Do you want to produce honey in your own backyard? While it sounds exciting and fun, it’s worth asking how to start a beehive for honey because beekeeping can be challenging for beginners and even experienced beekeepers.
So, we curated a comprehensive guide that will cover everything you need to start a beehive, including:
- The type of tools and equipment necessary for the hive care and honey collection
- Three common bee species ideal for honey production
- And the types of beehives you can choose from
We’ll also discuss how to care for them and when to start a beehive to ensure you get on the right foot and prevent bees from dying. (They’re naturally good at dying, so you need to get ready for that).
Without further ado, let’s get right into it and uncover the secrets of how to start your own beehive.
How to Start a Beehive
Before setting up a beehive, consider the legal laws and the things you must sacrifice in this project. You must also prepare many things, such as the location, the bees, and tools.
It can be quite a handful for a beginner, but don’t worry; we’ll guide you through the process.
Here are the things you need to consider before building the beehive.
First and foremost, you need to check the legal requirements in your area before setting up a beehive. You must know the minimum or buffer distances between hives and the rules when you have neighboring houses, public walkways, and buildings.
This will vary in every local government. No national or federal state prohibits people from having a beehive in the garden. However, some local ordinances may restrict this.
You may have to register your hive with your local risk management bureau if you plan to produce honey for family consumption.
But if you want to sell your honey, you may need to register it as a formal business and meet the food safety requirements.
Stings are inevitable when setting up a beehive and working with bees. Even if you’re wearing protective equipment, there’s still a chance a bee can sneak in without you noticing.
Since each honeybee hive starter pack comprises 11,000 to 15,000 bees, you’ll deal with many buzzing creatures around you.
Bee stings hurt and may cause discomfort or allergic reactions in some people for a few hours. These reactions may need medical intervention since they can lead to anaphylactic shock.
So take preventive measures if someone in your family is potentially allergic to bee stings.
Starting a beehive requires a considerable amount. A starter kit for beginners typically includes a beehive, smoker, hive tool, gloves, and protective equipment like a hat with a bee veil.
But it doesn’t end with that because you must also buy the bees, which will cost you around $400 to $800.
You can save a couple of bucks if you have the carpenter skills to DIY a beehive, but it is also time-consuming.
The bigger the colony, the more time you’ll spend in your garden. But the bees slow down during winter and get busy during spring, so you may need to spend more time with your buzzing friends in that season.
Learning the basics of beekeeping also requires time and exploring and expanding your knowledge. But doing so can help prevent diseases, swarming, and other mishaps.
Location for the Beehive
You must also plan where to set up the beehive before creating or having one. Most beekeepers choose a spot that receives sun yet has some shade that will protect the colony and prevent overheating.
One tip for you is to place it away from the traffic area near your house or farm to avoid walking through their flight path and interrupting the busy bees.
Prepare the Materials for the Beehive: What Do You Need?
Our first tip on how to start a beehive at home is to get everything ready. So what do you need to start a beehive? Let’s break down the list to ensure you won’t miss a thing.
The most important thing in a beehive is the bee. There are over 20,000 bee species in the world.
Some of the best bees for a garden are Squash bees, Mason bees, and Bumblebees. But if you’re looking for honey, you should opt for honeybees.
Common Kinds of Honeybees:
As the name hints, this honeybee species is from Italy. They’re among the most popular bees because they’re gentle, easy to work with, and good honey producers.
On top of that, these bees are visually pleasing as they flex their yellow and brown stripes and furry bodies with golden-like wings.
Some Italian honeybee subspecies are beige with no stripes, while others look similar to the original version.
These honeybees can survive even cold weather and return stronger after spring. However, they tend to steal another beehive’s honey stores before winter.
But they produce sufficient amounts of honey for themselves, so it’s uncertain why they like to rob some other bees’ hives.
This bee species from Austrian Alps and Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia’s northern regions are experts at building strong colonies in early spring. However, they’re slow comb producers.
Carniolan honeybees are brownish-gray and generally gentle. They’re cold-hardy, and they store sufficient food for the cold season.
