Buying Your First Hive

Introduction

This guide was inspired by questions from hundreds of new beekeepers buying their first hives. If you have more questions after reading this, feel free to email us at info@thehoneycompany.com. We specialize in helping new beekeepers get started. We have 25+ years (and 4 generations) of experience. We’d love to help you get started too.

This page will tell you the basic, essential equipment you need to get started with beekeeping. There are lots of things available to purchase in the beekeeping industry, but guide lists the minimum amount of tools that you will need to be successful.

Every beekeeper has unique opinions about beekeeping. We will try to differentiate between science and our own opinions. We often come from the perspective of a commercial beekeeper, and realize that managing a few hives leaves more time and energy to devote to each hive.

Our Philosophy

  1. We believe in producing and selling equipment made locally, in Utah or the USA.
  2. We believe that sustainable hives are those that can survive, and thrive, without adding chemicals to control honeybee diseases and pests. We recommend chemicals only as a last resort and avoid using them in our hives.
  3. We believe in beekeeping with natural comb and in increasing genetic diversity as ways to help manage honey bee colonies.

Resources

We specialize in helping new beekeepers get started. We want to support you in managing your hives sustainably. We have 25+ years (and 4 generations) of experience and have created a range of learning resources:

Bee Classes Page. This includes PDF beginning beekeeping lessons and updates on local and online classes.

The Honey Company Blog. This resource will keep you updated on current beekeeping issues, product reviews, honey recipes, and beekeeping tutorials. We often use customer questions for blog post topics. Email us at info@thehoneycompany.com if you have a question of your own and we may answer with a blog post.

Facebook Page. This is the hub for all of our social media and notifications. We post often with the latest news on local bee classes, new videos, blog posts, and interesting bee articles. You can also follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

YouTube Channel. This channel features videos of beekeeping classes and projects, and is growing exponentially. Subscribe today! Watch for future YouTube Live broadcast beekeeping classes.

Newsletter. Sign up for our newsletter to get beekeeping updates several times per year.

Local Classes. We usually teach several beekeeping classes each spring in Provo, Utah. They focus on sustainable, natural, practical beekeeping. Watch our Facebook page for updates.

Recommended Beekeeping Book. Beekeeping in Northern Climates with Honeybee Diseases and Pests and a DVD from the University of Minnesota Extension Bee Lab for around $30.

Basic Items Needed to Start a New Hive

Here are the items you will need to start your first honeybee colony. We’ll break down each item to give more details and help you make decisions on how you want to manage your bees. We sell the first three, and can recommend sources for the others.

  • A Honeybee colony, including worker bees and a queen
  • Beehive with boxes, removable frames, lid, and bottom board
  • Protective clothing (Bee Suit)
  • Bee Smoker
  • Hive Tool
  • Beekeeping Gloves
  • Feeder
  • Hive Stand
  • A way to extract honey

Honeybee Colony

There are several ways to obtain a honeybee colony. The easiest way to start a new colony is to buy the bees as a “Package” or a “Nuc” (“Nuc” rhymes with “Luke”). Our customers can order packages and nucs from January to April each spring, and then pick up the bees on designated days in April or May.

Beekeepers can also start new colonies by

  • Catching a swarm
  • Getting a start from a neighbor beekeeper
  • Finding someone selling an established hive in local classified ads.

These ways may be less expensive, but will require some extra work and experience. For this guide, we will focus on starting a colony with a package or a nuc, as these are the most common way to start industry-wide.

Package

A Package of honeybees comes with two or three pounds of bees and a queen in a temporary cage. Worker bees are measured by the pound and funneled into the cage from existing hives. The queen comes in an separate, smaller queen cage. There is a can of sugar syrup to feed bees for a few days.

 

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2-Pound Package

Beekeepers pick up their packages on a set date, then install them in the hive, and can return the cage for recycling. Packages come from California to Utah by truck on a specific date in April. They need to be installed in a hive within 24 hours of the pickup date, as bees left too long in the package cage will die. Beekeepers need to feed sugar syrup to newly hived packages in the spring to prevent them from starving.

