Sooner is better! January is not too early to order bees for the spring. Call up a local bee supplier to ask about availability and put down a deposit. Leave it much later and you could be out of luck. Of course, later in the season choices still exist. Nucs may be available and there is sometimes the chance of getting on a waiting list for a swarm. But whatever your plans and your timetable, don’t assume you can just pick up the phone in the spring and immediately buy your bees!
There are two common choices for the wood used for your hive – pine or cedar. Pine is the traditional choice. It is strong, offers reasonable longevity and is a proven option. To extend that longevity, it is quite common to paint pine hives before they are installed in place. That gives you some nice choices as to the aesthetics but also means you need to wait a little longer (and do some work) when your hive arrives.
Cedar is an upgrade, of sorts. Compared to pine, it is lighter (think about the weight of honey and add the weight of the box), stronger and lasts longer. Although not necessary, many coat with a little pure tung oil, which offers a little extra protection and brings out the beautiful rich colors of the cedar. But that is not essential and a cedar beehive can be put directly into service, with no painting necessary.
Although somewhat subjective, most consider cedar to be aesthetically more pleasing than pine.
This is 100% up to you! Many do, many don’t. Most beekeepers would prefer to do so, if they can. But there are also the realities and practical issues to be considered. There are many facets to natural beekeeping, but let’s touch on a couple to illustrate the choices at play.
Natural beekeeping implies foundation-less frames. While the Warre and Top Bar hives are designed for foundation-less, many Langstroth beekeepers use foundation. One of the quickest ways for a new beekeeper to become discouraged is to find large chunks of comb – with bees and honey – falling off the frames when carrying out an inspection. Natural comb is initially very fragile and so many a beekeeper has fallen foul of this.This doesn’t mean foundation-less beekeeping is bad, of course. It merely means that you should educate yourself before going down that path. If you understand the practical issues related to foundation-less then go for it!
Another topic is major debate is whether to go treatment free. This generates heated discussions among beekeepers. If you decide to go treatment free, then make sure you are educated about what you are doing and the risks you take. There are many strategic and tactical decisions you can take here, but it’s a long term perspective that you need.
If you expect to just throw a package of bees in a hive, not treat them for anything (even when you see issues in the hive) and expect everything to be rosy and your bees to survive regardless – well, you are kidding yourself. Beekeepers who practice treatment-free beekeeping generally do us a favor, by raising bees that are tolerant of many risks. But it takes time and patience, so don’t be hoodwinked into thinking that bees in a hive with no treatments or medications is a simple path to robust bees! Read and learn.
Need? That’s easy -just one. How many SHOULD you have? At least two. When you first kick off your beekeeping life, it is fair to say there’s a little expense ahead. Thankfully many of these expenses, the smoker, the hive tool and so on, are one time costs as you use with any hive.
Purchasing two hives does add a more cost, but the utility you gain in doing so is often well justified. The new beekeeper won’t really have a good sense of a strong versus weak hive. Having two hives (initially of the same type) allows comparisons to be made easily which can lead to earlier detection issues. Additionally, in some scenarios a problem with a weaker colony can be addressed by moving frames from a stronger one. Having two or more hives significantly improves your understanding of bees in that first year.
The 10 frame boxes are a little more common and hold more honey, but a fully-laden a 10 frame honey super is a heavy thing to lift! The 8 frame Langstroth box is effective, too, but is a little less weight to lift. That said, when full with honey you are still enjoying a major bounty!
In summary, at the light/small end you can go with medium boxes with 8 frames and at the heavy/large end you can use deep boxes with 10 frames. And you can choose anything in between (deeps with 8 frames, for example). It’s really down to personal preference.
This decision applies if you are using a Langstroth hive only. Using medium or deep frames is just a trade off and either work just great. Although all sorts of combinations exist, two common configurations for a hive are two deeps or three mediums. You can mix and match, though, if you want. The deep box can obviously hold considerably more honey (or brood), but that comes at the cost of more weight to lift at inspection time. It’s really down to you and you are not making a mistake with either. It’s just a question of weight vs. capacity.
Without going off the beaten track too much, which we wouldn’t recommend for a new beekeeper, you have three choices of hive – the Langstroth, the Warre or the Top Bar.
Right off the bat – all three are very effective, proven over many years (hundreds, in fact!) and will serve you well. So this isn’t a question of which type will work, but rather which type serves your needs best.
If you are long term focused on enjoying lots of honey then the Langstroth is a great choice since it has the highest capacity and can easily be expanded. It’s also a traditional hive design supported by many manufacturers and suppliers. It might be considered the safest of choices.
If you are fascinated by the idea of natural beekeeping then the foundation-less Warre or Top Bar hives might be attractive, although it’s perfectly possible to use foundation-less frames with Langstroth too. You might also be interested that the Warre was designed to mirror what bees like in nature.
If you are not as mobile or agile as you once were, no big deal. The Top Bar hive will “serve” your frames to you at a nice convenient height. If lifting heavy weights is not your thing, then a Warre or Top Bar would be good option (with the Top Bar being the favorites, in this context) since you won’t be lifting the larger boxes of the Langstroth.