However, they swarm often, but you can prevent it by watching out for your queen and nurses and providing another beehive, so you may need to watch two colonies in your garden.
This honeybee hails from the Caucasus mountains and is prized for being gentle, productive, and fairly easy to keep in a beehive.
Caucasian honeybees are greyish, almost lead-like, and love foraging on wildflowers and trees.
They utilize beeswax and tree resins when creating a hive. That’s why they produce lots of propolis which provide medicinal benefits yet are not pleasing to smell for everyone.
However, it’s worth noting that they’re prone to dying in winter and diseases like Nosema infection, so they’re not suitable for beginners.
Now, let’s talk about the type of bees that must be present in a colony to ensure they reproduce and make honey for you.
Types of Bees
Queens are adult, mated females with fully-developed ovaries with only one purpose in a colony: to lay eggs while the worker bees do all the dirty work. They’re like Roman emperors waiting to be fed with grapes by their servants all day.
They can lay around 1,000 eggs per day at the peak of the laying season.
The second role of a queen bee is to produce a chemical scent that helps unify the colony.
As the name implies, the worker bees do all the housekeeping jobs in the colony. They also feed their queens and drones, care for the larvae, make wax, and eliminate waste.
These hardworking bees are also crop pollinators who collect pollen and nectars.
They may be sterile females but are hardworking and essential in a colony.
Each drone bee has one purpose and goal; to mate with the queen bee.
However, it’s not as easy as it seems because if a drone ever gets lucky to mate, the queen bee will rip out his sexual organs during intercourse and store the sperm for future use.
Therefore, the drone bee will eventually die.
However, if he can’t get a chance to mate with the queen, the worker bees will eliminate him by forcing him out of the hive in winter because he will no longer be useful.
Now that you know what type of bees are present in a colony and their roles, let’s dig deep into beekeeping by discovering how many bees you need.
We’ll also discuss the importance of queens in a colony and how where you can purchase bees.
How Many Bees Should I Keep?
For starters, it’s best to keep at least two colonies. Most expert beekeepers suggest buying more than one so you can compare the colonies and see what is going wrong when one of them gets sick or slows down in egg and honey production.
Furthermore, some colonies sometimes get sick, and others die, even if you did everything to provide for their needs and protect them.
Aside from diseases, if the queen bee fails to produce sufficient eggs at the beginning of the spring, the colony may also suffer.
Most beekeepers buy bees in the form of packages or nucleus colonies or a package of bees with around 10,000 bees and a queen inside a screened box.
Some beekeepers keep over ten colonies to as much as 50.
Where to Buy Bees?
If you’re knowledgeable about garden beekeeping, you can catch a swarm and release them into your beehive if you want to.
However, you’ll need a queen bee, worker bees, and drone honeybees in your colony so you can produce honey. Identifying them alone is challenging for beginners; what more about catching a swarm, right?
But the good news is you can find bees for sale from local beekeepers or breeders.
The advantage of seeking bees in your locality is they can give you ones that are native and accustomed to your area’s climate and environment and provide additional tips for you.
But you must approach a reputable seller because some beekeepers sell sick or unproductive colonies.
Can You Start a Honey Bee Hive With Just a Queen?
A queen can’t create a colony alone because there’s much work to do simultaneously. She’ll need to forage for nectar and honey, care for larvae and raise eggs to become worker bees.
It’s impossible to do all those jobs while laying and producing hundreds of eggs.
Can 2 Queen Bees Live Together?
There can only be one queen in a colony. So when a competitor arrives, the queen will sting and poison its unhatched rivals to kill them while they’re still inside the cells. But if the two queens hatch simultaneously, they will fight to the death.
But that’s not always the case. There are times when multiple queens occur.
For example, when the old queen declines in productivity and the pheromones it actively releases to make the worker bees aware of its presence weaken, the workers will start raising a new queen.
Both may produce eggs simultaneously when the new queen hatches while the old queen lives. But three scenarios may unfold.
Either the worker bees will kill the old queen, the two queens will fight to the death, or the hive will swarm.
But if the old queen still performs well, the workers might separate the queens into different areas in the hive. This way, they can be more productive, and the queens will avoid fighting with each other until nature takes its course.
