Bee hives are made of many different parts, most of which is not visible from the outside. They tend to look almost like furniture, storage containers or a chest of drawers.
Regardless, bee hive boxes are the foundation for your entire hive, and if they’re built, assembled or placed incorrectly, your colony will be affected. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a beginner, using the right boxes is going to make your life much easier. Here’s a crash course to get you started.
What to Look for When Purchasing a Bee Hive Box
There’s more than meets the eye with bee hive boxes. When you purchase one, don’t only think about its exterior. Consider what goes on inside. Here’s a brief explanation of how bee hives work, so you know what to look for.
This is the roof of your hive. Outer covers provide protection from the elements and should be weatherproof. Inner covers are trays that are inserted for insulation and extra ventilation.
These bee hive boxes are used to collect surplus honey (in layman’s terms, the honey you will keep for yourself). They are shallower than hive bodies, but other than that, they look exactly like them. They are usually placed in the same way as hive bodies and are stacked above them.
These are the boxes you’re thinking of and the most obvious parts of a bee hive to spot. They hold your frames of comb and your bees. The style of your hive determines how many hive bodies you’ll need. They’re most commonly stacked on top of each other.
Bees use the hive bodies just as they would a nest. They use lower boxes to lay and take care of brood, and upper boxes to store honey and pollen.
These hive bodies are sometimes referred to as deep supers.
Not all hives use removable frames, but this type is preferred in beekeeping. Frames are what your bees build their comb onto. If you can take them out of the hive, it makes it so much easier for you to monitor and manage them.
These also come in different sizes and are placed accordingly. Deep frames are placed inside hive bodies, shallow or medium frames are for honey supers.
Your hive could use an entrance reducer, to prevent invader insects from getting in. They also provide ventilation and temperature control.
Bottom boards protect your hive from dampness and ground-breeding insects and parasites.
Hive stands aren’t necessary, but some beekeepers still prefer using them. They lift your entire hive from the ground, which guards it against moisture and improves airflow. In some cases, they can even make it easier for your bees to get in and out of the hive.
Bee Hive Box Styles
Unlike other beekeeping tools and equipment, where there’s not much room for individuality, bee boxes vary. While they all serve the same purpose, they come in different styles—each with their own pros and cons.
Before you buy bee hive boxes, think about which style you want. Your selection will then be narrowed down and shopping will become so much easier.
Langstroth hives have been around since 1851, and to this day are the most popular and preferred style of bee hive boxes. This type makes use of all the basics—deep hive bodies, honey supers, frames, covers, and a bottom board.
They are well-liked in the beekeeping community because they can hold large stores of honey. They’re easily stackable, so expansion isn’t difficult—an excellent characteristic for a beginner beekeeper.
Langstroth bee hive boxes are designed to make beekeeping and honey harvesting easy. They’re reusable, standard, and form a healthy habitat for your bees. They can be heavy, though. Another drawback is that bee hive inspection is a bit disruptive. Some beekeepers also comment that they’re not aesthetically pleasing.
These are considered updated Langstroths, but the two are not one and the same. Warre hives use horizontal strips of wood along each box. This is where bees build their comb.
These hives come with something called a quilt box, which protects your hive from any moisture that bees produce. The boxes are stackable, just like Langstroths, but new editions are added below the hive.
Warre hives don’t require as much of your time and attention. They’re insulated and inspection won’t be as invasive as Langstroths. Many beekeepers think that these are more attractive too, and prefer them for their aesthetic value.
Downsides to Warre hives are that they’re not as budget friendly, and building or moving them can be cumbersome. It’s difficult to manage these if you’re on your own.
Top Bar Hives
This type is not like Langstroth hive at all. They’re built as one single horizontal container. They often have hinged roofs for protection from external factors, like weather, invaders, or predators.
These hives don’t make use of foundations or frames. Instead, they’re built with a series of bars that the bees build their comb along.
Top bar hives are light. They’re easy to move or even hang. They’re usually much more affordable than Langstroths. Bee hive inspection is made easy, and you don’t have to worry about buying individual components, like frames or separate supers.
There are a few cons though. These boxes have a much smaller capacity for honey storage than the Langstroths. They will need more of your attention because of how they’re built. Ventilation is not as adequate, and these don’t hold up against the elements quite as well as others do.
These boxes are perhaps the prettiest of all the bee hive boxes. They’re designed to imitate the hexagonal patterns of natural hives. They’re made with cedar. A goal in using these is to provide your bees with a healthy habitat that decreases the occurrence of disease.
