So you’ve decided to get into beekeeping, but now you are faced with the big decision – What is the best beehive for beginners?
Choosing a hive will likely be the costliest decision you will ever make as a beekeeper. However, it is almost impossible to find a group of beekeepers who will all agree on the same setup. Why?
Every beekeeper lives in a different climate. Every beekeeper has different goals. Every beekeeper has different preferences.
And once a beekeeper invests money into their setup, it’s rare for them to change it. It would be too costly.
So, what is the best beehive for beginners? Here are my six secrets to choosing a hive:
How to choose the best beehive for beginners
Secret #1 – Combine the best of both worlds
Instead of using a Langstroth or a Warre hive, why not combine the best elements of both?
When I was doing my beehive research, I stumbled upon The Beecentric Hives built in Edmonton, Alberta by Dustin Bajer. He took the most beneficial aspects of both the Langstroth and Warre hives and combined them into what I think is the ultimate hive. Unfortunately, at the time, he didn’t ship his beehives so my dad volunteered to come up with his own version of the Beecentric Hive. Here’s how you can easily put one together:
Secret #2 – Use All Medium Langstroth Supers
I use standard Langstroth brood boxes and supers (supers are boxes containing honey). Although they are available in deep, medium and shallow sizes, my second secret is to use only mediums. This makes it easier when it comes time to split hives (making a second bee colony from your existing hive usually to prevent swarming or as mite control). I can easily transfer frames of brood and honey from one box to another saving me time and the expense of keeping different sized boxes. I have heard from some beekeepers that if they could start beekeeping all over again, they would choose all mediums for this reason.
Bonus: Medium boxes are lighter! They weigh between 40 and 50 lbs as opposed to 79 and 90 lbs for ten-frame deep supers. I like to think of myself as a strong woman, but it would be impossible for me to handle 100 lb boxes without doing some serious damage to my back.
Secret #3 – Use 8-frame equipment
Most brood boxes or supers contain 10 individual frames. However, I chose boxes that fit 8 frames. This may sound like a bad deal but I prefer the narrower supers that house only 8 frames. Why? I was inspired by my mentor, George Wheatley of Doré Products in New Brunswick, who has been keeping bees for 40 years. His bees fare better in 8-frame equipment throughout our bitterly, freezing Canadian winters.
You may have heard of bees starving over the winter in 10-frame equipment even though there is still honey remaining in the last two outer frames. For reasons I’m not 100 per cent sure of, bees often opt to move up to the next box stacked on top before consuming those last two frames of honey. It may be that the bees can’t break out of their warm cluster to reach those outer frames. I believe the narrower 8-frame equipment is better sized to the tightly knit, overwintering cluster of bees.
The 8-frame equipment is also better sized to me. Because there are 8 and not 10 frames per box, these supers are even lighter than the medium deeps I mentioned above. Medium 8-frame supers clock in at 35 lbs (16 kg) or less. So, for anyone out there who was thinking they couldn’t get into beekeeping because of the heavy lifting, you’ll need to find another excuse.
Secret #4: Use a slatted rack
When I say the word “slatted rack” even among some beekeepers, no one seems to know what I’m talking about. I think this piece of equipment is one of beekeeping’s best kept secrets.
A slatted rack, like the name suggests, has wooden slats that run parallel to your frames. It fits on top of your bottom board, raising the brood box (where the Queen lays her eggs and raises young bees) from the hive entrance. Why is this beneficial? During the dog days of summer when you will often find bees congregating outside the hive because it is too warm in the hive, the extra space the slatted rack provides allows the bees to hang out in the safety of their home and fan cool air into the hive.
My queen also lays her eggs all the way to the bottom of the frames using a slatted rack. Most likely because even on cool days, the eggs and larvae are still far enough away to be protected from the drafty entrance.
During the winter, the extra air space the slatted rack provides also acts as an insulating layer between the cool bottom board and the brood box.
Secret #5: Choose a screened bottom board
There are two types of bottom boards – solid and screened. All my beehives have a screened bottom board with a removable insert, which you can coat with a sticky substance such as cooking spray. The purpose of the screen is to allow Varroa Mites, tick sized parasites that feed on bee blood, to fall through the wire mesh as the bees clean the hive and groom each other.
The insects then get stuck on the insert allowing you to estimate how many mites are in your hive. Varroa mites can easily take down a hive. If you have too many, you will need to treat your hive or risk losing it.
Secret #6: Cover your bees with a Warre Hive Roof and Quilt Box
If you have been researching how to choose the best beehive, you have probably stumbled upon the Warre Hive. This vertical top bar hive has a unique sloped roof that fits over what is called a “quilt box” (basically a box filled with wood shavings). Although I use wood shavings during the summer, in the winter I also add a piece of Rockwool insulation to keep the bees extra toasty. The quilt box not only insulates the hive, but it prevents moisture from building up and dripping down onto the bees and killing them.
The bottom of the quilt box is made of wire mesh. This allows air to flow, but it also gives the bees the ability to add or remove propolis (what I like to call “bee glue”) to regulate the airflow themselves.
Buyer beware: When you are inspecting your hive, you can easily set your equipment on top of a traditional, flat Langstroth telescoping outer cover. You definitely can’t do this with a sloped roof. Instead, I use an extra super to hold my equipment.
I hope these tips help you in your quest to finding the perfect home for your little bee friends. I would also suggest joining your local beekeeping association and speaking with other beekeepers in your area who will be able to provide even more insight on how to choose the best beehive for beginners or perhaps even let you try out a top bar or another different style of hive.
Happy bee house hunting!
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Want to read more about bees? Check out some of my previous posts…
If you have more questions about choosing the best beehive for beginners, please leave a comment below and I will be happy to help you.