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The Hive – A Closer Look

October 6, 2010 in

Last time we started looking at what you need. Lets now take a closer look at the first and most basic thing that you will need to keep bees – and that is the hive.

When talking about hives I’ll be referring to 10 frame Langstroth hives, as this is what I have always used. This does not mean, however, that these are necessarily the best, but I would suggest that, whatever hives you use, make sure they’re all the same. It makes interchanging hive parts so much easier.

First of all we have the floor or ‘bottom board’. This is a flat board the same width as, but slightly longer than, the normal hive sections. It is bordered on three sides (two long sides and a short side) by a rim which will raise the first chamber about half-an-inch above the floor. The side without a border then forms the entrance to the hive. The extended length creates a ‘landing board’ for the bees to alight onto at the entrance. Then we have a ‘brood chamber’ or deep chamber. There may be one or more of these before we have a ‘super’ or shallow chamber. Some beekeepers use brood chambers as supers but, when full of honey these are a lot heavier than the normal supers and, if you are lucky enough to have a lot of these full of honey, they play havoc on your back. The number, of each of these, that you will need will be discussed later.

Next you will need an ‘inner cover’ to put onto your top super. The reason for this is that the inner cover covers the same area as the chamber on which it lies and is, therefore, flush with the top chamber. Very often the bees will build wax on top of the frame between the frame and the lid. This has the effect of ‘gluing’ the lid down (although that is not actually their intention). If this happens it is easier to get your hive tool between the cover and the top super and prise them apart.

Finally you have a telescopic lid or ‘outer cover’. This has a slightly larger area than the super and has deeper sides (an inch or two) which fit over the hive. This helps to keep the top weatherproof. The inner cover should have a smallish hole in the centre and a rim round the edge (of the cover – not the hole) so that there is a gap (half-inch or so) between the inner and outer covers. This is to allow ‘breathing’ which helps with regulating the internal temperature of the hive. It also helps to eliminate condensation within the hive.

There is also a piece that can fit between hive parts called a queen excluder. This is a frame, the size of the top of a super, holding a thin sheet of metal with slots punched into it. These slots are big enough to allow bees to pass through but too small to allow the queen to pass through. Another type is made of stout wires spaced far enough apart to allow the passage of bees but not the queen. Some beekeepers swear by them though I, personally, do not believe in them. We’ll discuss, later, why some beekeepers use them and why others do not.

Finally there are the frames. These should be wired and waxed. In other words there should be wires going from side to side or, I have seen, from top to bottom in a ‘V’ pattern. This wire must be taught and should be embedded into the wax sheet or ‘foundation’. This is to reinforce the combs otherwise, when you spin them in the extractor, they will disintegrate into chunks in your honey. We try to keep the combs intact so we can put them back into the hive to be refilled. It takes seven units of honey to make one unit of wax so, if we can help the bees to save time making wax, we’ll be rewarded with more honey.

We must have foundation in the frames to guide the bees when building the combs otherwise they will build them wherever they please, which would, more often than not, be across the frames, or diagonally from one frame to the next frame, and we’d end up with a solid mass of combs which would be impossible to manage. If you want to save some money you can put strip foundation into the frames. Wire the frames in the normal way and place the foundation, which has been cut into strips (about half the width of a normal ‘super’ sized sheet) into the frame.

The foundation needs to have the reinforcing wire embedded into it. This can be done with an ‘embedding wheel’. This is a ‘spiked’ wheel that looks a lot like a cowboy’s spur. The wheel is a few millimetres thick and, in some cases, the ‘spikes’ have a groove in the centre to guide you when you run it along the wire. Weave the foundation between the wires then run over the exposed wire with the embedding wheel. Keep the wheel hot by dipping it into hot water every little while.

Another way of embedding the foundation is electrically. You need to be very careful with this as I shall explain in a moment. For this you will need a car battery and a length of lamp cord (electrical cord that you would use for your bedside light). To one end attach two bulldog clips that can clamp onto the terminals of your car battery. On the other end have two little crocodile clips.

Clamp the bulldog clips onto your battery and clip one of the crocodile clips onto the beginning of your reinforcing wire. With the other crocodile clip just briefly touch the other end of the wire. This will heat the wire enough to melt the wax which will then solidify round the wire. Now this is where care must be taken. Just touch the wire with the second crocodile clip for no more than a second otherwise you’ll end up cutting the foundation into strips. I’ve done that often enough when I started using this method. It makes embedding a lot quicker and easier, but it does take a little practice to get used to it.

As mentioned before, one should also have a stand on which to place the hive. Although this is not considered a ‘hive part’, it is important to keep the hive off the ground and, as far as possible, away from moisture. An old motor car tyre can make a very durable and cheap hive stand. Beware: Too many car tyres, one on top of the other, will have too much give and may cause the hive to either stand skew or to fall over. Two should be the max.

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