What is a Beehive?
What do you think of when you hear the word “beehive”? Perhaps you conjure up an image of an oval shaped structure hanging in a tree. Unfortunately, when we say beehive we are usually referring to honey bees. And, they don’t live in those types of structures.
In spite of the specific images that come to mind, a beehive is truly a home for bees. The hive gives a honey bee colony a place to live and raise their young.
Inside this enclosed cavity, our honey bees carry on life sustaining activities: babies emerge, food is stored, shelter from weather provided and more.
A simple view from the outside of the beehive gives no indication of the magic happening inside.
Where do You Find them?
In nature, you can find honey bees that have created a beehive in a hollow tree. In Appalachia, we call a tree with bees a “bee gum”.
Dating back many years, area beekeepers would harvest the hive. This was done by cutting the section of the log that housed the bee nest.
It was then carried back to the apiary. A solid board added to each end of the log would protect the colony from predators and weather.
Finding a bee gum hive is harder to do today. The influx of bee varroa mites wiped out the majority of wild honey bee colonies. And those swarms that do escape are not likely to survive on their own.
Honey bees don’t have to live in trees. A bee swarm may move into an empty wooden box provided by a beekeeper. This is called a swarm trap and we beekeepers love to catch swarms.
Unfortunately, swarms often move into places where they are not wanted. An unused gas grill can be home to a colony or even worse – the siding of your home!
Homeowners do not like to find a beehive inside the walls of their home. ( A good reason to caulk any opening to the outside.)
It is uncommon to find honey bees nesting in the ground. Ground bees often end up being some type of wasps – such as Yellow Jacket Wasps.
These wasps are aggressive and will sting multiple times. A good reason to keep some Yellow Jacket Traps on hand.
Beekeeper Made Beehives in an Apiary
Today, the term beehive usually refers to a man-made box used by beekeepers. There are several types of beehives in use for different styles of beekeeping.
Modern beekeepers group multiple hives together in one location for ease of management. This “bee yard” is called an apiary.
Managing bees is a lot of hard work and moving them requires heavy lifting. Having several hives in one central location is very beneficial. But, it does come with some problems.
Multiple hives in one place increases competition for nectar sources. How many hives are too many? That depends on foraging conditions in your area.
Components of the Modern Beehive
The term “beehive” can be confusing. Some use it to refer to a colony of bees and other mean the actual structure in which they live.
An active hive includes bees, brood (baby bees), beeswax, honeycomb and stored food – everything they need for survival.
Today, most honey bee colonies live in man-made boxes. Therefore, in addition to the family of bees, we must consider the physical components of a beehive.
Modern beekeepers use several styles of hives that have slightly different strengths and weaknesses. The most common hive in use is the Langstroth Hive developed in 1851. The configuration of stack able boxes and removable frame of comb revolutionized the beekeeping industry.
Buying Your First Hive of Bees
If you are interested in becoming a beekeeper, there are several choices to consider. The basic requirements are a family of bees and something to put them in. Then, tools to manage the hive.
You can buy honey bees for your box or try catching a honey bee swarm. Both ways of obtaining bees can be a lot of fun. Buying or ordering bees gives you the best chance of being assured of getting a colony this year.
Swarm catching is fun but late season swarms may not have enough time to build up before Winter. This could result in losing your first hive – we don’t want that.
After choosing the style of beehive you want to use, it’s time to order one. If you have some carpentry skills, you might want to build your own beehive. This can be done with relative ease as long as you get a good hive plan and follow the measurement directions carefully.
Of vital importance, invest the time into learning everything you can about beekeeping. Having a beehive is not the same as putting up a bird house. Bees require maintenance and beekeeper intervention in order to be healthy and productive.
Each year I meet new beekeepers that have made simple mistakes resulting in dead hives. That’s why I cover the basics thoroughly in my online beekeeping class. There are some basics you have to cover to be successful.
Common Beehive Questions
Are Beehives Dangerous?
No. Beehives are not normally dangerous. Honey bees are one of the most accommodating bees in the insect world.
However, they do live in large colonies of over 40,000 bees during the Summer. They deserve respect.
Colony temperament will change over the season too. A queen that passes on defensive behavior to her offspring, night time predators irritating the colony or bad foraging conditions can turn the mood nasty.