2-Pound Package: This size is industry standard, and contains about 6-7,000 worker bees. They are less expensive and are enough to start a hive.

3-Pound Package: Many beekeepers like 3-pound packages as they have more worker bees to get the colony started. They contain about 10,000 worker bees.

There are many factors involved in how well a package will do. The number of bees you start with has the least to do with success or failure. Good weather and good management are most important.

Packages can be installed into any type of hive, while nucs are limited to deep Langstroth boxes.

Nuc

“Nuc” is short for hive nucleus and rhymes with “Luke.” A nuc is a 5-frame starter colony of honeybees with a queen. The 5 deep frames contain worker bees, drawn comb, pollen, honey, a laying queen, eggs, larvae, and sealed and emerging brood. Nucs do not include the beehive boxes.

**We recommend nucs for beginning beekeepers.

 

Hive Nucleus

We want customers to succeed at beekeeping. To produce nucs, we start with a package in April, then feed it and help it grow onto 5 frames.  We use all new frames. We weed out any colonies that fail to thrive.  

With nucs, there is less risk as a new beekeeper for the colony to die in the spring. The first six weeks of a colony’s life can be tricky to manage, as Utah spring weather patterns are unpredictable, and new beekeepers lack experience feeding bees. With nucs, we care for bees through this initial feeding time, and you limit the risk of colonies starving.

Frame from hive nucleus

Frame from hive nucleus

Nucs need to be installed in deep Langstroth hives only as they come on deep frames.

Here is how our nuc pickups work. Beekeepers pick up nucs on one of our set pickup dates, usually Fridays in May.

At the pickup, you will transfer the frames of the nuc, one at a time, into your own deep hive. We want beekeepers to inspect their new colony during the transfer. You will be able to use your smoker and protective clothing to see eggs, the queen bee, comb, honey stores, etc. New beekeepers often appreciate having an experienced beekeeper there when they make their first hive inspection.

You will transfer the frames in the daylight, when there are fewer bees at home. Then you will drive the hive home after dark, when all the foraging bees are home. There will be some waiting time between transferring and moving bees. You are welcome to stay and ask questions, or to leave and come back.

Feral Queen Bees

Something unique to our company is our feral bee project. Stan Moulton found isolated feral honeybee colonies in Southern Utah that have been living in the cliffs without human intervention for years. We think they may have originally swarmed from some agricultural projects in the area.

Over time, the honeybee industry has selected and bred honeybees exclusively for honey production. In this process, we’ve lost some of the bees’ genetic resistance to disease.

There is a movement in the beekeeping industry to bring back some of these missing gene expressions that may still exist in isolated populations. We hope that doing so may re-introduce some of the bee’s natural abilities to overcome disease. We are still working through this process and hope you will join us in testing out this theory. Our preliminary results are promising.

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Feral bee on a flower in Southern Utah

Stan takes virgin queens in mating nucs to feral drone congregation areas. Then he releases the queen to mate with feral drone bees. As a queen only mates once in her lifetime, with a dozen-ish drones, she will store sperm from the feral bees to lay eggs during her reign.

We take these eggs, and raise queens from them, and repeat the process of mating daughter queens with feral drone bees over several generations. This way, our queens have a high proportion of feral bee genetics.

We send these feral queens to California to our package producer, who uses them as breeding stock. Daughters will mate with California drones, and then come back to Utah as the queens in our packages and nucs.

The package bee breeder in California is part of MPCAP (Managed Pollinator Coordinated Ag Project). He tests his colonies for hygienic bee behavior, which is a sustainable way to manage some bee diseases and pests. This means the drones in California are high-quality and should yield a nice feral bee cross.

When you purchase a package or nuc from us, you will be getting one of these feral cross queens. People drive from all around the Western U.S. to try our bees. We do not ship bees at this time.

Locally-Produced Deep Hives

We build and sell new, assembled, unpainted hives. Equipment is made in Utah, from trees grown in Utah, by Utah woodworkers. (If Utah wood is unavailable, we source it from the Western USA.) Woodenware is available for local pickup in Provo, UT or may be shipped to you. It is made to order.

