Build a Bee Hive from Reclaimed Materials

Make your own beekeeping equipment with free and cheap materials to save money while creating the best hive possible for your bees.

| August/September 2018

  • beehive
    Learn how to build hives that suit your bees' natural tendencies.
    Photo by Getty Images/Kosolovskyy
  • smoke
    Beekeepers who use horizontal hives rarely need to smoke their bees.
    Photo by Leo Sharashkin
  • honeycomb
    Bees make excellent use of the deep frames in horizontal hives, building comb as they naturally would.
    Photo by Leo Sharashkin
  • hive-builders
    To make good use of specialty tools, arrange a hive-building bee with like-minded friends and enough building materials for several hives.
    Photo by Leo Sharashkin
  • wood
    The cost savings of using free lumber and other materials justify the effort of collecting them.
    Photo by Leo Sharashkin

  • beehive
  • smoke
  • honeycomb
  • hive-builders
  • wood

How many people dream of having a few bustling beehives in their backyard? But here’s a typical scenario: You go to a beekeeping class for beginners and do everything the instructors suggest. You buy equipment and protective gear, order packages of bees, install them in the hives, feed them sugar, and treat them against parasites and disease. Then, they don’t survive the first winter. You buy more bees the following spring, and the cycle repeats itself.

Faced with high bee mortality, mounting costs, and modest returns, even expert beekeepers sometimes hang up their veils. There are half as many bee colonies in the United States today as there were in the 1940s, and the majority of those that remain are treated with chemicals and trucked around the country to pollinate almonds and other commercial monoculture crops. This stresses the colonies, spreads disease, and leads to honey laced with pesticides.

Fortunately, there’s another option: natural beekeeping. Its principles haven’t changed in a thousand years: Observe how bees live in the wild, and mimic the same conditions in your apiary. Georges de Layens, one of Europe’s leading beekeepers from the 19th century, offered three keys to sustainable apiculture. First, use local bees that are disease-resistant and adapted to your local climate and flowering patterns. Second, keep bees in appropriate hives that imitate a natural tree nest and match the climate of your region. Finally, practice sensible management in tune with bees’ biological needs, and disturb them as little as possible.

Follow these simple rules, and beekeeping will become what it used to be — a joyful and productive occupation that requires relatively little effort and brings great rewards. Whether you aspire to have a few hives for pleasure and honey, or to make your living through natural beekeeping, you can keep bees successfully and with minimal cost. Let’s get you off to a good start. 



Build Your Own Beekeeping Equipment

“Keeping bees requires little effort, and barely any capital to get started,” wrote de Layens in Keeping Bees in Horizontal Hives: A Complete Guide to Apiculture. But the experience of many beekeepers is actually quite different.

Beekeeping has become a costly undertaking because of the prevailing habit of buying equipment and bees. After investing hundreds or thousands of dollars into your setup, you’re under pressure to produce more honey to recover your costs. Pushing bees for maximum honey production creates more problems, which are costly to fix, and you’re caught up in a vicious cycle.






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