What Happens if a Hive Has No Queen?
If a hive has no queen who will lay eggs, there will be a work imbalance. The worker bees will be out of the job since there are no new eggs to care for, and they might focus on foraging and storing food.
Furthermore, the hive will perish without the queen because she is the only bee that lays the eggs that flourish into a new generation.
How Do You Identify a Queenless Hive?
There are six ways to know if a hive is queenless.
A significant drop in the population
Bees die every day, but the eggs laid replace them. So, if there’s a significant decrease in population, it could be due to the queen’s low productivity or death.
Missing brood and eggs
If there are no eggs or bee larvae in your hive, it must be queenless for more than three weeks.
The worker bees will use the comb to store food such as pollen and nectar.
Since the worker bees have no nursing duty, if there are no new eggs, they will switch to guard and food hunter duty and store the pollen and nectars in the comb where the brood used to be.
There are queen cells.
The colony may produce queen cells while trying to produce a new queen. If there are queen cells but no brood, that may indicate the colony is queenless.
There’s more than one egg in a cell.
The queen’s main role is to lay eggs, and they’re proficient and accurate at egg placement. So, if a hive is queenless and the worker bees lay eggs to try to replace her, you’ll notice a difference in the placement of eggs.
They’re not as good as the queen, and they often lay randomly. Sometimes, there is more than one egg in each cell, and they’ll become aggressive toward you and the queen you may introduce.
There are lots of drone bees.
The hive is likely queenless or lays infertile eggs if there are many drone bees.
How can you harvest honey without a beehive? This is essential in beekeeping and honey production, so make sure to purchase or build a beehive if you can.
But what type of beehive should you use? Here are several options for you.
Types of Bee Hives
Traditional beekeepers used to house bees with a skep. Basically, it’s an upturned straw basket where bees can form their naturally curvy comb.
But removing the honey from a skep is challenging to clean; it tends to be unsanitary.
Furthermore, the beekeepers need to kill the swarm of bees when collecting the honey or make them homeless. So, they need to restart collecting a new wild swarm after harvest.
So they’re only used as an ornament in a garden.
This type of beehive is similar to a trough used for feeding animals. It’s one of the oldest and most commonly used hive designs.
It contains a lid and wooden bars inside where bees can make their own comb by drawing them down from the wooden bar.
The Langstroth beehive is an internationally recognized beehive style with a rectangular shape.
It consists of wooden boxes called supers stacked on each other, sitting on a foundation board, and covered with a lid.
The bees make their comb and fill the cells with honey on waxed frames. Similar to the top bar, the frames hang vertically inside the super.
This type of beehive is like a top bar hive with a hollowed-out tree. But it’s smaller than the top bar and Langstroth.
Upkeeping is hassle-free and allows you to add empty boxes to the bottom of the hive in spring and harvest it off the top in fall.
3. Ancillary Tools
When setting up bee hives, you also need to prepare these handy tools and protective equipment.
A bee smoker is a device used to calm honey bees.
As the name suggests, it generates smoke from the smoldering of various fuels such as burlap, pine needles, twigs, wood pellets, and cardboard.
Generally, the larger the smoker, the easier to keep it lit.
There are many affordable hive tool options, like a flat bar or flat-head screwdriver, but the Italian hive tool is the way to go if you can afford it.
It’s very useful and well-crafted for different beekeeping tasks.
You can buy a full suit to ensure you won’t get a bee sting, but other protective equipment like a veil and a jacket will also do.
This will protect you from bee stings and enable you to do your job efficiently despite hundreds of bees attempting to attack you.
Beekeepers use this tool to remove bees from the frames when they collect honey. It must have soft bristles to avoid hurting the bees when removing them.
Commercial beekeepers use bee blowers for this job because it’s more efficient, but a brush will do for beginners.
A feeder doesn’t have to be elaborate because a simple gallon can with tiny holes in the cap and tits into the hole drilled into the hive’s corner is enough.
Pour the syrup, which is two parts water, and 1 part sugar. That can supplement their dietary needs and give them the energy to build the wax honeycomb.
