The National Bee Unit (NBU) strongly recommends that bees should only be kept in modular, movable comb hives. This form of beehive helps sound colony management and, most importantly, they permit the regular and thorough examination of the colony, including the brood area, for signs of disease. It is only by regular and routine examination that early detection of disease is possible. In turn this allows swift intervention before the disease spreads far and wide.
You can’t tell if anything is untoward if you can’t check the colony easily. So whilst recognising the growth in the use of top bar hives, the NBU preference is to continue to recommend keeping bees in modern moveable frame hives.
There are many hive types on the market and for the hobby beekeeper, particularly as a beginner, it does not make sense to mix hive types.
In most parts of the UK and Ireland, the National hive is most popular. National hive parts are in the lower weight range when full compared to many of the others and are all compatible with other national hive parts and dimensioned drawings are readily available for those who wish to make their own. The most likely deciding factor is to use those that are recommended by others in your association but always remember that if you are purchasing a nucleus hive to start with then the hive and nucleus be the same type for the frames to fit.
Beekeepers will encounter other types of beehive including Langstroth, Commercial, Warré and various types of top bar hives. There is no interchangeability of parts between these but it is worth noting that the external dimensions of the Commercial hive are near identical to the National hive but the frames are not interchangeable. Commercial Supers with Commercial frames can be used on a National hive and National Supers with National frames can be used on a Commercial hive.
The hives referred to are modular. They are made in sections and use movable frames. This permits inspection for disease and colony expansion.
- Anything that raises the beehive to a convenient working height.
- The bottom section of a beehive.
- Open Mesh Floor – an important part of integrated pest management in colonies of honeybees.
- Brood Box
- Sometimes referred to as the Brood Chamber. This is the section of the beehive where the honeybee colony raises young bees – the brood. The colony will also store pollen and honey in this area.
- Crown Board
- Depending upon the Season and the state of the colony, an inner cover or Crown Board may sit directly on top of the Brood Box.
- The roof sits on top of the crown board to protect the hive from the weather. It is increasingly common to insulate the roof to give the colony additional protection from temperature extremes.
- The bottom section of a beehive.
- Brood Box
- Queen Excluder
- It is common practice to place a queen excluder on top of the brood box/brood chamber to retain the queen in the Brood Box.
- Super 1
- Supers are successively placed on top of the queen excluder and Brood Box in the hope and expectation that the honey crop will be stored in them.
- Super 2
- Super 3+
- Crown board
Personal Protective Equipment
- Beekeeping Jacket or Suit
Bee suits/jackets come in a vast array of stile and prices. They need to be light in colour and are best made from cotton, you will need several pockets in them and preferably elasticated waist and cuffs with thumb loops to stop the sleeves rising up. As a beginner it is not advisable to wear just a veil. The main considerations are whether you feel more confident in a full suit or a smock/jacket, the type of hood (round or fencing style) and the cost. Again information can be sourced on the internet and in publications and once again your colleagues in the association will advise you further on the options available. This is a personal choice and economics will be a large factor in your choice.
Leather gauntlets are available from suppliers but these do have some disadvantages. They can cause you to be clumsy when handling the frames and are difficult to clean thus causing a potential hygiene problem, in fact many associations and other beekeepers will not allow these in their apiaries due to the latter reason. On the plus side it is unlikely that you will receive a sting through them. Rubber gauntlets are available and are more hygienic as they can be cleaned but are still very clumsy. Domestic kitchen gloves are a satisfactory, middle of the road option allowing good dexterity and reasonable protection from stings. Many experienced beekeepers wear disposable nitrile gloves to protect the hands from the sticky propolis or no gloves at all. If the honeybees are selectively bred to be docile they will only very occasionally sting.
In general, beekeepers will consider a good pair of boots or wellingtons to be essential. Honeybees have a tendency to climb and bees dislodged onto the ground are likely to climb onto your footwear and unless protected, will eventually find your ankles. The ankle is a painful place to be stung.
- Hive tool
Hive tools are required for dismantling the hives for inspection and taking out and cleaning the frames. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes with most beekeepers preferring a basic stainless steel one. Other members of your local beekeeping association will demonstrate their use to you and you can make up your own mind about which type to buy.
- Water mist sprayer
The smoker is used to subdue the bees by making them think that there is a fire nearby in which case the bees gorge on honey and, theoretically, are then unable to sting properly as their abdomens cannot fully flex. Smoke should be used sparingly and only if necessary during inspections but the smoker should always be kept alight in case it is needed. Again there are several designs available and a budget stainless steel one will be good for a beginner for several years. Personal choice and cost are the main things to look at but initially try to buy one with a heat guard or grille around the smoke box as they can get hot. A smaller one will suffice for just a few hives and they can be refilled without having to relight them therefore a large one is unnecessary. Smoker fuel is again a personal choice and there are several types that can be bought from suppliers and usually your mentor will advise you on this. There are many free fuels which burn well, wood shavings and /or dried grass work well and are free. Practice is needed to keep them burning so that they the smoke is neither too hot nor does the smoker go out.
- Bee brush
- Queen Cage
- Crown of thornes
- Queen marking pen