Types of HivesIMG_3870

There are many types of hives out there, however, we recommend using a standard Langstroth hive. We’ve found that bees don’t mind what type of hive they live in. They just want to produce honey and offspring. We choose then, based on ease of use for the beekeeper.

First-time beekeepers will be most likely to succeed with a Langstroth hive. After your first couple years, it can be fun to experiment with different hives, like the intermediate-level top bar hive.

Boxes

Boxes are the structure of the hive. They are called “Hive Bodies” or “Supers,” depending on their location in the hive. Beekeepers start a honeybee colony in one box until frames are about 80% full, then stack another box on top.

**We recommend purchasing 3-4 deep boxes per hive.


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Beekeeping boxes come in deep, medium, and shallow. We use and sell deep boxes exclusively in our operation because it is more efficient for us. It makes all equipment interchangeable and means fewer pieces of equipment to handle and store.

Some beekeepers prefer medium boxes for their lighter weight, (which will be easy to find from another company if weight is an issue). I personally can’t lift a deep box that’s filled with honey, so I don’t. What I can do is lift individual frames a few at a time. I can also lift a half sized, 5-frame nuc box full of honey, which is equivalent in weight to a medium box.

You will need 3 deep boxes for an average Utah summer. Bees will need the bottom 2 boxes as their food storage for winter and the third box will contain honey for the beekeeper. It can be handy to have a fourth deep box.

If you go with medium boxes, 5 medium boxes have the same volume as 3 deep boxes. You will also need 50 frames to fill those boxes.

You may want to paint the outside surface of the boxes to protect them from the elements. Use any type of exterior paint, varnish, or other finish. Do not paint the inside of the box, as bees will cover the wood with propolis, an important part of their disease resistance.

Frames

There are 10 frames to a standard box. These also come in deep, medium, and shallow to match the box. Deep frames are 9 1/8″. Bees build wax comb on frames, with hexagon-shaped cells. They use the cells to raise their young and store honey. Frames can be used with or without foundation, or a sheet of plastic or wax stamped with hexagons and used to support wax comb.

 

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Middle Bar Frame

The industry standard is to use frames with foundation, but we prefer foundationless frames because we think it has health benefits for the bees to have clean, new wax. Beeswax can be a reservoir of pesticides and disease spores. We like to give bees a clean start. It also allows bees to build smaller or larger cells, as they desire.

Our invention, the Middle Bar Frame, makes it possible to use a foundationless deep frame. It comes new and assembled. The middle bar frame has two removable dowels fastened from the middle of one sidebar to the other, making a horizontal support in the frame. New comb in a deep foundationless frame may buckle under the weight of bees and honey. Middle bars help support this weight.

Our bees have used middle bar frames for raising brood and storing honey. We use it to cut honeycomb for retail or in a honey extractor.

Middle Bar Frames can be used four ways:

1. With plastic foundation. Simply remove the middle bar dowels and insert the plastic foundation into the grooved top and bottom bars. Save the dowels in case you’d like to go foundationless later.

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2. Foundationless. The chamfer along the top bar will encourage bees to build wax comb in the center of each frame and the middle bars will support the weight of the deep comb. Foundation is an extra expense and it can be beneficial to bees to go foundationless.

IMG_3454April 17 comb

3. Foundationless with burr comb. Bees will eventually build burr comb in the hive. You can use it to prime them to draw comb on a new frame. Wedge the comb between the middle bars, hexagons pointing up, and bees will build from there.

 

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Middle bar frame with pieces of burr comb sandwiched between middle bars

4. With wax foundation. Place wax foundation in grooves in the top and bottom bars and sandwich it between the middle bar dowels. Dowels will support the full comb weight. We don’t recommend wax foundation, as sometimes it can be contaminated with disease spores and pesticides.

You will need to check foundationless hives every couple days at first and correct off-frame building by cutting and moving comb back into the center of your frame with your hive tool.

