Tuesday, 10 April 2012
Building a National Hive from Flat Pack
The countdown to becoming an official beekeeper is on! My flat-pack hive arrived some time ago so in the last week I've spent time choosing and clearing my final hive site, which is called an apiary. Following the good advice of Mr. E I decided against putting my hive in the allotment field which is a bit too exposed and have instead opted to keep my hive on private land which is within flying distance of the allotment and the wildflower meadow we've planted for honey bees.
With all of that organised I'm looking forward to picking up a nucleus of bees later this week. However, one last task before that anticipated date involved putting together my flat-pack hive. It's been sitting in the garage for two months now and setting it up has been a task that's been niggling away at the back of my mind. The day the package arrived I opened it up and of course had to try on my gloves and suit and look through all the accessories. But when I saw the complicated looking bundles of Cedar parts my enthusiasm over the actual hive took a dip.
With no time left to procrastinate, I set out to build the hive today beginning with the hive floor then the brood box, roof and one super. I started working at 10am and five hours later I had the basic structure of the hive pretty much set up. I have one more super to build and a whole lot of frames and foundation to put together but I'm satisfied that those bewildering piles of boards, sticks, nails and glue have begun to take shape. I'm not completely daft when it comes to building things but putting together this flat-pack hive from Thorne was a lot more complicated than an Ikea bookshelf!
One thing I was very pleased to see in my kit was the open mesh Varroa floor - rather than the standard wooden floor you find with traditional hives. I couldn't exactly remember if my kit came with one but was already contemplating buying one after Mr. E's demonstration on how filthy the hive floor gets. Though we don't have Varroa on the Isle of Man, the mesh floor allows bee rubbish to fall through and onto a removable floor which can then be cleaned. I'm sure that by having this mesh floor that my hive will be a cleaner and healthier home for my bees. However I am a bit concerned that the floor may be a bit cold for them in the winter so am going to try building a more solid and insulated version of the basic board my kit was supplied with.
In the hive construction process I followed the directions almost to the T. The one exception being that I wanted to customise my hives to have top bee space rather than bottom bee space. To understand what this means you have to begin with how the hive is constructed. A National hive is composed of a series of separate sections that are stacked on top of each other; the primary parts being floor, brood, supers and roof. Though each of these boxes sit on top of each other, the frames inside them have to provide 1/4" space either at their tops or bottoms so that bees can move horizontally through the hive. Otherwise, the bees enter the hive at the bottom, hit the first frame and can only go straight up.
Bottom bee space means this 1/4" is placed at the bottom of the frames and this is the traditional set-up for most hives in the UK. It works perfectly fine but it also means that the tops of the frames are set flush with the tops edges of the box they sit in. So if you remove a super during inspection, you have to lift it up and set it down perfectly on top of the box it sits on or you chance squashing a lot of bees. If these frames are customised to sit 1/4" lower in their respective boxes they are then referred to as having 'top bee space'. The benefit of having your hive set up this way is that you can lift your box up and set it on a corner of the box it sits on. Then you can slide it into its final place without having to worry about hurting as many bees and causing stress to the rest of the colony. This comes in handy when the frames are full of honey and the box weighs a hefty twenty pounds or more.
So instead of placing the brood box's frame runners 7/16" down from the top edge of the box I added 1/4" and placed them 11/16" of an inch down. I made the same adjustment to the castellated spacers in the super. Voila, easy DIY top bee space and saving myself some money in the process as well. I called Thorne to double-check that what I was doing was correct and was surprised to hear that they sell top bee space hives at a higher price than bottom bee space models. I can't get my head over that since it seems like such a small adjustment.
My hive is sitting in the garage at the moment and after a lick of paint it will be ready to house my new bees. I keep thinking about how it's going to be an exciting moment to actually take my first colony home and to get them moved into their new home. I'm both thrilled and slightly nervous but am looking forward to my first year's adventure in beekeeping.