Hex hives are easy to understand and are a no-fuss way of beekeeping. They are quite nice to look at and don’t require any extra parts. They come preassembled too, which saves you time and energy.
They’re not perfect, pretty as they may be. Your frames aren’t removable, regular inspection becomes almost impossible and they’re sometimes overpriced or overrated.
Flow hives have only been around since 2015. They’re modern and nifty, but need time to gain popularity, compared to traditional bee hive boxes. Their defining feature is that they have extraction tools built-in.
You don’t have to open your hive to get to your honey, thanks to windows. Your honey flows out of it at the pull of a crank. Flow hives use plastic frames.
I can appreciate that flow hives are built to cause as little disruption to your bees as possible. They don’t use up too much of your time or energy and their mechanism is handy and cool.
Bees don’t favor plastic frames, though. Another big drawback here is that they’re designed for harvesting only honey, so if you’re looking to reap pollen, wax, or propolis you’re going to struggle. They don’t have capabilities for commercial honey production, and because of their modern mechanism, they’re not as affordable as other hives.
More Considerations When Choosing a Bee Hive Box
It’s almost time to go bee hive box shopping, but before we do, I have a few more tips for you. Before you buy one, keep these in mind.
What will you use your bee hive boxes for? If commercial honey production is a priority for you, a Langstroth or Warre hive is your best bet. If you want to harvest other bee produce for any reason, a flow hive is not an option. Don’t make your decision based on appearance or uniqueness. Buy one for its capabilities.
Do you want to manage a large hive? Are you hoping to produce a lot of honey? Are you taking beekeeping seriously and looking to grow? If so, you’ll need bee hive boxes that can accommodate your growth as a beekeeper.
No matter the design of your bee hive boxes, make sure that your bees will be okay inside of it. Your hive shouldn’t be a struggle to maintain, and should protect against weather and disease. You also want one that causes minimal interference when checking on your bees.
Finally, pay attention to what your bee hive boxes are made from. You’ll have an array of materials to choose from.
Wood boxes are preferred because they’re the standard. They’re affordable, natural, and bees take to them easily. They deteriorate over time and are susceptible to weather damage, splintering, and collapse.
Plastic boxes are durable, but bees don’t like them as much. They last a long time and won’t require as much maintenance, but they limit the tools you can use. They’re also not environmentally friendly.
Synthetic boxes are made from wood fibers and biodegradable plastic. You’ll get the best of worlds, but you might pay extra for them.
The Best Bee Hive Boxes
If you know what you need and how you plan to utilize your bee hive boxes, purchasing one becomes less of an overwhelming task. Here are my recommendations.
This is an award-winning Langstroth-style bee hive box set that both beginners and professional beekeepers revere. It’s pre-assembled and doesn’t require painting or much setup. Inspection is easy, and it forms a good guard against mites, invaders, and disease.
It’s insulated and includes all the basics. You also get an entrance reducer, a queen excluder, frame spacers, divisions, and a top feeder. It comes with a screened bottom board and a pollen trap.
The set comes with 20 plastic frames but does not have a built-in foundation. If you get a wax foundation, the frames will easily snap into it. The complete hive stands at 27.5 by 24.5 by 20 inches.
- It’s a highly revered, award-winning hive
- The design is in favor of a healthy environment for your bees
- This hive is pre-assembled and is easy to use
- Inspection and management causes little disruption to your colony
- It’s hardy against weather conditions and will last a long time
- The bee hive boxes are waterproof
- The Langstroth style is preferred
- You get all of the basics and more
- Even though this is an excellent quality hive, plastic is not the preferred material for bee hive boxes
Busy Bee’s -n- More is a well-loved brand that makes top quality beekeeping equipment. This bee hive box set gives you 16 pine brood frames, eight pine super frames, and 24 plastic foundations. There’s also a telescoping cover, an inner cover, and a screened bottom board.
The plastic foundations are food grade and are coated in beeswax. As with other products from this company, the hive is handcrafted and produced in the USA.
- It’s a Langstroth-style hive
- Pine is one of the preferred materials for bee hive boxes, and Busy Bees -n- More products are top quality
- It’s excellent value for money
- This set covers all bases
- You will have to assemble this yourself and it doesn’t come with instructions
- Nails are not included and you will have to drill your own holes
I highly recommend this Honey Keeper product if you’re a novice beekeeper. It makes setting up and managing your hive so easy.
This kit gives you 20 frames: 10 deep and 10 medium. It includes unwaxed foundations for your supers. You also get a bottom board, entrance reducer, inner cover, and a queen excluder. It comes with a metal telescoping cover that’s preassembled.
