Sometime in the next week or two thirty thousand bees are going to show up at the farm. Thirty thousand. That’s… not an insignificant number of bees, you guys. And heading in to the weekend my bee hives looked like this…
I’m not much on social graces, but if you’re about to have 30,000 house guests–most of whom posses stingers–you should probably make sure they have an actual house, right? Right.
Now, I don’t know a damn thing about bees at this point, but I do know a thing or two about building houses. Or, in this case, boxes. I’m going to start this year with two hives that will have this basic setup:
That’s a bottom board, two 10-frame deep boxes, (for now) one 10-frame medium honey super, and a telescoping cover.
I bought the parts (white pine) from the local bee farm that is also supplying my bees. Could you make all of these parts yourself? Sure. Consider for a minute that to make one basic hive as I’ve got set up here, you’d need to cut out at least thirty sets of these frame components…
Personally, I like building shit, but I do not like repetitive tasks (see also: dishes, laundry.) It’s why you rarely see me build more than one of something (unless it’s these garden beds, obv) and it’s why you’ll probably never see me build hive components from scratch. Unless the apocalypse happens and I need more bees… then all bets are off.
However, someone who enjoys setting up jigs and machining things could have a field day with this kind of thing. If you want more information on hive components, sizes, and plans, try here.
It costs about half as much to buy parts and assemble them yourself than it does to buy pre-built hive components, so DIYing the assembly seemed like a good compromise between time, money, and getting to play with my power tools.
Putting the boxes and frames together was as easy as a project gets these days, but I’ll always err on the side of telling people to do it themselves. In the interest of fairness, one of my bee books quotes Cyula Linswik, a female beekeeper back in 1875, who advised women not to build their own frames, writing: “Let her spare her gentle fingers for finer uses—as sewing on buttons—and buy the frames… One of the thorns in the path of the woman who undertakes to master the theory and practice of beekeeping is her lack of natural or acquired ability to drive a nail straight, to use a saw with safety to the implement, or a sharp knife with safety to herself.”
Yeah, and I can also sew a mean button.
In fairness to Ms. Linswik–who was her own kind of badass for being a beekeeper back then–we’ve invented all kinds of fun things like battery operated drills and air-compressors in the last 140 years, which means you don’t actually have to possess a natural or acquired ability to drive a nail straight. You just need a nail gun.
So, everyone, put your needle and thread down for a minute and let’s talk about building these things.
Four pieces to a box, clearly. This shows the front and back of them. All pieces have a handle cut in to them, and there’s a groove in the top of the short boards for the frames to rest on when the box is assembled.
Close up of the groove. It’s half the width of the board, leaving a good 3/8″ ledge for the frame to set on.
The boxes use finger-joints at the corners. A deep 10-frame box will end up weighing 100-pounds when full of honey, and will also be full of bees. All I’m saying is, this is not the project on which you want to half-ass the joinery.
I decided to use 2″ deck screws to secure everything together. 7d nails seem to be the fastener of choice (used with or without wood glue) but I like the hold of the screws–no popping out over time– and it’s much easier to disassemble if that ever becomes necessary.
For the first box, I put everything together, used whatever t-square I had handy to make sure the box was a square and not some other version of a parallelogram…
As I was doing this, I thought to myself, “If I was going to build a lot of these at once, I’d make some sort of jig to keep them square while I screwed them together…”
Then I realized I was working on a piece of scrap plywood, and for the time investment of driving six screws and some scrap wood into it, I could have a jig. So I used one of my assembled boxes as the template, and screwed scrap wood down on three sides of it…
Jig in action…
I’m using my boot to keep everything tight against the jig… you could also use a clamp, I guess, if you like being all proper like that. The boards came pre-drilled–which is awesome–and I used a 2″ screw in every finger.
Even with machined finger-joints I had a couple of boards that needed a little adjustment, and a utility knife works great for that kind of thing if you don’t have a wood chisel nearby. Or if you do have one nearby but are too lazy to go get it…
The boxes were super easy to knock together, and there were only four that I had to build. The frames, on the other hand…
Also easy to assemble, but there were forty of them. So that took a few minutes.
For the frames I used 1-1/2″ staples (1/4″ crown) in my pneumatic staple gun…
It takes six staples per frame. Two through the bottom, two through the top, and then the most important staples… two through the sides and into that top stretcher…
These are particularly important when you consider that one of these frames will hold twenty pounds of honey and comb. You’ll always be picking the frame up out of the hive from the top, and you definitely don’t want that top bar separating from the rest of the frame. A couple of staples through the side will keep that from happening.
