By Liz Crumbly
Locally-produced honey is valued for its ability to boost the immune system, but it can sometimes be hard to find if you live in an area where there aren’t many commercial beehives. The good news, however, is that you can build a beehive and supply yourself and your neighbors with great-tasting and versatile honey. If you choose to build a beehive, you’ll even have the satisfaction of caring for and supporting insects that play a vital role in the environment.
Before you get started, make sure you understand the basics of beekeeping. Most counties in the U.S. have an extension office that works with gardening experts to provide information about gardening in the local area. Your local extension service may have literature and even courses that you’ll find helpful. Some legitimate online sources include the Michigan Beekeepers Association and the New Jersey Beekeepers Association.
You’ll need to eventually construct multiple hives, as bees like to expand their colonies and be able to spread out between boxes. I’m going to give you instructions for making a nucleus hive. It should be the first building block in your beekeeping pyramid.
The easiest way to make a beehive is by ordering a kit. Dr. Mike “Doc” Davis, of Chatsworth, Georgia, helped me put these how-to instructions together using a kit with some prefabricated pieces. If it’s important to you that you make your beehive from scratch, that’s also possible, and I’ll point out which modifications you’d need to make during this explanation.
How to build a nucleus hive:
1. First, construct the bottom of the hive with a board that’s 22 inches long by 9 ⅝ inches wide. Attach the 2-inch-by-22-inch side pieces with nails on both ends of each piece. Attach the 2-inch-by-9⅝-inch back piece with a nail at each end. Pine is a good choice for a sturdy hive, but you’ll need to paint it to protect the structure from the weather.
2. The side pieces of the hive in this kit are made with dado cuts. Most people don’t own the saw needed to create these cuts, so you can use plain pieces of wood by compensating a little with the measurements. To make the short sides, align a 9⅝-inch-by-11⅝-inch piece of wood with one of the short edges of the bottom of the hive and use two nails to attach it.
3. Use two pieces measuring 9⅝-by-19-inches for the long sides. Place the first long side on top of the bottom side strips and align it with the edge of the short side you’ve already attached. Use two nails to attach the short side to it.
4. For the other short side, use a 9⅝-inch square piece of wood. Allow it to rest on top of the 2-inch-by-22-inch side strips on the bottom of the box. Nail this short side to the long side that you already have in place.
5. Attach the final long side by sliding it into place and nailing the short sides to it.
6. A clamp can help hold the side pieces together while you hammer the nails.
7. Make handle cuts in the middle of both the short pieces. Measure 5 inches from top of each piece and make a mark there. Use a table saw tilted at 15 degrees and balance the box on jigs to make a D-shaped handle that’s tapered toward the bottom so water can’t collect there. If you don’t have a table saw or know how to use one, enlist the help of someone who does.
8. Now flip the four attached sides upside down. (The square short side will make this makeshift box uneven on one side when you do this.) Now attach the hive bottom using nails at each end of the long sides and the square short side.
9. The square short side will leave you with a half-inch gap between the side and the bottom of the box. This will be the landing area where the bees will enter the hive.
10. Next, construct the top of the hive. The pieces pictured here are dovetailed, but you can make this component with a simpler design. Nail two 2-inch-by-9⅝-inch pieces and two 2-inch-by-15⅝-inch pieces of pine to a 9⅝-inch-by-19⅝-inch piece of chipboard. The handle hole in the top can be cut with a utility knife. This will require a few passes. Don’t try to hack through the board in one go, and use a cutting mat to prevent you from damaging your work surface or ending up with a dull edge on your knife.
11. You’ll need a metal cover to go over the top of the hive to protect it from the elements. This is one thing you probably won’t be able to produce yourself, but chances are, someone in your community can. Davis partners with a local air conditioner repairman who fabricates these for him.
12. Plan on painting the hive a pastel shade or white to maximize light reflection to reduce heat in the hive. Make sure you’re using an exterior paint. Davis recommends visiting your local home improvement store and buying “oops” paint at a discount.
13. You’ll also need to order the wax and frames that make up the inserts that go inside the box. The bees will build their combs on these structures.
After you’ve constructed your nucleus hive, you’ll need to order bees to populate it. Two of Davis’ favorite sources for bees and hive components like frames are kelleybees.com and mannlakeltd.com. Remember that education in beekeeping pays in spades. If you decide to make a foray into this world, it can be a very rewarding hobby, but you must be informed to keep your bees happy and healthy. Literature, courses and the support of established beekeepers will be your best resources.
Images used with permission, courtesy of Liz Crumbly and www.shutterstock.com