As for the rest of the hive, the assembly is made easy, with a simple-to-understand instruction manual. The pieces are pre-cut and nails are included. The foundation is made of fir, and the frames are made of white pine. The unit stands at 11.1 by 19.8 by 22.8 inches.
- This complete kit is great for beginners, as it includes everything you need to get started
- It’s big and has a lot of space for optimal honey production
- The foundations are included
- It’s made of durable premium materials
- Assembly is so easy thanks to the instruction manual and included nails
- It’s excellent value for money
- Even though assembly is made simple, you still have to take care when handling the nails
- There is a possibility that you’ll have to drill into the wood first
- Once built, it’s heavy and could prove difficult to handle alone
Mann Lake is a highly regarded manufacturer of beekeeping equipment. Its complete bee hive kit is one of the company’s great products. This bee hive kit is produced in the USA, using high-quality pine.
The set comes pre-assembled, so it’s a good choice for you if you’re just starting out. It includes a painted hive body, 10 wood frames, and a waxed foundation. You also get a bottom board, entrance reducer, and telescoping cover. It stands at just over 13 inches tall.
- Mann Lake has an excellent reputation in beekeeping
- The kit comes preassembled and prepainted
- Great value for money
- The bee hive box is made from high-grade materials
- Although the value is excellent, it’s not as affordable as other brands
Here’s a budget choice for you if you’re looking for bee hive boxes that don’t need any fuss. This simple package is preassembled and easy to start with.
It includes a wax-coated plastic foundation. You get 10 frames for your deep hive body. The box is made of unfinished pine. You can choose if you want to use it as a brood box or honey super.
- It’s a no-fuss, preassembled, ready-to-go bee hive box
- This is good-quality, preferred pine
- It’s a great budget option
- It’s lacking some basic features and is not a complete kit
- It’s not enough to start with for novice beekeepers
Best Bee Hive Box Beginner’s Starter Kit
If you are a complete novice, or just don’t have any equipment to get started, consider buying a complete starter kit. The idea behind them is that you’re set with all the basics and can build on to it as you gain experience.
You’ll get everything you need to start a hive. Starter kits are typically hassle-free, affordable options that save you both precious time and effort.
I’ve already mentioned that Mann Lake is a leader in beekeeping supplies and equipment. I’m recommending the company’s starter kit because it doesn’t compromise on quality, style, or efficiency.
As with other Mann Lake products, this complete kit is made in the USA. Your hive is preassembled and ready to house bees. The kit includes 10 frames for your hive body and a waxed foundation.
You also get a bottom board, entrance reducer, painted telescoping cover, and an inner cover. Apart from your hive, the kit also gives you a veil, leather gloves, a smoker and guard, a hive tool, and a guidebook.
- You’ll get a trusted product from a trusted brand
- The kit is fully assembled for you and has parts that are prepainted
- It has a lot of room and can hold up to 10 frames
- Since it’s a complete starter kit, you get all the necessary beekeeping tools
- It includes a handy instruction book for beekeeping
- It’s made of excellent quality materials and is durable and hardy
- It’s great to start with, but you will have to expand on it if you want supers
- You may still have to invest in more tools
- Doesn’t include a full body suit for complete protection
Bee Hive Box Installation Tips
Even though the bee hive boxes I’ve shown you are meant to make beekeeping easy for you, there are still some things you should think about before you start. Assembly and installation shouldn’t be frustrating, but there are other factors that you need to consider.
Where Will You Put Your Bee Hive Boxes?
You want to place your bee hive boxes in a spot that’s close to natural sources of food for your bees. Install them somewhere with easy access to flowers and pollen. Don’t forget that bees need liquids too, so try to also place them close to a source of clean water.
You don’t want your bee hive to be in direct sunlight all day, or else it might overheat. Put your boxes somewhere that will get some sunshine, but will also experience shade. To optimize the amount of sunshine for your bees, try facing your bee hive boxes south (or north if you’re in the southern hemisphere).
Give your bees space around the boxes. You don’t want to block the entrance to the hive or for your bees to struggle when they’re busy moving in and out. Also, keep in mind that the hives should be easily accessible to you, too.
Lastly, make sure your bee hive boxes will be dry, away from moisture, and somewhere safe from predators.
Bee Hive Box Tools
Even if your bee hive box is preassembled, you might find it handy to have some tools around, just in case you need them. If your bee hive boxes require assembly, you’ll most likely need at least a hammer and wood glue.
Investing in a carpenter’s square will make a world of difference when building your boxes, as will clamps to hold your pieces in place.
