There are many ways to put a hive together, everyone I have spoken with has a different opinion and ultimately it’s down to you, read as much as you can and where possible draw upon other beekeepers in the local area, if there are none then you’ll need to just wing it. This is my experience based on trial and error, it’s a work in progress and I am sure there are going to be a few adjustments along way.
Step 1. Assessing your site
Do you have a backyard? Simple question but if you do not then consider a rooftop, there are plenty of spaces in urban environments for beehives. Some people even make a living from it. The backyard should have some sun, a hive in the shade maybe asking for trouble, the bees need to have warmth for the hive to survive and the entrance would best be placed in a southerly aspect for the north hemisphere and a northerly aspect for the south to catch the most light. Make sure the entrance and flight path is not pointing at your neighbours balcony. I have placed mine toward the rear of the yard away from traffic and mostly out of sight and leave enough space at the rear of the hive for you to harvest the Flow as this is the best placement. I have heard of backyard beekeepers bribing their neighbours with honey, but for what its worth, I would keep it quiet unless they specifically ask. People are mostly afraid of bees. A word of warning from a fellow beekeeper in the club, is the effect on bees due to the rise and use of saltwater pools, bees love the salt and this may cause a problem with your neighbours. If this occurs, put out a salt lick or put a sprinkle of salt into a nearby water source such as a bird bath near the hive. The provision of clean water for your bees is imperative, they need loads of it.
Step 2. Join a local Bee Club
This would have to be easiest part of the whole journey. The clubs generally hold semi-regular meetings and area wealth of experience, especially considering the average beekeepers is in Australia is somewhere in the late 50s. They usually have all the extraction equipment you’ll need as this can become an expensive outlay.
Step 3. Buying a hive
There are dozens of types of hives to choose from, the three main types that come to mind for the European honeybee is the Langstroth, Warre’ and the Top Bar. The Langstroth is the most popular hive type perfected in the 1800s and known for its simplicity, the Warre’ design comes from France and has been taken on by the permaculture movement calling itself Natural beekeeping. It’s not too different from the Langstroth however the bees build their own comb whereas the Langstroth uses wax foundation as a starting point. Another design of the Warre’ is natural ventilation, temperature and humidity control. The Langstroth can also be adapted to make the bees more comfortable through the use of screened bottom boards, ventilation holes in the top of the super and the addition of a Warre style roof to add insulation from the heat of the sun. The big advantage of the Langstroth hive is the price and standard components, a basic 2 box hive with frames and wax foundation will cost under $150, expect to pay up to $600 for the Warre. The Top Bar hive is somewhat wider than the Langstroth and Warre’ and was developed out of Africa and Canada, it is not suitable as part of the Flow Hive system, however this may change if an adapter can be modified to allow the Flow Hive on top of the horizontal bar design.
If you are a novice beginner beekeeper, then don’t muck around get a Langstroth, it’s a great way to start and most beekeepers understand them intimately. These hives have been used with huge success for over a hundred years and are the preferred choice by the commercial guys. You can buy them ready made or in pieces. The two most popular sizes are the 8 and 10 frame, which relates to the width and ultimately the weight when full of honey.
The frame pieces come pretty cheap however you will need to treat them to prevent wood rot fungi from breaking down the timber. A treated hive could last 4 times longer. Copper Napthenate is the treatment of choice; it doesn’t harm the bees as they will coat it with propolis anyway. I used a paint roller tray and thinned the Copper Napthenate solution to 1 part Napthenate and 4 parts Mineral Turpentine (Turps). I soaked the ends in the tray for a few minutes and used a wide brush paint the rest of the timbers. If you don’t wish to go to all the trouble or just don’t have the time, then buy a readymade hive, its easy, quick, only moderately more to buy and no one will think any less of you.
Leave these to cure and thoroughly dry for anywhere between 6 and 8 weeks. Assemble your hive on a flat surface or bench and use wood glue and galvanised screws or nails to put all the pieces together, I advise you to pre-drill your holes to prevent splitting and a square will come in handy to ensure the corners are exactly 90 degrees and be careful that all your pieces are the right way up, use the handles as a guide. Then apply a single coat of water based undercoat and two coats of water based gloss acrylic. I painted the inside with undercoat, but it really shouldn’t matter. Generally, this is not done. As a caution do not paint the upper and lower edges as this will cause your hive bodies to stick, a lesson I learnt the hard way.
Types of bottom boards, for this there are many. The two most common I have seen is the slotted bottom board for Small Hive Beetle control and the Screened Bottom board for varroa, beetle and ventilation. Its your choice and if you have varroa then I would advise taking advice on the best control from your local beekeeper association as the methods are continuously changing.
The finshed hive ready for bees, your landing board and top cover will differ from country to country and you may like to think about using entrance reducers for new bees (prevents robbing and helps bees protect the hive from attack such as wasps, moths, etc at different times of the year.