Equipment – your first hive

This is the first in a series of posts for the beginning beekeeper. Beekeeping can quite easily become a passion and like any hobby the gear can mount up. As I clean out my gear for the upcoming season I’m going to talk about what I have, and what I wish I have.

So you’re getting bees….

Clearly you’ll need a place to put them. There are several different types of beehives that are available for purchase. In nature, of course, there are an infinite number of types of hives in tree trunks, nooks and crannies (see Tim Seely’s excellent book The Honeybee Democracy for more information on how bees choose a home in the wild) There are 4 major types of commercially available hives:  Langstroth, Top Bar, Warre, and Flow ™.

  1. Langstroth is the ‘standard’ beehive. The one you are picturing as a filing cabinet of stacked boxes. This is by far the most commonly used hive and the hive of choice for commercial beekeepers. We’ll be going into more detail on these below. Recommended
  2. Top Bar hives also called “Kenyan Top Bar hives” are horizontal hives. They do not use any foundation for the bees to build wax on and the honey is harvested by smashing comb. Proponents will tell you how this is the way bees truly live ‘naturally’.  (can an insect imported from Europe really be said to be natural on this continent? I digress) The reference to “Kenya” should tip you off these hives do not have a good track record in northern climates. My bottom line: Not recommended.
  3. Warre hives. Warre are a hexagonal hive that tries to combine the advantages of the top bar hive in comb production with the ease of access of a Langstroth. I don’t have much experience with these so I will only say that they are Not recommended for beginners.
  4. Flow ™ Hive.  If you’re interested in bees you’ve probably seen the viral internet footage of this hive. Newly developed out of Australia this social media hit of a hive will extract your honey and even make the pancakes to put it on! It’s got great marketing but overall it’s still a langstroth hive and as a beginner it’s solving a problem you don’t have (honey extraction) while making it more difficult to do something you should (inspect). Not recommended for beginners.

I’m recommending you get a Langstroth hive, so let’s go into more detail on the Langstroth Hive.  Here are all the parts of a hive. A full hive assembly will cost you around $300. You’ll notice all the parts are the same size so everything stacks together nicely. There are now 2 sizes of hives available 8 frame and 10 frame – referring to how many frames fit across in each level. 8 frame equipment is 20% smaller and thus 20% lighter than 10 frame equipment and so some people prefer it. What you loose in width you’ll have to make up for in depth to achieve the same volume of hive so my personal preference and experience is with the more common 10 frame equipment.

(image from

We’ll go from the bottom up:
Elevated Hive Stand. You want to put your bees ON something. This has the advantage of being easier on your back when you inspect them but also will help to defend against skunks and mice which like to eat hives. There are commercial hive stands available. I have mine on 2 cinder blocks (cheap and easy!).

Bottom Board: This can be either screened with an insert or solid. There are benefits/drawbacks to both and my yard has a mixture. Pick one.

Entrance reducer: For a new package this is a must. It keeps the bees from having to defend such a large area. I recommend you get a mouse guard which will serve dual purpose of reducing the entrance and keeping mice out for winter.

Hive body: Also just known as a ‘super’ these are the core of your hive. Supers come in three standard sizes, deep, medium and shallow. The illustration above shows the traditional configuration of 2 deep hive bodies for the bees with a medium or shallow super on top for your honey crop. Here’s a secret – the bees don’t follow orders and don’t care what the configuration of their space is as long as they have enough. 2 deeps, 3 mediums, 5 shallows, they could live in any of these which means the choice is for the connivence of the beekeeper.  A fully loaded deep super weighs around 70lbs. Let me repeat that: A deep super full of honey weighs 70lbs.  If you think that sounds heavy for you to be lifting (and you will need to lift it) I would recommend using medium supers. You will need 4 medium supers – 3 for the bees to live in and 1 for your honey crop. Another great thing about the ‘all medium’ set up is everything is inter-changable so if the bees move up to the top super you can just rearrange it.

Inner cover: The bees need  a roof and this is it. Not real variations or options just get one!

Homosote/insulating inner cover(not shown): In the north winter is a fact of life. That’s why I recommend you get an insulating inner cover or homostote board when you first get your hive. I’ll explain more about this in the Fall but it’s better to have this essential standing by.

Outer Cover: keeps the rain out. You can either get a metal or painted top. Both work fine, although some of the painted ones are able to serve dual duty since you can write on them in pencil. This is a nice feature for keeping track of your hive.

Strapping (not pictured): I recommend you get a cam strap and strap down your hive from the start. By strapping all the peices together if the hive is tipped over by wind or a bear it’s more likely to survive. You’ll need at least 15ft to go all the way around, and anything you find at your local hardware store is fine.

Up next: Equipment- beyond the hive.