6 Steps for Setting Up a Beehive

Bees are an important component of many ecosystems. Their role in the pollination of plants is essential for the propagation of many species, and in recent years concerns about declining bee populations have fuelled fears of a huge decrease in biodiversity and of blooming populations of pests that bees predate.

On a permaculture plot bees perform the same function. Planting a wide variety of plants with different blooms that appeal to the bees can help attract them to your plot, but the gardener could also consider installing a beehive on their site. Not only does this have the benefit of having the creatures permanently on the site to perform the important pollination functions, it has the secondary function of providing an edible product in the form of honey.

Check with Others
There are four groups of people you need to check with before embarking on your beekeeping adventure. First, your family. You will need everyone to be comfortable with having bees permanently in the garden. Secondly, check with your doctor. It might sound an odd port of call to consult a doctor about a permaculture project, but a small minority of people is allergic to bee stings, and can suffer significant health consequences if stung. A doctor can do a simple test to check whether you or any member of your family is at risk. Thirdly, check with your neighbors. One of them may have an allergy or objection to having bees in close proximity. If you get the go ahead from the first three groups, check with your local government authority. There may be zoning laws that prohibit the keeping of bees in your location.

Choose a Site
Just as you would for any other livestock animal, you need to choose a site that will meet all the needs of your bees. You want to have lots of plants nearby that will offer them food; so blooming species are a must (bees are active from spring to fall, when plants are most likely to be in bloom, and them hibernate in the winter). They will also need access to a body or water. If possible, site the hive in full sun, so that they get as long a day to work as possible, but protect the hive from winds that are very strong, as they risk toppling the hive and dispersing your colony. You also want to choose a site that has high fences and trees nearby. This forces the bees to fly higher up rather than at person height. And, finally, place it somewhere so that you have easy access to it, as you will need to work with the hive regularly.

Create a Stand
Beehives should be kept elevated off the ground. This allows for air circulation within the hive and protects the hive from break-ins by ground predators. It is also easier for the permaculture gardener if the hive is elevated, as you don’t have to bend down to work on the hive. Old concrete blocks with a wooden pallet across are a viable beehive stand.

Build a Hive
Beehives comprise a series of sheets of beeswax that hang vertically inside a box. The hive has at least two levels of sheets, one where the bees raise their young, and one on top where they store the honey. You will need to purchase or construct a tiered box, with racked frames on which to hang the sheets of beeswax. You may be able to source a hive from another beekeeper, or you can build your own from recycled materials.

Get Some Gear
Beekeeping does require some initial outlay. There are two pieces of kit that are the minimum you will need: a hood and a smoker. The hood comprises a hat and a veil that falls or is secured below the neck so that bees cannot get tangled in your hair or sting vulnerable parts of your face. You could fashion your own version, but seek advice from an experience beekeeper to ensure you are suitably protected.

You may feel more comfortable, particularly when first starting out, to source a full body suit, which includes boots and gloves, but as you get more used to handling the bees, just a hood should be sufficient. Again, ask other local beekeepers if they have any second-hand suits they wish to dispose of.

The smoker is an essential bit of kit for handling the bees. Comprising a cylinder with a bellows attached, you burn wood in the cylinder – pine needles work well, but any rotten wood will do – then pump it into the hive when you want to do any work with it. The smoke scrambles the chemical messages that the bees send to one another about what to do, so they become disorientated and more subdued, and leave you alone so you can carry out whatever work is necessary.

Get Some Bees
Once your hive is set up, its time to stock it. You can buy colonies from reputable organic suppliers. There are three species that are setting up a beehivecommonly available. Italian bees are very easy to manage and produce a lot of honey. Russian bees are also docile, but can be less productive at the start of spring, while Carniolans are hardy bees that can withstand even very cold winters.

An alternative option from buying bees is to offer to house a problem colony. Contact local beekeepers and pest controllers. They are sometimes called to remove a bee colony that has set up home in an unsuitable location, perhaps on a school playing field or the eaves of a nursing home, and rather than destroying the bees, you could give them a new lease of life. And if the colony has set up somewhere locally, it’s a good sign that they are adapted to the local climate conditions and that they have found sufficient food in the area to thrive.

Bear in mind that if you are establishing a new colony, the hive may not produce enough extra honey for you to harvest in its first year. This is when the colony will be building up its numbers. But by year two, you should be able to harvest some honey, and even before then the bees will be an important part of your permaculture ecosystem.