Some packages will include the nails you need. If yours doesn’t, you’ll have to check the size requirements and buy your own. Having a drill handy will help, although it may not be necessary. Check your bee hive box specifications, to find out what else you need.
There isn’t a universal guide to building bee hive boxes, as each brand, style, and material will use different methods. Here’s a look at what to expect, although you should always follow your bee hive box manufacturer’s instructions.
Your boxes (both deep hive bodies and supers) are built from four pieces of wood, with no base or cover. Langstroth boxes will interlock when they are placed together. Align your box sides so that the handle groove is on the outside, with the flat side of the groove facing upwards.
Once you’re sure that you have aligned your boxes properly, use glue to stick them together. Clamps will hold them in place while you do this. Nail the sides together before the glue dries.
Follow the same procedure as with the boxes. Your pieces will lock into each other, and some glue and nails will reinforce them. You have to pay attention to what goes where, though.
Your sides will be identical. The top bar is the longest piece. Don’t confuse it with the bottom bar.
Foundations can be tricky. If you’re choosing not to use one, you just might have saved yourself some effort.
The simplest foundations are plastic ones. They snap and lock into your frames. All you have to do is align them and push them together. Wax foundations require a little more understanding.
Most wax foundations have a wire running through them for reinforcement. When the wire runs further than the wax, we call it a hook wire foundation, and only specialized frames will fit them.
The required frame will have a removable wedge on the top bar. You’ll find a groove along the bottom bar. The hookless side of your foundation fits into this groove. The wire hooks onto the top bar. Once everything is aligned, the wedge goes over the hook and is nailed into place.
Sometimes, foundations come with extra support pins. You shouldn’t need a hammer to add these to your hive. Look for little holes on the side of your frame. The pins go through these holes and fit around your wax. Be gentle when you push them in.
These are really easy to assemble. All you have to do is glue them together at the ends to form a frame. They’ll come with two extra pieces, called cleats. These slot into either side of your board.
Your thicker cleat should be placed on the edges of your board, and the thinner one should go into the slot below it.
When assembling your inner cover, glue the three sides together, so that they form a slot for your sheet. The fourth side will come in two pieces that won’t reach both ends of your cover. Don’t panic—it’s supposed to be that way.
Glue them to either side of your cover, so that the space left in the middle forms the upper entrance to your hive.
Your top cover will probably follow the same method as your bottom board, though you will have to nail your rails onto it.
Painting Your Hive
Once all of your pieces are ready to be stacked, you might want to paint them first. You don’t have to if your hive is built from cedar. But if it’s made from pine, you can’t afford not to.
Don’t paint the inside of your hive, though The purpose of painting it is to protect it from the elements, so only paint what will be exposed to rain or direct sunlight. Use latex-based paint, and try to stick to light colors.
White is the standard, but any light color will do. It not only helps keep your hive cooler in the summer, but it also keeps your bees calm.
Stacking Your Hive
Once your pieces are assembled, painted and dry, you’re ready to build your hive. The pieces fit on top of each other, but they go in a specific order for the benefit of your bees.
Start with your hive stand. Then, from the bottom up, stack your bottom board, boxes, inner cover, and top cover.
How to Maintain a Bee Hive Box
The maintenance of your bee hive boxes largely depends on the type of hive that you have. Since Langstroths are by far the most common kind of hive, I’ll focus on them.
Do routine checks for wear and tear. Search for signs of cracks, rotting, warping, rusting, and even splintering. If you can’t repair the damage, you will have to replace them. Most boxes are damaged by weather, so follow the above advice by painting them (if the wood you have requires you to do so).
Installing some extra pieces will help your hive too. Entrance blocks keep the warmth in winter. Queen excluders prevent queens from laying eggs in your honeycombs. Adding or removing supers helps manage your colony. Too little space could cause swarming, too much could force your bees to abandon the hive.
Also consider building (or adding) rain covers, windbreaks, and other protection from the weather.
Another important thing you have to do is protect your colony from pests. Mites, woodlice, wax moths, and even larger animals like mice and raccoons, are threats to your hive. How you choose to control this is up to you, but keep in mind that using certain poisons or pesticides could harm your bees.
You might have to replace damaged or lost wax in your frames. Sometimes it’s also necessary to use bee feeders, or else your colony will starve.
If you have any hope of being a successful beekeeper, you’ll have to spend some time and effort on your bee hive boxes. After all, they’re the home of your bees. How it is set up has the potential to make or break your hive. Don’t wing it, and don’t disregard how important they are.
Once you get the hang of it, managing bee hive boxes will become a breeze. Building your own is a highly rewarding experience, but there are many options available to absolute beginners who need a helping hand.