Bee Keeping 101

Welcome To Your First Lesson In Beekeeping

Introduction to Placement and Hive Components

Before we get into the actual insect, let’s talk about the current hive. Beekeepers, for the most part, still use a hive that was designed by Rev. L. L. Langstroth in the early 1850s. Prior to this, beehives were kept in what looked like up-side-down baskets known as skeps. With skeps, the comb along with the total hive was destroyed when honey was harvested. Langstroth is credited with the removable frame hive and with specific bee space. In other words, he invented the ability to remove the frames of comb and place them back in the hive without damage to the hive or comb. Langstroth also discovered what is known now as “bee space” and is generally thought to be 3/8″. Anything less, they will add their glue known as propolis. Anything greater than 3/8″ and they will build comb. Almost all hive boxes today are modeled after Rev. L. L. Langstroth’s design with slight modifications over the years.  This type of hive consists of the following pieces, starting at the bottom and working up:

Typical Langstroth Hive

  • The Hive Stand
  • The Bottom Board
  • The Hive Bodies
  • The Medium or Small Honey Supers
  • The Inner Cover
  • The Top Cover
Another very popular type of hive that people are enjoy is the Top Bar Hive.  Although this hive is much more primitive, it’s a very popular method of keeping bees.  It is completely different way of thinking and takes us back to our roots years and years ago.  This type of hive is gaining a lot of momentum

Top Bar Hive

here in the United States for back yard keepers.  Keeping bees in a top bar hive has some major advantages, and disadvantages.  We will have additional information about a top bars under our Top Bar 101 section.  A portion of this section will still apply to a top bar hive so don’t complete skip class if your thinking top bar hive all the way.


PLACEMENT Prior to Setting up the hive we need to talk about where are you going to put it? Deep thoughts have gone into which location would be best for the bees.  We have to consider location, the direction the hive faces and how much to elevate the hive off the moist ground.  How about direction?  Which direction should the hive face  North, South, East, West? It really can effect so if you have the choice, direct the hive so the sunrise will shine on the front door.  You want your bees to be warmed up, and awake as soon as possible.  Avoid directing entrances North.  Shade or Sun? AVOID SHADE!! Get your hive in total sunlight. This is extremely important. They can keep the hive cool. Don’t worry about the heat unless your in the deserts of the deep South.(need lot’s of water if your keeping bees in the arid climate) Shade can attract pests in certain parts of the country such as Small Hive Beetle, ants and wax moths. Place the hive in direct sunlight. If you cannot avoid the shade, try to place the hive where it will get the most sunlight.  What about wind blocks?

Hive stand with area ready for bottom board

Consider using a fence, barn, garage, or bushes to create a wind block to your liking.  If predominate winds are coming from the west them attempt to create a wind block.  Water?  Where is the closest source of fresh running water?  Streams, rivers, ponds, or water features will attract bee at different times.  Consider which direction the bees will have to travel to get to the primary source and select placement with that in mind.  Lastly level area for you to freely work the bees with out stepping or tripping over garden walls, rocks, features, or weeds.  By the way remember if your placing the hive in a garden or irrigated area remember we don’t want to water the hive via sprinklers.  Now that you have some ideas as to where you want to put your hive or hives, you can move right along to the hive components.

HIVE STAND Today, let us explain the hive stand and what to use. The hive stand will be the place and items your bee hive will sit on. However, many beekeepers do not find the hive stand necessary. We recommend making or getting a hive stand of some type.  It’s really important to get the hive off the ground and moisture that lye there.  The industry recommends at least a minimum of 4″ off the round.  If you you can 10-18″ off the ground is even better for the bees and your good back.  It should be nearly level so as the hive grows it won’t tip over.  We will remind you to have your hive tipped slightly forward but that can be accomplished by shims under the bottom board described later on.  This is why when looking for something around the house to make a hive stand you should consider blocks, bricks, wood,  pallets, or anything synthetic or hard that can touch the earth but not rot.  In the picture above they used CUM or concrete blocks with wood.

BOTTOM BOARDS  There are many types of bottom boards but one of them is a ramp bottom board combo stand with a bottom board.  Although its not required to have this type stand with the bottom board, it appears impressive because they have a ramp leading up to the entrance of the hive.  Some people feel this helps the bees get into the hive easier.  Bees are flyer’s and not climbers.  In nature, they don’t have ramps. If you have one like this use it, if not no

Screened Bottom Board

worries.  Another type of bottom board is a standard solid bottom board.  The solid bottom board is the most commonly used, however, with the introduction of varroa mites, we have found that screen bottom boards help reduce mite populations enough to consider using them.  Other advantages to a screen bottom board can increase hive ventilation.  Screen bottom boards or considered Integrated Pest Management.  Disadvantages to typical screened bottom boards are they can become too drafty during the winter at higher elevations, and they are not 100% proven to reduce mites to a

Solid Bottom Board with Entrance Reducer

level that scientifically beneficial to the hive.  To combat these weaknesses they have upgraded the screened bottom board to accept a slide that can close off the air flow when desired like during medicating or extremely cold winters.  Most bottom boards come completely assembled with an entrance reducer cleat.  Some new keepers will ask which way is up?  Remember that you bee entrance is critical to proper airflow.  The reducer provided will only fit one way.  Typically your bottom board could be flipped but your entrance reducer would not fit properly.  Finally, the bottom board’s entrance is determined by the placement of what is called the entrance reducer cleat. It is a 3/4″ x 3/4″ piece of wood with two different sized openings. The cleat can be turned so that only one of the openings is used at a time.   When would you use the smaller setting? 1) When installing your package of bees for the first time. They can still come and go, but it keeps them from wanting to fly away until they nest. 2) In the winter, when you are trying to keep mice out of your hive. 3) When the hive is being robbed by another hive. There is less entrance to protect.  When would you use a larger entrance space on the entrance cleat?  Anytime you need a larger opening, but don’t

Entrance Reducer Large

want to open it up all the way until your know your hive is mature and needs the airflow mid-late Summer.  When bees die during the winter the smaller entrance may get plugged up with expired bees.   Make sure you will be able to remove them easily.  Even in the winter on a warm day of 45 degrees bees will do cleansing flights, you want your bees to have

Entrance Small

that option.  If you plug them up to much they won’t be about to get out and will be forced to relieve themselves inside the hive.  However, once your hive is more than a few weeks old, and is not being robbed and the weather is warm, the entrance cleat should be removed and stored in a place where you can easily find it.  The cleat and entrance reducer are the same thing.  TIP, you can use lot’s of things for entrance reducers if you don’t already have one.  bricks, twigs, 2×4, old novels, rocks, or anything else that will reduce the size of your entrance.

Whew you did it, okay…that’s the end of lesson 101. You’ve learned about hive location, hive stands, bottom boards, entrance reducers.

Bee Keeping 102