For this reason, it is important to find the very best place to put your beehives. Away from human traffic, walkways or play areas is the best plan.
Finding a Wild Hive in a Tree or Structure
Sometimes, you may find a hive of wild bees living in a tree or building. Honey bees are not normally aggressive when left alone. Leave them alone. Do not approach the front of the entrance or get too close.
Is a Beehive Allowed in Residential Areas?
Yes, you can often keep bees in neighborhoods. The first step is to check your local laws and regulations. Many locals allow beehives with some restrictions such as a minimum number of hives or having to own a certain amount of property.
Being a good beekeeping neighbor will go a long way towards the acceptance of your beehive. In addition to good placement, don’t work your bees on the same afternoon your neighbor is having an outside birthday party.
Is there a neighborhood pool? Provide a water source for your bees before they arrive and decide they want to visit the pool. Common sense goes a long way.
Are Beehives Empty in Winter?
Honey bees are a bit different than most other types of bees. Most bees do not over winter as a colony. Instead, a mated queen hibernates in leaves, bark and forest debris.
Next Spring, she emerges and starts a new nest. That is why you do not see large nest early in the season.
Honey bees however are social insects. The whole bee family over-winters inside the colony. Bees survive winter by clustering together for warmth and eating honey stored for this purpose.
So no, a beehive may look empty but hopefully there is a cluster of bees inside – waiting for Spring.
Are Beehives Profitable?
They can be. Beekeeping is a wonderful hobby. However, if you are looking for an easy way to make money, I would look elsewhere.
Honey bee colonies are prone to failure from many stresses. If you are seeking to start a beekeeping business, I suggest you begin slow and grow your number of hives as you learn.
Do Beehives Need Full Sun?
Must you have a location with full Sun for a hive? No. Beekeepers who live in regions where the Small Hive Beetle is found should avoid full shade. Beetles reproduce more easily in moist, shady soil.
If you live in one of the hotter regions, some afternoon shade may be very beneficial to your honey bee colony. Placing your beehive in shade can help them.
They are able to cool the hive but a little shade from extreme heat can help them keep the brood nest at the correct temperature.
Do Beehives Attract Bears?
If you live in a region with bears, you should be concerned about your bees. Many beekeepers share land with bear families and have no problems. The installation of a good electric fence for bear control is the first step to harmonious cohabitation.
It is much easier to prevent bear problems that to stop them once started. It is unlikely that a beehive will call a bear in from a great distance. However, bears roam and you may have one passing through who knows how good bees taste!
Do Beehives Work in Greenhouses?
Honey bees contribute a great deal to our agricultural system by providing pollination of crops. Their large colonies are easily moved from one location to another.
However, honey bees have not proven themselves to be the best pollinators inside greenhouses. They just want out! Bumble Bees are a better option for large greenhouse pollination.
Who Removes Beehives?
Oh my, as wonderful as honey bees are, they sometimes established homes in undesirable locations. A beehive in your home is not good for you or the bees. Pest control companies will often kill the colony but I would only suggest that as a last resort.
If you find a beehive that needs removal, contact a local beekeepers association. Each state has them and you can contact your state agricultural department if you don’t know who else to contact.
If you have a colony in between the walls of your home, be prepared to pay for bee removal. It is a big job to removed siding etc, and then fix it back to the homeowner’s satisfaction.
Do Beehives Smell?
Yes, they smell good. Seriously though, beehives do not smell bad unless the bees are dealing with disease. If your beehive smells bad, it is time for a good inspection to determine the cause.
Must You Paint Beehives White?
Not at all, your beehives do not have to be white. They can be painted any color. In many regions, we do recommend light colors to help protect the colony from over-heating.
Will an Empty Beehive Attract Bees?
It sure can and that is a wonderful thing. It is not uncommon for a beekeeper to have a bee swarm move into an empty bee box! Can you say – FREE BEES !
The honey bee colony is a wondrous organism with many secrets. After studying bees for hundreds of years, there are still many things we don’t know.
Maybe that is a good thing. We humans don’t always use that kind of information for good. Still, those of us who love bees “beekeeper or not” enjoy trying to fit the puzzle pieces together.
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