A Beginners Guide to Beehives

Posted by Kyle

One of the reasons Bonnie and I decided to pull the plug on suburban life is because city laws prevented us from keeping bees in our yard (this has since changed, but we are happy to be here anyway!). This is a hobby that both Bonnie and I were very interested in pursuing but we knew we would have to move elsewhere to do it. So we did. Bees are awesome little insects that have an immense ecological impact. If you are a gardener of any size, bees are responsible for a good a portion of your success. In fact, they are directly responsible for pollinating about 35% of the worlds food supply. Pretty darn cool, but also VERY important to us humans.

Naturally, now that we lived in a bee friendly place we started doing our research; read some books, watched videos, read articles online. We got through a few books before we looked at each other and said “I still really don’t understand what we need to buy.” We headed back online to look for more books and came across Beekeeping for Dummies by Howland Blackiston. This book was a breath of fresh air. It was the first one we read that was actually written in a way complete “dummies” could understand! Once Beekeeping for Dummies gave us a foundation, we re-read the other books we had and got a lot of value from them too.

Great! Now that we knew what we were doing (sort of) we jumped in to the ol’ minivan and headed down to our local beekeeping supply store (who knew that was a thing!) ready to plunk down some (pretty big) cash on a couple of hives. We get to the store and after a considerable wait we meet with Mr Sales Rep. We told him we were first-timers and we were looking for two complete hive setups and asked if he could show us where everything we needed would be. That question went over like a lead balloon and he basically spent the next 5 minutes explaining why he thought it was a bad idea that we were starting in to beekeeping at all – I’m not joking. At the end he did give us a pamphlet with a list of equipment need for a complete hive but said he didn’t have time to show us where any of it was. Thanks. (Note: it was in a warehouse, he had to get it for us. When we asked for two basic set ups he said he didn’t have time – I guess that meant he didn’t have time to do his job). So we left, extremely disappointed I might add, but in spite of his negativity we remained undeterred.

So we went back on the old interweb and said ‘to heck with this guy, we will just order from them online – It’s not their fault their guy was having a terrible day.’ And so we did.

Now the point of this post is not to complain about a sales jerk clerk but rather to boil down the info about hive components into one easy to understand article. That way when you walk in to your local supply store you will speak to the staff like a pro! There are a number of different types of hives but I will only be discussing one, the Langstroth hive. This is by far the most common beehive out there and it is the style you will see all stacked up in fields. Many people are moving towards top bar hives, in an effort to create a habitat more natural to bees but there is a reason people choose the Langstroth time and time again – It is simple to assemble, simple to monitor and simple to harvest honey from. Not to mention, there is often a much higher honey yield! I highly recommend your first hive be a Langstroth.


Now, since these are modular and stack vertically we will start at the bottom and work our way up. First though, note that our hive isn’t painted. You will need to paint or stain your hive with a non toxic product before exposing it to the elements or your cash investment will only last a season or two. Make sure that when you’re painting your hive, you only paint the exterior – NO paint should be inside the bee space. You may find some components in cedar ($$$ – our hive stand is cedar) or wax coated (our hive top feeder). These items do not need any additional treatment.

The Hive StandIMG_8315_edited

The Hive stand is the base that the rest of the hive sits on. It is a wooden structure usually made out of cedar, because of it’s natural resistance to rot. The board has an angled piece on the front called the landing board. This is where your bees will land after they have foraged your wild flowers and orchard for pollen.

The Bottom BoardIMG_8316_edited

Just as it sounds, the bottom board sits on top of the hive stand to create a solid base that protects from intruders. It is constructed in such a way that when your brood chamber is placed on top there is an approximately 3/4″ gap running along the length of the front, right above the landing board. This is the front door to your hive to allow bees to come and go as they please.

Entrance ReducerIMG_8318_edited

There are situations where it is a good idea to reduce the entrance of your hive. Rival hives may come to rob your honey and by having a wide open door makes it very easy for them to get in. Similarly, you may have a rodent issue and by using an entrance reducer you can better control the flow of traffic in to and out of your hive. This is a strip of wood that fits in the gap between the brood chamber and the bottom board that has small notches cut in it that become the new, smaller entrance to your hive. It helps by enabling your guard bees to only have to defend a small opening as opposed to a wide gap.IMG_8319_edited

The Brood ChamberIMG_8320_edited

This is where your lovely queen will be busy laying thousands upon thousands of eggs. This is a wooden box with 4 sides that is open on the top and bottom. Inside you will have 10 frames where the bees will build their honeycomb cells.

You will need two of these per hive but only one to start, the other can be added as space is getting tight.