We recommend alternating frames in the hive: one frame with foundation, then one foundationless frame, followed by another frame with foundation, etc. We found that when we put all foundationless frames in the hive, there were times when bees go rogue and build off the frame. When the bees do this, it is difficult and messy to remove frames. When we alternated frames with foundation and foundationless, they built in straighter lines, and working with the frames is much easier.

To fill 3 deep boxes, alternating foundation, you will need 5 frames with foundation and 25 frames without (30 total). In the bottom box, alternate 5 frames with foundation and 5 frames without. Once bees are working the outer two frames, you will add the second box and 10 more frames. You can alternate the 10 new frames with the 10 drawn combs from the bottom box, to fill both boxes. Once all the combs are drawn out, you won’t need to do this again for that hive.

Foundation

Foundation is a thin sheet of plastic or wax stamped with hexagons. It fits in a frame and gives bees a guide to build comb. The plastic foundation we sell is sprayed with a thin coating of beeswax. We sell a variety of brands of foundation, whatever is available at the time. Foundation is not required in the middle bar frame.

IMG_0016Lid

There is one lid per colony. It fits on top of the hive. We use a migratory-style lid with a ventilation hole, which helps to circulate air. With the ventilation hole, you shouldn’t need an inner cover, which is a separate piece of equipment used with telescopic lids, which fits surrounds the top of the box on all sides. The migratory style lid is the most basic type of lid available. It’s durable and functional. (Top R and L photos)

We also offer a garden-style lid with a pretty pitched roof. (Bottom L photo)

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Bottom Board

The bottom board is located under the bottom box. (Bottom R photo) It creates an entrance to the hive. There is one per colony. We use solid bottom boards, rather than screened. Solid bottom boards are less expensive and, with screened bottom boards, there is a risk of a cold air draft chilling the brood. A screened bottom board makes it more difficult for bees to control the temperature of their hive. A screened bottom board can be part of your mite monitoring program, but it’s not effective at eliminating mites from the hive. For us, giving bees the ability to regulate hive temperature is greater than the advantages of a screened bottom board.

Barn Hive

Our invention, the Barn Hive, is a versatile piece of equipment. It is not essential, but it can be a beautiful and extremely functional part of any Langstroth hive.

It fits on top of a 10-frame Langstroth box and under a 5-frame nuc box. The barn hive has 3 compartments, or bays. The center bay holds 5 deep frames. Side bays act as in-hive feeder, storage, and observation window.

Barn Hive

Barn Hive

Barn hive with open bays

Barn hive with open bays

Barn hive feeder tray with float

Barn hive feeder tray with float

Barn hive observation window

Barn hive observation window

Uses:

  • Watch the colony as it grows through the observation window.
  • Feed bees without disturbing them using side feeder bay.
  • Produce honeycomb in deep frames. The 5-frame bay dimensions reduce the area and cause bees to produce comb more quickly in the corners of the frame.
  • Start packages.
  • Make splits.
  • Catch swarms.
  • Mate queens.
  • Use as an insulating lid to winter bees.
  • Features:
  • Feeder tray bay is caulked and the walls are textured.
  • Feeder comes with wooden float (bee life raft).
  • Storage bay is about 2″ x 5″ x 18″
  • Comes with 5 deep middle bar frames.

Hive Kit

To simplify the process of buying a hive, we’ve put together a kit containing everything you will need to start one hive along the Wasatch Front. (Areas with more severe winters may require more boxes.)

The kit includes bees (package or nuc), deep boxes, frames, and foundation (or foundationless), and optional barn hive and bee jacket. It also comes with a lid and bottom board. Click HERE to go to The Honey Company shop for current pricing and availability.