165 comments

I so want to do this

Ryan Cope

What about the killer bees? I live in Southwest.

Christine, you can order the bees from many companies that raise them, they come with 3-5000 bees and a queen, very cheap and they are amazingly dossile, give them 5-6 ft of space you dont go near unless checking on them ect and they just go about there Bees-ness (lol bad joke) you get bees wax and pure honey !!! plus a cool thing is if you set out your honey covered tools from harvesting, they will clean them for you!! not a drop of honey waisted, bees are amazing creatures, many videos on youtube you can enjoy and get an idea of the set up, if it be small or large, the work and the reward

I love the idea of hosting a hive!

Make sure there is ample biodiversity where you live before getting bees. Create “pollinator pathways” as there are in Seattle, or Oakland or Los Angeles (many other places). Study the spoke and wheel method of creating urban biodiversity corridors. Start simple with guerrilla gardening by spreading wildflower seeds in urban spaces where you don’t think toxic herbicides are used.

12 gallons this year (y) and, sold out!! Except what we kept for our selves.

Too expensive for us.

My brother-inlaw has about 40 families and makes money for his family in Europe with them … But it’s a lot of work!!

thinking I should get my parents to host a colony… hmmm

Thanks for the info!

Da, pe balcon..

This one is for you Wayne !

thats some good info. hope to do this soon

I love the bees!!!! I miss them flying around me when I was little and playing in the garden. 🙁

I wanted to do this but when we bought our house my son found out the city forbids it.

there are also Mason bees which are easy to set up and they are native to north America.

However, just as a note, try to buy bees that are actually from your area or State. Cold climate bees, will probably not tolerate the Texas heat…

Scotty Gordon

Kerrie Raymo

We’ve been learning to garden for 4 years now—I got bees because the farmers around me would bring (in bees) for crop pollination and take them away in a very short time span. I wanted to garden all year long (again to learn) so I had to get bees as (there are none) close by permanently. I’ve learned to love them. 🙂

Do you have a list of companies that you would mind sharing? I think next spring, we’re going to set up a couple of hives too.

I too am thinking of setting up a hive.

I am the daughter of a beeman and the Aunt to another bee lady…. I am bee rich!

This article is lacking in a lot of ways. For one thing, it’s the lack of biodiversity that is endangering the bees, not the other way around so much. The mass trucking to monocultures is a the number one factor in the declining of the bees…particularly GMO monocultures…..along with the pesticides that are used on such crops. This promotes the perfect environment for diseases to be transmitted, and to seriously weaken bees. While bees can contribute to some level of biodiversity, they can’t improve on it at all, if they don’t have enough diversity to work with already.

I think suggesting someone ask their neighbors is a ridiculous suggestion. Just do it.

This article leaves out the very important step of first finding at least one local beekeeper that is using natural and organic methods as much as possible. You can’t just set up a hive and expect it to thrive without having a reasonable body of knowledge. The very FIRST STEP in my mind would be to find some truly knowledgeable natural beekeepers and apprentice with them, and/or take some classes. It’s important to truly understand what sort of work and responsibility you’re taking on before to do so.

Bees will travel to up to 5 miles to forage, so you don’t really have to have lots of flowers nearby particularly. What you do need to do is travel around a 5 mile radius from where you’ll keep your bees, and find out what specifically bee-friendly plants (honey bees don’t just randomly forage on ANY plant), they only forage on certain plants and trees. You need to know what those are, and if they are plentiful within 5 miles of where you live. You also need to make sure that throughout the foraging season, there is enough biodivesity that there will be an abundance of pollen and nectar flow. If your area is dominated by golden rod or some other type of limited appearance in a foraging season your bees could still fail. They need acres and acres of abundant pollen and nectar throughout the season.

Before you take on this massively important service, be sure you actually now what you’re getting into and doing.

Bees also need a supply of fresh pure water within 1/2 mile.

Great point about checking with neighbors. You could actually be liable if an allergic person gets stung within a certain distance. Your county or municipality can let you know the required distance from neighbors. In Mchenry County, IL, you basically needed to situated out in the country.

And please if you dont know what your doing and your not willing to follow through DONT MESS WITH THE BEES PERIOD the Government and pesticides are killing enough of them we dont need amateurs mixing in with the genocidal actions of the rest !

Setting out your honey-covered tools is a good way to get disease transmitted among colonies. DO NOT DO IT!

