Knowledge of the basic hive parts and the tools needed to manage a beehive is useful for the beginner beekeeper. This list is not exhaustive but will give you an idea of what is required when starting out. If you are interested in a deeper knowledge of their function and uses, we recommend that you join your local beekeepers association.
The hive roof is structured to keep the rain off the hive. It usually has a metal cover. Honeybees survive cold weather very well, but becoming damp, particularly in winter, is harmful to bees.
Some beekeepers choose to add a layer of breathable insulation under the roof for extra warmth in the winter months.
The crown board is necessary for containing the colony in the brood box and preventing the colony from building comb in the roof space. Without a crown board the frames would end up becoming stuck to the bottom of the roof with comb, and cause problems every time the beekeeper lifted the roof.
The brood box holds the brood frames where the honey bee colony lives. The queen lays her eggs here and it’s where the new brood are reared. Stores of pollen and honey will be placed in cells toward the outer edge of the comb, and eggs are laid the rest of the way towards the centre.
Brood boxes fall into one of two types: These are either top bee space or bottom bee space boxes. Bee space is the amount of space needed for the bees to move through the nest freely. It’s approximately 5/16th of an inch.
As suggested by their names, top bee space brood boxes provide a “bee-way”, for the bees to move freely across the tops of the frames. Bottom bee space only provides a bee-way at the bottom of the frames. Different beekeepers prefer different hives (top or bottom bee space), but whichever is used, the beekeeper must stick to the same type, and ensure not place the opposing type of super on top of the brood box (i.e. a bottom bee space brood box with a top bee space super) as this will close the available bee-space down to virtually nothing. Both National and Commercial boxes (most popular here in Ireland) use bottom bee-space.
National boxes hold slightly smaller frames than Commercial boxes, and therefore are lighter to lift. Choose whichever option suits your strength and fitness level. Some beekeepers will use a mixture (eg. National brood box with Commercial supers) as the boxes fit together well.
Frames and Foundation
The frames are needed to support the wax foundation. Bees use this foundation as a base to draw (build) the cells that make up the honeycomb. Beekeepers call this “drawing comb”. The individual frames are either “deep” to fit the larger brood box or “shallow” to fit the smaller honey super. In order to maintain the “bee space” between the frames, spacers – which can be plastic or metal, can be used.
There are 2 popular frame types –
Manly: which has the wider side bars and are generally used for honey supers.
Hoffmann: Used often in the brood chamber and has a curved side bar allowing for correct spacing.
Frames can have short (eg. Commercial) or long (eg. National) lugs. Lugs are the handles / piece you hold at each sides of the frame.
Wax foundation is pre-shaped and gives the bees a start in drawing honeycomb. For use in the honey super you can choose to purchase it wired (for extractors) or unwired (for cut comb honey).
Similar in layout to the brood box, but shallower. Choose National or Commercial sized boxes, depending on your needs. Commercial supers will hold more honey than National, but just like the Commercial brood box they’ll be heavier to lift.
The floor completes the main section of the hive. The floor can either be solid or have a mesh base which can be useful for managing Varroa mites. Typically the floor will have a wide entrance to allow the bees easy access during the honey flow. This can be reduced down using an entrance block. This restricts the entrance to a size more easily defended by the bees against predators such as wasps at the end of the season. A smaller entrance also helps to maintain heat within the hive during winter months.
This is a barrier with spacing that allows the workers to move about freely between the brood box and honey supers. The spacing is too narrow for the queen to fit through so it ensures that she stays out of the honey supers and therefore doesn’t lay eggs among the honey.
Place on a hive stand or use concrete blocks and fencing stakes as a stand.
Wrap the hive securely closed with a strap and place a weight such as a heavy stone or a small concrete block on top of the roof in case of strong winds.
OTHER BEEKEEPING TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT
Usually a stainless steel unit with bellows for puffing. There are lots of brands to choose from, but the important thing is that it works and that the beekeeper can light it properly, and easily re-light it if it goes out during an inspection. This can take a little practice.
For fuel beekeepers use all sorts! Popular choices are dried wood chip, twigs and dried garden herb cuttings such as lavender or rosemary, jute sacking, rolled cardboard, dried pine cones and pine needles. Never use anything synthetic or with plastic or paint on it. Some dried plant material can be harmful to insects when burned, so always check before you light it up.
This is a very important piece of kit, and is used for a variety of tasks during a hive inspection. Hive tools come in various shapes and sizes, but the most popular is probably the J shape or the standard scraper type. They generally don’t cost much, and it’s not a bad idea to have a couple of spare ones on hand.
There are many styles to choose from. You can purchase any thickness from heavy duty to light weight, and can choose from different types of hoods. The main thing however is that it keeps the bees out! Some beekeepers use a half bee suit only covers the top half of their bodies, and wear thick pants such as jeans on the bottom half. This might not be ideal for everyone however, and certainly is not recommended for beginners.
Kitchen gloves such as marigolds are a popular choice.
Extra thick industrial rubber gloves would be a good option for those who fear stings or may be allergic.
Thin latex or nitrile gloves are used by some beekeepers, but be aware that stings can penetrate easily through these. Some beekeepers double up and wear two pairs and find this the best option for dexterity and hygiene – ie. One layer can be removed and disposed of immediately if there is any suspicion of disease in a particular hive.
Leather or goatskin gloves are no longer recommended as they can harbour bacteria and disease spores and cannot be washed properly.
Wellington boots are a popular choice, or any boot where the legs of the bee suit can be tucked in easily leaving no gaps.