You have probably noticed by now that in addition to mead manufacturing we are also beekeepers. If beekeeping is something you’re interested in starting, read on.
The first thing you need to decide on when starting beekeeping is what material you would like your beehive to be made out of. You have the choice of wood, plastic or high-density foam.
Wood is the cheapest, at around $25 a box. Wood has been used forever for beehives and many are hesitant to move away from it to newer materials so it is still the most common material, however, in my opinion, it is the least beneficial of the 3 choices. Wooden beehives need to either be painted or oiled to protect the wood from rotting. Oil needs to be re-applied every few years. Even with painting or oiling, you will still probably only get 15 years out of it before needing replacing. They also can be prone to mould and moisture build-up in colder months.
Plastic beehives are usually more expensive than wood at around $37 to $42 a box however they do not require painting and will pretty much last forever. I quite like the plastic beehives from Nuplas. They have a flat rate of $40 shipping anywhere in Australia, which is great. They are rated by the manufacturer for a minimum of 30 years UV exposure, so I expect if that is the minimum they will last forever.
The roofs are vented which is good for preventing moisture build-up and mould. (bees occasionally plug the holes up with wax so watch out for that and occasionally poke a thin nail through the hole the clean them out). The plastic bases are also vented and come with a gate to lock the bees inside if for some reason you need to move the hive.
High-Density Foam Beehives
Foam beehives are highly insulated which apparently makes them more efficient as bees that would otherwise need to dedicate themselves to heating or cooling the hive can be freed up for other activities such as foraging for more honey. Priced similarly to the plastic beehives.
We recently purchased a large amount of this style of beehive box called Paradise Honey Beebox from Australian Honeybee in Canberra. They are made in Finland.
They are sturdier than what you might expect for foam, it’s not like packing foam, you can squeeze them as much as you can and not leave a dent with your fingers however they still have the benefit of being lightweight.
So far I think they are good and superior to both the plastic and wood type hives. They are not perfect, the lip where the frames sit is on a bit of an angle so the frames don’t sit completely flat and allows the small hive beetle pest to run up and down the length of it in a crevice the bees can’t access to chase them out.
They hold 9 frames, compared to the 10 that most other boxes do. Which although is 10% less space from the start, because they are supposedly 30% more efficient, I believe this would make it equal to about an 11 or 12 frame standard type hive.
8 Frame or 10 Frame Box?
After choosing the hive box material you then need to choose the size of the box. The most common would be a 10 frame ‘full depth’ size box, however, you can also get 8 frames boxes. Additionally, in both sizes you can also get 3/4 or 1/2 size depth boxes to suit smaller than full depth frames. Really the only advantage to having less than full depth 10 frames is the weight. When the upper box with honey (called a super) is full of honey it can easily weigh 25kg which can be difficult to lift and set aside when you are doing an inspection and need to gain access to the lower (brood) box.
In between the brood box and super is a Queen excluder, which is a mesh that only the worker bees are small enough to fit through. (Stops the Queen laying eggs in the box you want for honey only)
For me, an 8 frame brood box fills up too quickly which triggers the bees to want to swarm so I prefer to recommend if you want less weight than a 10 frame box to instead have 2 x 8 frame brood boxes.
Frames – Wooden or Plastic?
Moving on to frames now, with frames you also have the choice of wood or plastic. Wooden is cheaper at around $1.80 each however they need to be glued and nailed together and also by default do not come with a starter strip at the top (to encourage the bees to build lengthways) and also require being wired up with a stainless steel fishing line size wire to be able to handle going through a centrifugal honey extractor.
Wooden frames are like a sponge and absorb moisture, they swell. It’s a tight fit in the hive at the best of times so if swollen with moisture as well they are a pain to try to lift out when you are doing a hive inspection.
Plastic frames come fully assembled, the only thing you need to do is apply a coat of beeswax to them otherwise the bees find the plastic unnatural and don’t want to build on it. The frames have a foundation with the hexagon pattern stamped into it built into the frame which allows it to go through an extractor without needing extra reinforcing like timber frames do.
Plastic frames are usually around $3.30 each. They are not affected by moisture and therefore don’t swell. They will last forever.
Tools and Equipment
Possibly the most important tool of them all to have would be traps for the small hive beetle which is a pest all over the world. Beetle traps come in various forms and can have poison, motor oil for them to drown in or diatomaceous earth to dry them out.
I would recommend placing at least one trap in every hive, I like the Silver Bullet style trap which sits on top and in between the frames. The beetle falls in and either drowns or gets coated in DE and dies.
Frames can be awkward to lift out while wearing gloves, I suggest a frame-gripping tool. Hold it very tightly though and with your hand in the centre.
A hive tool will be needed to pry open the boxes and divide the frames when the bees glue everything together with propolis. Propolis is a mix of beeswax and tree sap that the bees use a sort of glue.
You will need a soft-bristled brush to remove bees from the frame. Although a sudden shake of the frame will get rid of most of them there will always be a few hangers on you will need the brush for.
For a smoker, I would recommend a stainless steel one over galvanised. Stainless steel will last longer. If buying on eBay I also suggest adding the word ‘large’ to your search to ensure you get a big smoker as the pictures can be easy to misjudge the scale.
There will be times you might need to supplement the bee’s food with a 50/50 mix of white sugar and water to help them grow quickly. The tool pictured below fits any screw cap bottle and slides into the entrance of the hive. I like this type compared to ‘feeder frames’ that sit inside the hive in place of a frame because they can be monitored and refilled without taking the hive apart. They can be bought on eBay very cheaply.
For a protective suit, you can get a basic one off eBay for $50 or so however for an extra $55 I highly recommend a fully ventilated suit such as this one sold from Hornsby Beekeeping Supplies online store. On the first hot day you have to do a hive inspection you won’t regret having a ventilated suit.