Updated on November 12th, 2021
When you begin beekeeping, it is important to have your first hive set up before your bees arrive.
Whether you buy a bee package or a nuc, it is best to get new honey bees in their hive within a day of their arrival, weather permitting. If you need to wait a day or so, keep the bees in a dry, dark place.
Spray bee packages several times a day with thin sugar syrup until you put them in the hive.
Set up your beehive in advance so you can install the bees as soon as possible after they arrive. A starting Langstroth hive only needs a bottom board, entrance reducer, one deep brood box, and the inner and outer covers. Adding a brood box between the covers provides room for a top feeder.
You will add additional boxes as the colony’s population expands.
If you got unassembled hive components, you need more lead time to get the hive set up correctly.
Note: Unlike Langstroth hives, horizontal hives (such as top bar hives) consist of only one hive body. Divider, or follower, boards that block bee’s access to part of the hive body controlling expansion space in horizontal hives.
This article will discuss how to get your unassembled hive together and options for assembled components, so you can set up your first beehive without stress.
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First Year Langstroth Hive
In your first year of beekeeping, plan for a “traditional” Langstroth hive arrangement consisting of:
- A hive stand;
- A bottom board;
- Two deep brood boxes, each with frames and foundation;
- Two medium honey supers, each with frames and foundation;
- An inner cover; and,
- An outer cover.
You could consider all sorts of options, but we suggest you keep it simple in the beginning. For example, bottom boards can be solid or screened. We recommend you use a solid board at the outset.
I have intentionally omitted a queen excluder from this setup. An excluder goes between the upper brood box and the bottom honey super.
Worker bees can get through the excluder, but the queen, because of her size, cannot. In this way, the supers are kept free of eggs and brood.
I did not add an excluder because we recommend that you do not harvest honey in your first year. Thus, it does not matter if the queen gets in the super.
Note: We have not used an excluder in years and seldom have an issue with a queen laying eggs in a super.
In addition, some beekeepers add a low stand with a landing board, as shown in the image nearby. We used these in the beginning but found them to be unnecessary and not worth the expense.
Note: 10-frame hive boxes are “standard.” However, components for 8-frame hives have become more available over the years. The smaller boxes are lighter when filled and easier to handle. You may want to consider them.
Assembled Vs. Unassembled Hive Components
You can purchase hive components fully assembled (either without or without paint) or unassembled.
Unassembled components are less expensive but more time-consuming to set up. However, if you have limited time or space but room in your budget, assembled equipment may be your best choice.
Assembled components are ready to be set up upon arrival unless you need to paint them. Pre-painted hives are typically white; you may want to add some color.
However, assembling hive components is relatively simple, even with basic tools if you have adequate time and space.
How To Assemble Hive Components
If you opt to assemble hive components yourself, make sure to give yourself enough time to be ready when your bees arrive.
The videos below demonstrate how to assemble a hive body or a frame.
Once you ready for assembly, you can do components quickly. It is an excellent idea to assemble as much as possible in early spring, so you do not have to deal with it later.
Take steps such as painting to protect your hive boxes from the elements, so they last for many years.
Painting Beehive Boxes
Painting the exterior of pine boxes (the most common type) provides significant protection. Treat cedar boxes (more expensive boxes) with tung oil.
Note: Commercial beekeepers may protect boxes by dipping them in beeswax. Wax coating may be superior to painting but is not feasible for backyard beekeepers. The video below shows what wax dipping entails.
Only paint exteriors (and possibly the bottom board). Do not paint edges where boxes meet, as it may cause them to stick together (and pull the paint off anyway).
Protect your beehives well in advance of installing bees, giving them time to dry and eliminate any fumes that might disturb your new colony.
See our article about painting beehives for detailed information about types of paint, colors, and other information.
Set Up The Beehive
Before your bees arrive, put your hive in the beehive location you have found most suitable.
Using a level, set your hive stand as level as possible side-to-side, assuring your hive is also level.
Whether you have a bee package or nuc on the way, all you need to set up initially are:
- Bottom board with an entrance reducer;
- One deep brood box filled with frames and foundation;
- Inner and outer covers; and,
- Optionally, but recommended, a way to secure the covers from wind or small mammals knocking them off.
If you are getting a bee package, your brood box should have a full complement of frames (10 or 8).
If you are getting your bees in a nuc, reduce the number of frames you put in the brood box by the number that will be in the nuc (usually 5).
If you plan to feed your bees upon installation, we recommend an internal top feeder. Top feeders usually sit between the inner and outer covers, inside a deep box. Bees access the feeder through the opening of the inner cover. See our article for more information on how to feed honey bees.
Setting up your first beehives is relatively simple. The most time consuming part is assembling and painting components if needed.
The most important thing to remember is to have the hive set up before your bees arrive. If you are assembling your components, give yourself enough time to get the job done.
This article is part of a series on how to start beekeeping, a step-by-step guide through your first year of beekeeping.
Check out our next article on how to install bees in your beehives.