Talk to some local beekeepers, or your local Extension Service office, or someone in the entomology department at your state university to learn about local issues with Africanized bees.

dont even think about it jay

If only it were that simple

I am working with entire town: need help to establish hives in Farming community…

I love the taste of honey.

Phil Lake

Would like to Host a few hives ! any won ?

Good idea to check with local apiaries for their input, also. One of our local Honeys has workshops periodically!

Lisa Whitehead

Lots of bees here, a local paster has hundreds of hives!

Just got 2-1/2 gallons of pure honey. Not bad for my first harvest…..

Jenna Woginrich

I just recently had a friend move a bee hive to my place. I’m kinda pumped.

Heather AndsometimesPro Pearson is a bee keeper, so is one of the neighbors, up from here.

As long as your local bylaws allow, you don’t need permission from neighbors, but ensure you place the hive properly and have a water sources, so that your bees don’t become an annoyance to your neighbors, just because you’re allowed, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be considerate, or take the time to address any concerns they may have, and you’ll be educating them in the process, and will perhaps inspire some future beekeepers as well.

Katie Prescott

Not true. Bees want dirty water. It has more minerals in it. Bird baths, mud puddles, and even swimming pools.

Permaculture bee instructor. Catch me at permaculture voices this year.

Hey Miriam, are we really six for six on how to get a beehive? We picked good friends to share it with ☀️

Cecilia Alegria get your parents 2 do it

Been wanting bees for two years now.

Shailen Quarenghi

You mean we won’t get charge saying we are stealing bees from nature like the government does with our plant

I would LOVE to

Zach Owen

Matthew Feldman

We split ours this year and were 100% successful!

Kenneth Weiss, we need this!

I really want to do this! We have a lot of bees & hives on our property, but it would be nice to have access to the honey… I’ve heard that we have a lot of Africanized bees in our area, so I’m not sure how that would work…

I recommend the Beetle Jail bottom board

Marko Stankovic

Oh no! An article encouraging people to do something good in the world doesn’t tell them how to do everything flawlessly! The sky is falling! Call the police! Bring in the Army! Marines! Navy SEALs! /s

I meant as opposed to water with run-off and other contaminates in it.

Regardless, they need water within at least 1/2 mile of their hive. This is missing from the article.

Gee…that kind of attitude will sure garner fans. :/

Nice! Tanka Brianna Mckee 🙂

Just make sure you neigbors are allergic to them. One of my brothers started a hive and his neighbor sneaked over and killed it with pesticides. One of the little kids in the neighborhood told on him.

Bill Molison.

Adam and Matt are bee keepers. They have three hives now.

nice too bad it’s not legal here in nd

no bees no food

Well you criticized our article as “lacking”. Did you really need to do that, or could you have simply added your ideas? The article allows people to comment (see the comment form at the bottom of it) where you could totally add what you felt was lacking, and easily done so without attacking the article itself. You obviously are knowledgeable in the subject, and we’d encourage you to contribute productively instead of calling in the US Navy Seals on us for posting a less-than-totally-complete article.

Bees love African blue basil.We grow tons of it so we get bees. I would love to talk my husband into having a hive, but no luck so far.

we got 98 lbs of honey this year.

I did bees for a few years, i loved it. will again when i get a place i can.

anyone who can…should

Do you remember that we had a bee hive, when you were little?

This would be an interesting adventure.

I definitely dont need the steps, I have many beehives every year unluckily, not fun with a pool.

what about keeping the bears out??

I want to but hopefully next year as the Neonicotinoids will not be banned locally until then and so many bees have died. I do not want to loose my hive. I work as a bumble bee keeper!

Elaine Crowder

Looking for fresh honey, in West Memphis Ar. phone 9015813923

when i was a kid we use to have bee hives and i would always mow by the hives and the worker bee would check on me he would come out and look and see what i was doing and go about his own business, then something got into the hives and they went nuts stinging all around us and died off we didnt know what happened to our bees :[

i have been always planning on raising bees again but havent found the time to do it yet

I became a bee-keeper in June with two hives, each with two supers. Although I didn’t expect anything this year, I am very happy to say I actually got over 10kg/20lbs of golden, delicious honey.

I definately will when we get a farm!

Hey Sonia D’Agnese, don’t tell me you are embarking on yet another project LOL

Caitlin Sumler

Thanks Bhramari Devi Dasi for all the info. Very good points.

teespring.com/supportbees

Kids! Settle down now, the enemy is monsanto not us.

