The Best Hive for the Backyard Beekeeper

The options are many: Langstroth, Warre, Top Bar, Long Hives. The impassioned reasoning to favor one or the other is endless. For someone trying to get started it has to be overwhelming.

I am going to make some very specific recommendations for your first hive and give you the reasoning for each part of it. What works (or lately doesn’t work so well) for a commercial migratory operation almost never makes sense for someone with a hive or two in their backyard.

The recommendations involve standard equipment that is easy to find, easy to assemble, and should last a long time.

1) Standard bottom board with the entrance reducer turned to the two bee width entrance. This provides an even foundation that rests on concrete blocks or bricks. You should level it very carefully side to side with a slight tilt toward the front to help move any water toward the entrance. The two bee entrance lets the bees guard the bottom entrance with minimum resources and keeps out rodents while serving as a drain if any water gets into the hive. The bottom entrance should be thought of as a service entrance, a place for the bees to take out the garbage.

2) Medium boxes so that any frame in any box can be changed out with any other frame in any hive. Being able to move resources around will help you resolve almost any issue that your hives might have. Medium boxes are relatively easy to lift even full of honey.

3) Top entrance made using either a migratory cover and shims or a telescoping cover with a homemade rest which has two positions to open up the entrance in summer and reduce it in winter. Either way you want an entrance that spans the entire front face of the hive. I discovered this almost accidentally with a nuc which had a very small entrance. I was worried it might be too hot and propped the lid open at the front lip with a stick. The bees love a top entrance.  The difference in the amount of foraging and the build up of resources inside the hive is obvious to even casual observation when you have two otherwise equal hives.

4) Foundationless frames with a bare wooden starter strip. If you want you can use a little wax in the groove to help hold the starter strip in place. Let the bees build on bare wood. Their attachment will be much stronger than to a melted wax coating. Foundation is made from old contaminated wax. If you use foundation you are not chemical free. Letting the bees draw their own wax is key to the future health of your hive. Harvesting older frames wax and all  is the best way to keep out any contaminates the workers bring into the hive.


5) No painting. Paint is just another chemical. Keep it away from your bees. Your equipment will last just a long as if it was painted since you won’t be chiseling and prying at it like a commercial migratory operation. I would also recommend using cypress boxes and covers if you live in a wet climate. I love the weathered look of unpainted hives after a few years exposed to the elements.

6) No Chemicals. I have talked about this extensively in other posts. If you are using anything in the hive you are not a natural beekeeper. Chemicals kill bees, either quickly or slowly, they have no place in your hive. In principal I am opposed to feeding the bees even sugar water. I have done it in the past and probably only succeeded in propping up a doomed hive a little longer

7) No Queen Excluder. Let the queen go where she needs to go in all seasons. Take frames of honey from where you find them, replace them with empty frames so the bees can draw fresh wax. Put frames of brood back in the hive as close to where you found them as possible. The bees probably put them there for a reason.

The next post will cover hive management practices that will work in harmony with this setup to keep both you and your bees happy.


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Backyard Ecosystem began as an expression of my determination to make a difference in our own backyard. Literally and metaphorically making a difference at the micro level of my yard and to operate at macro level of treating the entire planet as something I am an integral part of and whose destiny is shaped everyday by what I do in my corner of the world.

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