Beekeeping season is coming up soon. More and more people are calling us or coming up to the Brookfield Farm honey and furniture booth at Seattle’s Fremont Market to ask how we set up our hives. So, I thought I’d offer the run down on the components of my hives. Remember: all beekeeping is local, and it is personal. What works for me, may not work for you, in either the physical sense or the philosophical sense.
A BIT OF BACKGROUND first:
I keep my bees in year-round bee yards. I do not move my bees; I drive to them.
This is the northwest corner of Washington state, half way betweeen he city of Bellingham, and the 2nd most glaciated active volcano in Washington: Mt. Baker (geology here its amazing).
This means it is wet here much of the year.
Plus we’re under snow about 2-3 months of the year as well.
Cold, wet and breathtakingly beautiful – not the best bee environment (they like the flowers)
Here’s the hive configuration we use at Brookfield Farm, from the bottom up:
Concrete Blocks are my “hive stand”. I really love that the local box store has some thinner blocks that are easier to lift. But any 16-inch by 8 inch concrete block will do. I use 2 blocks for one hive, or 3 for 2 hives that are sitting side by side. I seldom put more than 2 hives side by side. They are just too difficult to work.
I place them long ways, with the long edges of the hive resting on the edges of the blocks. If there is a significant drop on one side, I shove in some bits of wood. (The hives in the photo are nucs waiting to go to another bee yard.)
Why concrete? The blocks are inexpensive, easily attainable, easy to move, I don’t have to build them, and they really hold up in the very wet weather we have nearly year round here in Maple Falls, Washington. I’ve used pieces of wood (they rotted). I used small wooden pallets (they rotted).
Downside: I’ve seen mice shelter from my cats in those holes in the concrete blocks. On the other hand, there are mice all over the place so it probably doesn’t matter.
You’ll note I do not say Bottom Board. Bottom Boards are great, I use my old ones them at the farm: they hold my shed door shut (must put the latch on it); they cover the hole we had to make in the pump house when we pulled the pump (need new design there). You get it. I do not use Bottom Boards on my hives.
I use a bottom screen. Looks amazingly like a bottom board, but instead of wood, there is 1/8-inch hardware cloth (wire mesh) at the bottom. The bottom screen is made so that there is a two-inch drop below the hardware cloth. This is because I once read that varroa mites were seen in a lab climbing up wood, but seemed to stop climbing before they got to 2 inches. Thus, if a mite does fall though the hardware cloth, it will fall minimally 2 inches. Of course it will probably fall 10 inches because the bottom screen is up on those 8-inch high concrete blocks. Above the hardware cloth, the lip is elevated in the same distance as a standard bottom board. Amazingly, I’ve just discovered I don’t have a photo of this – I’ll take one and update it later.
Does the screen help with varroa? I don’t know. Some studies say it might. If a bee tosses a varroa down, and if the varroa falls between the screen it probably could. I wonder about the odds of that happening.
The screen, I believe, helps with ventilation and the reduction of water inside the hive. Cold doesn’t kill a healthy hive. Water kills bees. A few years back I did an experiment with a strong and a weak hive. I took their bottom boards away and replaced them with bottom screens. It was a long, wet, then snowy winter. The 2 hives with the screens did the best of all my hives. I was sold. If you do it, experiment first, and see if it works for you.
A very nice bottom screen / board is made by country rubes. It’s far more elaborate than the one I make, but if you’ve only one or two hives, it’s worth the money.
My mouse guards stay on year round. They are somewhat elaborate, but the cost is low. Remember my husband works with wood. I use a piece of half-inch wood cut to the length of the hive entrance. The center of the wood is cut into a 1” slit (like an elongated “O”). Over this is stapled half-inch hardware cloth. Which makes the openings less than 1 inch. This keeps our mice out and allows for good ventilation. For a more detailed descripton, search this blog for “mouse guard” and you’ll find an entire post on how I make them.
Brood Boxes and Honey Supers
I use “westerns” for everything. These are the 6 5/8 inch boxes that many people use for honey supers. This is for the simple reason that I cannot lift a “deep” that is filled with honey and bees. A fully laden “deep” weighs about 90 pounds. A fully laden “western” weighs 45 pounds.
The upside: I can lift them. Plus my “one size fits all” means that I can move frames between any hive at any time: brood, eggs, honey, pollen, whatever. A frame from one hive can fit in any other hive. This is of course true if you keep bees in all “deeps”, which a friend does. But, again, I can lift the westerns.
The downside: You need to over winter in three western versus two deeps. You provide the same amount of honey for the bees, but use more woodenware.
I have heard these called “shims” as well. These are a 2-inch high “box”,with no bottom or top. We make these at the farm. They sit on top of the hives. They all have a 7/16-inch hole drilled in them for an upper entrance. In the spring and fall, this is where I feed my bees.
In the winter, it provides a place for insulation: a piece of burlap is laid over the top bars on the upper most hive and a piece of insulation, slightly smaller than the entire space, is placed on the burlap. In the summer, the burlap stays in place and the bees have an upper entrance.
Check your collar space in heavy nectar flows – some of my bees will build here, unless I’ve got a piece of burlap sitting on the top bars.
At this time, I get mine at a fabric store – you could probably find it free at a coffee roaster. Yes, the bees will pull it apart, and/ or propolis to the top bars. In the summer I only leave it in on the hives that want to build in the collar’s space.
I use migratory tops; always have, always will. They’re easy, interchangeable, and fairly easy to make.
I use plastic containers bought at the dollar store. In these I float wooden “rafts” made of off-cuts from my husband’s furniture. He uses untreated, sustainably harvested wood. These fit in the collars.
A Recap: Here’s a simple recap, from top to bottom this time:
Collar (with top entrance: with burlap, feeder, or insulation can be added)
Westerns (6 5/8 boxes – however many I need)
Again, if you ask another beekeeper, I’ll be they do things differently. It all depends on where you are and who you are. The above configuration works well for me and my honeybees at Brookfield Farm in Maple Falls Washington.
If you have a different method, please write in. The sharing of ideas is how we all learn.