I would love to host someone else’s hive. I have fruit trees

I thought about honey-bees for quite a few months, read up on the subject, joined a bee-club and in June bought two hives. We live on acreage, but even a smaller backyard can be used.

Great. Shows that people are ready to enjoy constructive solutions to the mess we are in. Great work.

Raewyn Walker Lorrayne Winter

Avoid building your hives from chemically treated woods. I didn’t see anything about that in the article.

Carol

Am hoping to relocate to Tennessee as soon as possible and am VERY interested in bee keeping… but know nothing about it. Would like to learn and be extremely successful in this vocation.

Krassimire

If anyone is really interested to start organic beekeeping and follow the nature-related principles of beekeeping, there is only one place to start – the Organicbeekeepers Yahoo-Group, moderated by Dee Lusby. Dee Lusby is 3rd generation commercial beekeeper and for more than 25 years she is keeping bees without the use of any kind of chemicals and artificial food supplements. I can only recommend to join the group and follow all great discussions. In addition you will get lot of great advises first hand from very experienced organic beekeepers.

dale

A top bar hive is an inexpensive and easy to build a hive.

sare you allowed them in the city

Nikki Wysman have you seen this ?

No will read when I get home though

Our bird dies and so you think we need a few thousand new pets?????

Megan Turner

I want one or 3-4

Asatah HoneyChild

I have some land I would let someone set up some hives, Just a thought

We love our Bees! They keep our garden & orchard well pollinated & their honey is scrumptious! We leave most of it for them to keep healthy during the winter. This seems to keep them strong & disease free. We all know that regular sugar is not that healthy for anyone, including Bees. 🙂

I would love to, but I don’t think I have enough experience with hives as of yet.

I’d like them once I can afford it

yes this is the year

I have had bees for 7 plus years. When I lost the last one last spring I decided I would not start another hive as long as I am surrounded by gmo corn.

Jared Wallace

Sam Sigrest

We have two top bar hives here in the city and are hoping they are all still alive come spring 🙂

Highly recommended!!

We started our hive last year, we are nervously waiting for spring to see how they (we) did:)

I guess bees are coming to our house! Wish I liked honey!!

I’d like to try a top bar or “Kenya” hive someday when my other projects get under control.

I’m not sure what the odd little boxes on posts were in the photo with this article.

Nope, im alergic to their sting, And i don’t trust them… 😎

Pollination is subversive…

I’m really REALLY hoping to get a hive set up for this spring!

I also REALLY want to, but it sounds like a lot of work and I’m disabled. 🙁

Plus we have lots and lots of bears. I’d need a really good electric fence.

Love to however I live in Belize. Not sure where I can get bees…

Christine Lund !!

I would love to but I’m allergic to bees so can’t risk having a hive

Me too. Don’t want any bees. Can’t take a bee sting.

Christy Walker Simmerman

Yes its time, yet my place is home for many friendly wasps, will that be an issue?

I have a hive already.

I would do a lot more research than this article before becoming an apiarist (beekeeper). There’s a lot more to it. Especially medicating the bees for mites and diseases. Though it is a good place to start and to entice you to become a beekeeper. It takes a lot of work and dedication, especially when trying to avoid the colony collapse problem. I’ve lost 4 hives in the past. But it is a rewarding en devour.

#1 bees lol

FITS RIGHT IN WITH AGAPE’ GARDENS.

Would love too. With plenty and native weeds around.

We got native bees here don’t sting ya. Look like flies. We should be using them.

In some parts of Louisiana they spray for mosquitos and I think it also gets the bees. We have very few inscets.

Yesyes! This spring we’ll be taking on two hives by our college’s farm.

Good idea as long as there’s no GMO crops nearby as the bees will die off from the neonicotenoids in the round-up ready crops..

The local beekeepers have advised that over-wintered hives need to be well looked after as frost and ice build up will suffocate the bees. There is an internal temperature of 80 F in the mass of bees which causes the ice on the outside of the hives. The ice must be removed at regular intervals.

Hoping. Researching. Thanks for so much info!

we’ve been keeping bees for about 4 years. we had two hives that we lost this winter. they had tons of honey, we fed them and they were doing fine, and then, one warmish day (one in november and one about a week ago) i looked at the hive and there were none. looks like CCD, but we’re not sure. our “bee guru” said we should think about treating them for mites. any ideas?

Brianna Elizabeth would be another great initative for the garden and Angie Knowlton has beekeeping knowledge.

Danica Friesen

Rural or City bee hives?

Brent Taylor

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