You need a spray bottle where you can store the syrup. Bees are very sensitive, so never use an old spray bottle that has been used with other chemicals.
A queen bee catcher is a spring-loaded metal or plastic clamshell-shaped clip tool that helps pick up or gently catch queen bees.
You also need a wooden stand where the hive can rest, so get a bottom board on concrete blocks or bricks.
This can be expensive, but if it fits your budget, we recommend purchasing one that extracts honey from the combs.
The advantage of using an extractor is the wax and combs will remain intact and can be returned to the bees so they can reuse them.
There are two types of honey extractors:
A tangential honey extractor is designed to spin out the honey on just one side of the frame at a time.
So the beekeeper must turn it halfway through the process to spin out the other side.
It extracts honey more thoroughly and cheaper, but it’s time-consuming and a hassle for some beekeepers.
This extractor spins the honey out of both sides of the frame simultaneously. It can create more centripetal forces and extract four times faster than the tangential extractor.
To prevent the queen bee from flying off, you need a Queen muff where she can rest for a while
Now that everything is set, our next tip on how to start a beehive is to choose a good location. But how?
Bees need sun, but they also need a little afternoon shade during the hot season and accessible water sources to refresh themselves.
You can build a shallow fountain for your bees. But a simple container will do as long as you put stones in it so the bees can land safely without drowning.
Another location factor worth considering is the wind. Your beehive must be protected from wind, rain, and snow, which can cause trouble and make it more difficult for the bees t keep their hives warm.
Furthermore, these insects need privacy. So it’s best not to put their hives in high-traffic areas, play or pet areas, or swimming pools.
Place the hives at least 50 feet away from high-traffic areas if possible. But if not, make sure the hive’s entrance is near a tall fence or hedge to redirect their flight path overhead and minimize contact with humans and pets.
Prepare the Site
The next step in starting a bee hive is preparing the location. Making the beehives face south and keeping them off the ground is recommended to protect them from predators such as skunks, raccoons, opossums, and dampness.
So raise the beehives off the ground. But clear all the bushes first, then get a stand for the hive or pour a cement pad on a leveled ground to make it easier.
Get the Beehive Ready
You can build your own beehive, but purchasing beehives online would be easier if you don’t have the DIY skills. There’s a wide range of beehive options online.
But if the hive’s wood is unfinished, you’ll need to paint or stain it to protect it from rain and allow it to last longer.
If you want to waterproof your beehive, you need paint, stain, wax, and tung oil.
Painting beehives don’t just add aesthetic appeal because it’s also an effective way to waterproof them.
You can use exterior paint to match the hive’s color with your house. But it would be best if you also chose an oil-based or latex paint to enjoy optimal waterproofing qualities. Then repaint them every after few years.
Warning: Never paint the inside of the beehive. Bees are sensitive to chemicals, and painting the inside is unnecessary.
Another trick to make the wood waterproof is to stain it. The stain soaks and bonds into the wood, thus creating an impervious surface.
Furthermore, it provides sun and light protection and allows the wood’s natural beauty to shine.
Many beekeepers prefer coating their beehives with beeswax because it’s a natural and sustainable waterproofing trick and helps the new colonies accept their new hives.
Some dip their hive parts in large vats of hot beeswax so the wax can impregnate the wood, replace the moisture, and let the hive last longer.
Most beekeepers can’t wax-dip their beehives, so they purchase hives that have been wax dipped already.
Another natural way to waterproof your beehive is by using tung oil. It’s easy to apply because you need a rag for the application and allow it to dry for at least 3 hours before wiping off the excess oil.
Then, add a second coat after 24 hours. Just like the stain, tung oil bonds with the wood to make it waterproof.
And when the wood is finally dry, you can already use it.
Installing the Bees
Now let’s proceed to the installation process. Setting up a bee hive can be tricky, but we’ll guide you all the way through.
Don’t forget to wear your protective clothing, follow the tips below and get it done as fast as possible.
