Expert tips for making a beehive in your backyard
Enjoy a honey harvest at home for a sweet treat
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A sweet swirl of honey in a cup of tea feels like it can cure anything. Now imagine if that honey came straight from your backyard. Building a beehive in your yard allows you to harvest your own honey while also creating a safe habitat for honeybees, which are quickly becoming endangered.
“Keeping honey bees can be one of the most rewarding hobbies but keeping bees is a commitment of time and money so be prepared and plan for it,” says Kim Skyrm, chief apiary inspector for the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources.
We spoke to Skyrm to find out the ins and outs of starting a beehive—and how to make one in your backyard.
How to make a beehive
Choose a beehive style
Choose from three main types of beehives: Langstroth, Top Bar, and Warré.
A Langstroth hive is the most straightforward for beginners as it consists of uniformly shaped hive boxes that stack on top of each other. Each hive box contains frames where honeycomb is built.
A Top Bar hive is smaller and has just one box in which there is a horizontal one-piece bar rather than frames where the honey is built.
These types of hives are more complicated and require more frequent care due to overcrowding in the smaller space.
The Warré style of hive is a combination of the two other hive styles. While it looks closer to the Langstroth in shape, it features the bar-style of the Top Bar where the bees will build the honeycomb. However, unlike the Top Bar, the top bar is vertical in the Warré hive.
Skyrm recommends beginners start with an eight or 10-frame Langstroth hive. The frames are they honey holders—where the honey is created by the bees. Fames are easier to remove than the bar-style hive, making honey extraction a breeze.
“This standard hive is a great way for beginners to learn the basics before venturing into some of the more unique or personalized hive types,” says Skyrm.
To construct your beehive, you will need the following tools and materials:
- Pine boards
- Sheets of exterior plywood
- Sheets of lauan plywood
- Aluminum flashing
- 1 ⅝-inch deck screws
- 6D 2-inch galvanized nails
- ½-inch Lath screws, galvanized
- Mesh screening
- Measuring tool
- Table saw
- Cordless drill
Assemble the beehive
For a Langstroth hive, you will need to construct a series of hive boxes that stack on top of the other—and each one plays an important role within the hive. Other components, like the roof and small entrances, are just as important. Here are the components of the beehive you will be assembling:
- Super box: Honey storage
- Brood box: Where the young bees are raised
- Frames: Where the honeycomb is built
- The Queen excluder: A screen that keeps the queen separate
- Top cover: Protects the hive and regulate the temperature
- Roof: Protects against the elements (like rain and snow)
- Entrance reducer: Small entrance where your bees can stand guard to keep out unwanted pests
- Hive stand: Foundation/base
First, measure out all the pieces that you’ll need for each component and then cut it to size with your table saw. Additionally, decide what type of joint you’ll be using to construct the boxes.
Howland Blackiston in Building Beehives for Dummies recommends that you use finger joints to connect the sides of your hive as they are extra secure.
Attach all the pieces together until you’ve constructed each box.
The hives boxes should stack neatly on top of one another, leaving no gaps where water or pests could disturb the hive.
If this seems like an undertaking above your DIY-level, you can opt for a hive that comes ready-made.
Bring on the bees
Your friends at your local beekeeping association will be the best place to coordinate purchasing bees as they will have the contact information for a local bee seller who can bees to your home and help get them settled into the hive. Otherwise, purchasing bees online is becoming more common.
The most common way to purchase bees is in a package of bees that includes a new queen and worker bees to help form the hive.
Another option is a “nucleus hive” which includes five frames of honeycomb which will go into your hive along with worker bees, a queen, honey, and baby bees. The latter option is less favorable since introducing the honeycomb puts the bees at risk of pests and disease that travels in the comb.
Spending hours with your nose in a beekeeping book will only get you so far. When you’re tending to a hive and come up with an unexpected issue, your best resource will be a fellow beekeeper, Skrym advises.
Not only are there state-level beekeeping associations, but many counties and towns will have smaller associations with fellow beekeepers who live close by.
These associations will connect you with others who can assist you as you begin your beekeeping journey.
What else to know about making a beehive
Skyrm estimates that building a single beehive from scratch may cost at least $1,500 to $2,000 depending on your location so this isn’t an inexpensive hobby that you’re able to take shortcuts with.
These are the costs you can expect to pay up front when starting your hive. Skyrm recommends leaving room in your beehive budget for seasonal emergencies such as creating food for bees in the winter when they can’t access natural resources.
Time and care required
When it comes to beekeeping, consider how your lifestyle fits in with starting a beehive. Skyrm says that beehives need to be open and inspected at least once a month, and more frequently during spring swarms and winter maintenance, which can be burdensome to your work and personal commitments.
Plus, you’ll need to gear-up as you begin beekeeping. “The safety of yourself and those around you are paramount when working bees,” says Skyrm. “Do-it-yourself personal protective equipment is not a good choice and can be a safety issue.” Skyrm says to select equipment that other beekeepers recommend.
Always wear proper attire when interacting with bees. Your clothing is your first protective layer and should consist of a long-sleeve shirt, full-length pants that cover your ankles, and closed-toed shoes.
Local rules and regulations
Ready to commit to beekeeping? The final logistical step is to get familiar with any state and local apiary laws and regulations that may apply.
Local government offices should have the contacts for your local apiary inspector, as well as any apiary rules you need to know.
While your yard may follow all local regulations, be considerate of your neighbors who likely aren’t ready to be beekeepers themselves.
Explain to your neighbors what you’re doing and come prepared to answer their questions before you start building your apiary. You don’t want your new bee-keeping hobby to start a neighborhood dispute or cause issues with your homeowner's association.
And Skyrm recommends putting in some research. “Read as much as possible about the biology, husbandry, and management needed to keep bees,” says Skrym.
Getting your hands on books written by experts gives you a better idea of if this hobby is right for you and what to expect as you get started.
Skrym suggests these books as a great starting point for reading up on your new hobby.
- Get The Beekeeper's Problem Solver at Amazon for $17
- Get First Lessons in Beekeeping at Amazon for $18
- Get The Backyard Beekeeper at Amazon for $15
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