The Queen ExcluderIMG_8324_edited.jpg

This is a metal grate that you place between the brood chamber and your honey supers. Bees can fit through a gap approximately 3/8″, with the exception of the queen who is a little too big. The queen excluder allows worker bees to move up in to the honey supers to store the honey but prevents the queen from traveling up there to lay eggs. This keeps your honey frames full of nothing but sweet, delicious honey.

Honey SupersIMG_8325_edited

The difference between a brood chamber and a honey super is their use – because of the queen excluder, the honey super is only for honey and the brood chamber is for honey and eggs. The basic structure is the same, 4 sides and open top and bottom. The only variation you might come across is the size. Honey supers come in deep, medium and shallow heights. Shallow are smaller and therefore lighter but you will need a lot more of them to hold all of your honey. Deeps are what you will use for your brood chamber but when full of honey can weigh upwards of 50lbs – We use mediums for our honey supers because they are easier to lift down from an elevation.

You will need a few of these. The actual number will depend on how well the honey is flowing. We went with 3 mediums for each hive to start but bought some spares just in case of crazy good honey production or damage to one of the others. 

The Frames

The frame is the wooden structure that your bees will build their comb on. There are 10 frames per box and you use the same style of frames for the brood chamber as you do your honey supers. We purchased ours unassembled at a discount, but if you’re not feeling handy or don’t want to spend a few hours assembling them (nontoxic glue and air stapler required) than you can pay a premium for assembled ones – Just beware! A dollar or two adds up fast when you need to spend it on 50+ individual items.

You need 10 per box so if you have 2 brood and 3 supers you will need 50 frames per hive – 30 mediums and 20 deeps. We picked up an extra 10 per hive of each in case of damage. 


This is what fills in your frame. The purists (and more experienced beekeepers) will use nothing but wire and allow the bees to build their own comb on it. While this is great if your aim is to harvest lots of beeswax, the bees spend a lot of time building comb which means less time producing your honey – And the comb doesn’t always end up where you want it! It all depends on your priorities: More honey, or the ability to harvest other things such as cut comb honey. You can also get plastic frames that give your bees a running start or our personal preference, the rite-cell foundation. These come pre-waxed in a nice honeycomb shape that your bees can build on. It is easier for beginners. Some keepers think that wiring your own hives is a rite of passage – I think you should set yourself up for success and tackle techniques as you are comfortable.

You need one foundation per frame so 50 per hive in our setup (20 deep, 30 medium). 

The Inner CoverIMG_8327_edited.jpg

This is a board that goes on the top of the honey supers. There is a hole in the center of the board and there is a rim that runs around all 4 sides. In that rim there is a little notch that faces the front of the hive. this is to provide ventilation for the hive and helps keep it dry. Moisture in the hive can turn deadly if the temperature dips.

The Hive Top FeederIMG_8326_edited

Believe it or not there will be times when you will have to feed your bees, especially in climates like ours with long winters and short summers. Usually it is just a sugar water mixture or fondant style paste, but if the colonies are brand new or have no honey reserves then it is your job to ensure they survive by feeding them. You can do this with a hive top feeder. This is goes on top of your honey supers and has a slot in the middle where bees can climb up, take a drink and then head back down to store it for the queen and her brood. When using a hive top feeder you will not use the inner cover. There are a number of different styles you can choose from and each have pros and cons. We decided to use the type recommended in for Dummies which is the hive top feeder. There are also entrance feeders and frame feeders. All feeders have pros and cons – We like the hive top as it keeps the feed mix out of the sun, has a large capacity and doesn’t attract wasps or other insects like some of the external feeders can.

The Outer CoverIMG_8328_edited

This the roof that goes on the very top of the hive. They are made of wood, usually cedar, but often have metal cladding to help protect the rest of the hive from the elements (see the metal peeking out? We haven’t removed the protective film yet). It fits over the inner cover to create a weather tight seal with the notch in the inner cover providing ventilation.

Authors Note: We decided to buy one extra of everything and a couple extra supers and corresponding frames and foundations. Two reasons for this:

1) If the hive swarms we wanted to be able to setup a decoy hive to try and lure them there as opposed to my neighbors skid steer

2) If our hives grow like crazy we might need to split them into 2 hives before they swarm, and we wanted to have the equipment on hand to make that happen without having to drive in to town

Check out the pile of extra stuff we have just in case! Or you know… In case we pick up an extra nuc or two! (Don’t mind the general garage stuff piled in the area!)IMG_8332_edited

This doesn’t cover any of the hive tools that you will need, I will cover that in a subsequent post. But at the very least you can walk in to your local supply shop knowing what you are looking for and avoid the noobness that we obviously displayed at ours! Seriously though, and we aren’t getting a kickback from Mr. Blackiston here, go buy the Beekeeping for Dummies book. It was and continues to be super valuable.


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