1. First, remove the top frames from your beehive so the bees can enter.
2. Then, make a sugar syrup by mixing warm water with sugar. Let it cool down, and pour it into the spray bottle.
Spray the mixture through the screen for thirty minutes before releasing your bees into the beehive. It’s a great starter feed for bees and will make them sticky without harming them.
3. The next step is to open the package’s lid with your hive tool. Shake it a little to make the bees fall into the base.
4. Then, get the queen and place it into the beehive immediately. Make sure she’s fine and not missing any legs.
5. After relocating the queen, you must consider the worker bees next. Remove the lid and carefully shake the package until the bees enter the hive’s bottom.
6. Next is top frame replacement. Make sure you don’t crush the bees or escape. Wear a glove in this process to prevent them from flying away using your gloves.
Now, bring the covers back into the hive to secure the beehive.
Keep Feeding Your Bees
You need to provide your bees with a sugar syrup or sugar-water solution until they stop using it and until they produce their own nectar.
If there are tiny holes in the jar lid, getting them to eat that liquid shouldn’t be hard.
Check the Beehives Inside and Out
Each queen should be able to lay eggs after a week, but if there are no cells containing syrups, eggs, or larvae, the queen bee may be sick or dead. If that’s the case, you need to replace her.
It would also help if you could keep a record of the bee numbers and all the tasks you need to perform to ensure you won’t miss a thing.
If you’re a newbie in beekeeping, inspect your beehive at least once a week for a month and adjust your routine when you’re already comfortable.
Don’t forget to ensure the hive is clean and free from poop, there are no ants, and the landing board doesn’t have litter.
Another thing to remember when keeping a beehive is to use a smoker when opening and checking the hive. Such disturbance can stress the bees out, but a smoker can help them calm down.
It will take one day for them to recover, so it’s best to avoid opening the beehive too often and be observant. After all, it only takes one frame to know what’s happening inside.
When to Start a Beehive
Spring is the best time to start a hive because it is when flowers bloom, and bees have an abundant food supply in that season.
They can enjoy the blooming flowers and build their hive quicker as the season flourishes.
On the contrary, they will have restricted movements during the cold season and will not work because their main focus is protecting the queen and surviving.
They may experience a little starvation because they may run out of honey.
By June and July, the worker bees will be busy collecting pollen, producing honey, and caring for their queen. But watch out for predators and other insects that may get attracted to honey and damage the hive.
So be sure to order bees in advance to arrive in early spring. The spring season varies in every region, so research and plan it well before purchasing.
Frequently Asked Questions About Bee Keeping
We also compiled other common questions regarding beekeeping to ensure you know how to start a beehive and deal with bees.
How long does it take for bees to start a hive?
A healthy, productive, and efficient colony can build a hive in just one month, and if they get too crowded, they usually swarm.
However, new or struggling people may take all season to build their beehive.
Should I start with one hive or two?
It’s best to start with two hives or more to avoid losing the whole beekeeping operation and enable you to compare the two and learn. The other colony can also support the other if necessary.
How many bees should I buy to start a hive?
Purchasing a package f honeybees, comprising around 5,000 to 10,000 workers and a queen, should be enough for each hive.
However, we recommend buying at least two packages or a nucleus colony when starting a beekeeping journey.
What time of day should you open a hive?
The best time to open and inspect the hive is 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM on a sunny day. The bees will be out foraging at this time, so there’d be fewer bees to deal with.
How to Start a Beehive for Honeybees: Final Thoughts
Setting up bee hives can be mind-boggling, especially for beginners. You need to prepare many things, including the bees, beehive, and ancillary tools, prepare the site, waterproof the beehive, and set it up.
But it doesn’t stop there! You need to check your beehive now and then, provide food for the bees when necessary, and make sure they’re healthy.
It’s not time-consuming if you only have two beehives, but keeping them kicking and alive is not always easy.
So we encourage you to learn as much as possible by reading books about beekeeping and hive management.
Beekeeping videos, online forums, and biology books written with beekeepers in mind can also help build a good knowledge foundation.
Now that we’ve already discussed how to start a beehive for honey and what tools you need, you should prepare to set up your own.
If you already did, share with us your experiences below, and feel free to drop some tips on how to start a honey bee hive successfully.