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Getting started

Getting Started

So you’ve been on an introductory beekeeping course, decided on a make of hive, bought a bee suit and are hoping that a swarm will turn up soon with your name on it! Or you have ordered or intend to purchase a nucleus of bees for delivery next spring. In the meantime you will need to decide where to keep your bees and how to position the hive in your apiary. A lot of wasted time and effort can be saved later if you make the right decisions now.

Raising the flight path, the main criteria in locating your bees is that the flight path should not cross footpaths or other areas where there is likely to be human or animal activityflightpath. The reason is obvious, as you don’t want your bees stinging the neighbours or the neighbours’ dog or horse. If you have no option but to keep the hive in your garden, and you do have close neighbours, you can face the hive entrance a few feet from a high fence or wall. If this is say 6 or 7 feet high the bees will have to fly to that height when they leave the hive and will then hopefully be flying above the heads of passers by.You will have to take into account that your bees may end up drinking at neighbouring bird baths or garden ponds, a crowd of roaring bees may swarm into your neighbour’s garden and they will soil the neighbours washing as they make their cleansing flights in early spring! So think carefully if you live in a small suburban garden with close neighbours, whether it worth keeping your bees at home and falling out with the family next door. You also have to assess if there is adequate forage available for the bees. For example, if a neighbour has a dozen hives nearby, your bees will be competing with his bees for the nectar and pollen available locally. Ideally there will be plenty of space around each stock for colony manipulation and maintaining the site, e.g. grass cutting. Also, leaving a 2 metre space around the hive will give you room for future expansion. Placing the hive on some sort of hive stand is also advisable, say 18 –24 inches high as this will prevent backache when opening it, and will provide ventilation around the hive, which is beneficial to the bees.

A poorly selected site for your apiary can also be a contributingapiarysnow factor in the loss of your colonies over the winter. For example, don’t place your bees in a frost pocket or in any area prone to flooding! The old beekeeper’s saying that, ‘bees in a wood ne’er do good’ is very true, so don’t place your hives under trees in or on the edge of a wood. Protect hives from the prevailing winds and have the hive entrances facing south or south westerly if possible.

Make sure that you have access to the apiary by road at all times of the year as honey supers can be heavyapiaryfence to carry, and if livestock are in the vicinity thesite should be surrounded by a stock-proof fence. If you have more than one hive then place them in an irregular pattern with the entrances each facing slightly different directions. This will help prevent bees drifting into the wrong hive, which can spread disease.

beewaterFinally, a nearby water supply should be available for the bees, especially so in winter as they need water to dilute the winter stores, and the low temperatures at this time prevent them flying far. You can help by placing a moss filled shallow tray,soaked with water within a few metres of your hives and topping it up regularly.

Equipment – Hives

There are many different types of bee hives on the market and quite a few of those are essentially the same differing only in dimension. Most bee hives have the same basic structures which are listed below; there is no hive that is better than all the rest they all have good points and bad, therefore choice of hives depends on personal preferences, location and climate. Please contact us before purchasing if you require further advice.

1. Floor, solid keeps out draughts and cold, perforated allows flow of air

2. Entrance, large opening in summer months, small in winter

3. Brood box, contains frames of comb for queen to lay her eggs in and larvae to develop

4. Queen excluder, mesh with bee size holes too small to allow the larger queen to pass

5. Honey super, contains frames of beeswax for worker bees to store the honey

6. Cover board, with holes for bees to escape, flow of air and winter feeding

7. Roof, protects hive from weather

The National Hive national is one of the most popular hives in the UK, and equipment for this type of hive is readily available. The frames have long lugs which are wider than the walls of the hive which serves as an aid, when lifting the brood or supers. Its square shape make it is easy to strap the hive up for moving the bees from one nectar source to another. The supers are the smallest of all hives and consequently also the lightest of all hives. Size 18 1/8″ x 18 1/8″, 11 brood frames.

Other Hive Types

The WBC hive is named after its designer William Broughton Carr and is the image that most of us think of, when recalling images of a country cottage bee hive. It is a double walled hive in that the outer part is made up of splayed sections which protect separate loose boxes inside containing the frames. It is a good hive, cool in summer and warm in winter and ideal for bees. They are complicated in construction and extremely difficult to move to another site with bees in. This hive takes National frames. Size 19 7/8” x 19 7/8” 10 brood frames.

The Smith is a single walled hive, popular especially in Scotland, developed by Mr. W. Smith of Innerleithen, Peebles. It is well suited to cold weather conditions and is ideal to moving on to the heather. The brood body and super frames of the Smith hive have short lugged British Standard frames and the same size of foundation as the National and WBC. Size 16 3/8” x 15 1/4” 11 brood frames.

The Langstroth hive is named after its designer – Rev L. L. Langstroth and is widely used throughout the world. There are several different versions of this hive with varying dimensions throughout Europe and America. It is a simple easy to maintain hive. Size 20” x 16 ¼” 10 brood frames.

The Commercial hive is favoured by commercial beekeepers having large brood foundation measuring 16″ x 10″ and can be operated with standard National supers. This gives the best of both worlds with large brood area and light supers. Similar in appearance to the Langstroth it is also a single wall hive and is easy to maintain. Size 18 5/16” x 18 5/16” 11 brood frames

The Modified Dadant is similar to the Langstroth American in origin, but with deeper frames and slightly wider spacing. The M.D. hive is one of the biggest in the world it is popular with commercial beekeepers because of its large capacity. It can be very heavy to lift and move around and not recommended for anyone with a bad back! Size 20” x 18 1/4” 11 brood frames.

Equipment – Clothing


Suits: These are essentially an overall with elasticated cuffs on the legs and arms; they also have a hood incorporated into them. Advantages are that you have three items of clothing incorporated into one which is cheaper and has less opportunity for bee size gaps occurring. Disadvantages are for those of us with poor balance they are a bit harder to put on and take off in a hurry.

Separates: Trousers and top again with elasticated cuffs, easier to take on and off but additional hood needs to be purchased.

Hoods: Separate hooded protection for face and head, different types (down to personal choice) to be used with suitable protective clothing.

Gloves: As most of our contact with the hive is though holding and manipulating the hive and bees, the choice of glove is very important. It needs to be thick enough to prevent stings going through the glove, soft enough to allow us to handle things delicately and long enough to cover the gap between the cuffs and glove. There is nothing that will upset your bees more than rough handling.

Equipment – Tools

This is a short list of tools you need when setting up to keep bees it is not exhaustive and does not include honey harvesting or bee feeding equipment.

Hive Toolhivetool

Essential general tool used for manipulating frames


Essential tool for calming down bees when entering the hive

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