Protective Clothing

Protective Clothing can range from a hat and veil to a full body bee suit. We love and sell the Freeman bee jacket. This pullover bee jacket is made in the USA. It ships directly from manufacturer for $0.01. The fit is men’s standard t-shirt sizing. We own more than 20 bee suits, but this is Stan’s go-to beekeeping jacket. He wears it with thick jeans and boots.Email Trial PP 3

Features:

  • Veil has mesh all the way around for better sight lines.
  • Beekeepers can unzip and push back the hat for driving or a drink of water.
  • Pull-on style with fewer zippers, less fuss and fewer holes for bees to sneak in.
  • 2 lap pockets
  • Elastic sleeve opening
  • Long tail with elastic waist prevents bees from stinging at the waist-line.
  • Easily slips on and off
  • Made from heavy-duty materials

Bee Smoker

IMG_5022The bee smoker is an essential beekeeping tool. We’ve tried more than 20 different smokers and find that the 4×7 inch smoker with a guard and leather bellows fits our needs best. It is small, and therefore less expensive, and the leather bellows are more durable than plastic ones. The guard helps prevent fires. We purchased a smoker most recently from Mann Lake HERE.

Rather than purchasing smoker fuel, we use old burlap sacks. We bought coffee bean sacks from the local farm store and they have lasted for years.

Hive Tool

Hive tool. This is used to pry open the lid and remove frames. You will need one every time you get into the hive. We like the standard hive tool. It looks like a mini crowbar. It’s nice to have a spare hive tool. HERE is a link to Mann Lake’s hive tools.

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Beekeeping Gloves

We like leather bee gloves with a sleeve attached. Some bee gloves come with mesh ventilation at the wrist. Bees can sting through ventilation mesh, so we prefer the solid kind. HERE is a link to some nice beekeeping gloves. You can make your own bee gloves by adding a sleeve to a pair of leather work gloves.

Feeder

This is to feed bees when there is no nectar flow or honey stores. There are several styles. We use the Barn Hive or a division board feeder, sometimes called a “Pro Feeder.” You can find it HERE. It replaces a deep frame inside the box. You can buy them with or without caps and ladders. We recommend getting caps and ladders because it will avoid drowning as many bees. We’ve exhausted the topic of feeders on our YouTube Channel.

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Hive Stand

Most people place the bottom board on some type of hive stand to preserve the bottom board and level the hive. We use standard shipping pallets and place 4 hives per pallet. Some people use cinder blocks or purchased hive stands.

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A Way to Extract Honey

If you have an good year, or even just an average one, your bees will produce honey. You will need a way to extract that honey from the hive. The most common way to do this is with a centrifuge extractor. You could also harvest and eat the honey comb, or use Flow frames.

For extracting and bottling honey using our DIY system, see Lesson 10 of our Beginning Beekeeping Series.

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Grandpa Arthur’s extractor

There are several local businesses that will extract honey from your frames for a fee or a portion of the honey, if you’d prefer not to invest in the extracting equipment yourself.

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A hand-crank extractor

HERE is an extraction kit that Mann Lake offers. We look for American- or German-made extractors, but this would work and gives a good price estimate. Extractors start at around $300.

For extracting honey, you will need

  • An extractor to spin honey out of the frame.
  • A strainer, to remove bees’ knees.
  • An uncapping tool, like a hot knife or scratcher. We use a scratcher to keep the honey “raw.”
  • Honey containers, like mason jars.
  • A honey bottling tank. We use a food grade 5-gallon bucket with a honey gate for bottling and straining.
  • A place to store wax cappings, like a second food grade 5 gallon bucket.

Flow frames are a new option for extracting honey. The advantage is that you can extract honey right from the hive using their tube system without purchasing an extracting system. And they are pretty cool!

The disadvantage of Flow frames is that they are expensive. A set of flow frames can cost more than an extractor. Beekeepers can only extract honey from the flow frames themselves, but bees store honey throughout the hive. To consume liquid honey stored in traditional frames, beekeepers would either need to own an extractor or forfeit the honey. Therefore, it would be more efficient to spend money on a good-quality extractor than on Flow frames.

Conclusion

We hope you have enjoyed this guide. We also hope our many years of experience can aid you in your beekeeping goals. We can offer you unique products, sustainable hives, and we are doing our best to save the country’s honeybee population. If you have future questions, please contact us on our Facebook Page or send us an email at info@thehoneycompany.com.

Click HERE to enter our online store.

One Comment

  1. Thanks for your guidelines. I think It’s important to invest in a good honey extractor – one that’ll last you a good while and allow you to reap as much honey as possible.

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