspired!

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