I had a one-woman assembly line going for a couple of hours to get through all of these…
Here’s what that looked like in real life…
Boxes and frames, complete!
Then I painted the outside of the boxes with a while exterior paint+primer.
And, just like that, I’m ready for bees.
I learned that bees essentially “seal” the boxes–and any gap they find–with propolis (aka, bee glue) so I feel a little like we’re in this whole hive-building thing together. I’m just proving the rooms and then 30,000 little worker bees will help turn it into a home… which, you know, I think between me and the bees, we’re going to make a pretty kick ass (and all-girl) building team.
I remember you mentioning in a earlier post you wanted bees ~ You are like the “Bees Knees” Kit, taking on such an awesome undertaking and building 2/3 of it yourself. Much like the difference of farm fresh eggs compared to what’s purchased at the store, is the freshness of newly harvested honey. Also, you have less initial investment, get the fun of building them and it’s pretty bad ass kewl too ~~about Cyula ~~It was prolly the norm for the heavy lifting, work with hammers and sharp objects to be done by the man~not the momma, for multiple reasons, back in the day. Now days many a mens shirts are made w/o buttons for a multiple of reasons as well. 😉
a wee bit of bee humor to rap this up w/what do you get when you cross a bee with a doorbell……………..waite………….waite…… ……yep
I’d have to get one of these to consider keeping bees:
These are AMAZING! They are enough to make me want to do this.
Oooo NICE!!! What fun!
Bee hives are one of my lifelong dreams, probably never to be realized…looked at it again this year, no way it fits in the budget.
“I decided to use 2″ deck screws to secure everything together. 7d nails seem to be the fastener of choice (used with or without wood glue) but I like the hold of the screws–no popping out over time– and it’s much easier to disassemble if that ever becomes necessary.”
“So, everyone, put your needle and thread down for a minute and let’s talk about building these things.”
I’m dying…. DYING. LOL you are awesome and a huge inspiration… my daughters love watching me with power tools and I love that they think mama can build anything (I can’t, but shhh in their minds I can). The creepy internet stalking part of me still wants to find your house one day so I can bring my girls there to meet you in real life, and ok, maybe cuddle some chickens.
PS: I’d take a tablesaw over a needle and thread any day, my sewing machine terrifies me & sits unused in it’s box.
Personally, I’m a cabinetmaker and could surely make those parts from scratch, but if I had decided to keep bees, I would have done the same thing. I would have ordered the prefabricated parts and assembled it. It’s not like you’re going to put down some furniture wax on the finished product!
I can’t wait to hear more about your adventures with bees. I’m looking to have some hives beginning next year (I’m also in Ann Arbor), and I’m looking forward to reading about your experience!
Have you been to an A2B2 meeting yet?
Very industrious! I’m looking forward to learning more – am tempted to give this a go in the future!
I’d love the antiquated quote juxtaposed with the picture of your duct-taped bleeding hand that alarmed the TSA agent. In case anyone was wondering about sparing your gentle fingers…that ship has sailed.
For some reason, I thought the worker bees were male and the only female was the queen, but a quick google search found this funny tidbit. They’re female, mostly. “We talked about the worker bees and that they are all female. What about the boys? There aren’t as many male bees in the hive as there are female bees. This is because the queen can decide when she lays an egg whether or not the egg will be male or female. Neat trick, eh? Why doesn’t she lay more male eggs? Because male honeybees don’t work! The female worker bees do all the work in the hive: cleaning cells, feeding baby bees, making honey, gathering pollen and nectar, guarding the hive. What do the male bees do?
Not much. Well, not much.” So you were pretty accurate about it being all girl built! Bravo on your bravery!
Drones (male bees) have only one purpose… to go out and mate with a queen in a mating area outside the hive. When resources get scarcer, going into winter for example, the drones are killed and thrown out of the hive.
You can handle drones safely because they have no stinger. Hive defense, as with ALL other hive tasks, is done by the females.
Check out Girl Next Door Honey on Instagram! She’s in San Diego but her IG feed is sooooo informative. (girlnextdoorhoney.com)
Kit, take a look at the top bar style hive for your next hive, when you start expanding. 🙂 It’s much easier to build and a more natural environment for the bees. Plus, you don’t have to kill your back moving 90 pound full large boxes or 60 pound mediums.
Maybe next year your friends will be getting mason jars of Black Feather Farm Honey 🙂
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