Setting up your hive

Lots of people are starting out with new hives and sometimes there is assumed knowledge, so here is a quick reminder about how to set up your hive.

Everything needs to fit snugly so ensure all the boxes are flush on top of each other. Start with the floor, and the entrance block set to medium. The hive needs to be off the ground by at least 25-30cm, and this can be achieved using a purpose build stand, or blocks, or sleepers. Make sure it doesn’t wobble!

Where to site? This depends a bit on where you will be keeping them. South facing is preferable, though east or west is also fine. Good ventilation – so avoid dense shrubbery – but not being in the blast of the prevailing wind.

The floor in situ should look like this:

I’m using a mesh floor, and have removed the inspection board. A solid floor is fine, as is a mesh with occasional use of the board, but don’t keep the inspection board in all the time as it creates a space where the bees cannot access and thus becomes a great place for wax moth, and can fill with debris to the point where it can’t be pulled out. Keep the board somewhere dry, or they have a tendency to warp.

Next, we put on a brood box. Fill it with frames and use a dummy board at one end, keeping the frames pushed up next to one another – the frames are set with the all-important ‘bee space’ but only if they are tightly packed together. Having a dummy board means you can take this out, allowing the frames to be moved back and lifted out without rolling or crushing the bees. In between the combs, the bees will be in continual contact and if you lifted a frame out without pulling it away from its neighbour first, bees would be crushed. The bees regard the solid wall of the end board as the perimeter of their nest and don’t build around it. The gap can become a haven for woodlice and earwigs and spiders: that’s fine.

It also means that if you start off with a small colony or swarm, you can put the dummy board in at say, frame 6 position so as to give the bees a smaller space to heat until they have built up. You can then move the dummy board further towards the edge as the colony develops.

Here is a frame, with its small strip of foundation to start the bees off:

Some hive boxes can accommodate 12 frames…don’t ask me why! But it is still better to have a dummy board for the reasons stated above. I am using Hoffman frames here, also known as DN4s: they are self-spacing, in that the sidebar is made to be the correct distance from the one next-door, unlike a DN1 which will need a plastic spacer. Both need to be butted up tightly in the box.

You can arrange your frames with them running perpendicular to the entrance, or parallel to it: cold or warm respectively. There are observations and arguments for either but from what I can discern, I would err on the side of the warm way, so with the frames parallel to the entrance:

In this hive you can see I’m using both preloved and shiny new frames. Bees will feel happier with propolised frames because of the familiar smell, as long as they are from a disease-free colony, or have been given a quick lick over with a blowtorch to remove any nasties.

Next, on goes the crownboard. Again, this can either have the holes facing parallel or perpendicular to the frames; it makes no difference to the bees. Solid crownboards and perspex quilts (see-through boards) are also available, but I prefer a crownboard with holes. If you got Porter bees escapes with your hive you may be wondering what those oval white plastic inserts are for: more on them later in the season, so keep them safe for now.

Make sure the hive is level at this point: use a spirit level. Bees sense gravity, and use this to build their combs straight, and if you are going foundationless as I would recommend, the bees need to be given the best chance to build down in a helpful way.

Then, last but not least, the roof. Square roofs tend to sit nicely but if you have a gabled roof, make sure it is sitting on properly, as it is easy to slightly misalign them – although this is easy enough to see when you walk away from the hive and realise it looks wonky!

There we go: your hive is now ready to receive bees. How exciting!

I will be posting about setting up your WBC next week.

2 thoughts on “Setting up your hive

  1. Fabulously helpful. I wondered how important it was that the hive was level as mine is sloping ever so slightly. I’ll get the spirit level out at the weekend! I hadn’t even considered which way the frames go in, so thank you. And I will take off those plastic caps for now and the inspection board. Fantastic advice, thank you 🙏 I

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