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Four elegant homemade bee hives

Rick Cheverton, a beekeeper in Knoxville, Tennessee just finished his wintertime project: four gorgeous homemade bee hives with all the accoutrements. Rick shares his thought process and explains some of the changes he made from standard designs. All text and photos below are courtesy of Rick.


Winter’s work is done, and I’m just waiting for the bees to come. Everything is dovetailed with two coats of stain and three coats of poly. If the bees don’t like it, I’m moving in with some of my friends. Shown here are:

  • 4 screened bases with trays for small hive beetles
  • 4 slatted racks
  • 8 hive boxes
  • 4 super/feeder boxes, designed so the feeders slide in and out of a super
  • 4 ventilated inner cover/feeder bottoms
  • 4 ventilated moisture quilt boxes
  • 4 vented roofs
  • 8 Imirie shims
Winter's work is done: four complete hives ready for the bees.
Winter’s work is done: four complete hives ready for the bees.

It was all a design-build project using some of my ideas and some others I read about. I’m trying a couple of things that may not work. For the hive bodies I used 2 x 10. My thought is with a slatted rack you get the bee space you need at the bottom and between the brood boxes I’m not sure you need it. If necessary, I will add an Imirie shim between them. It just saves time and money and my chop saw doesn’t do 12″ material.

A vented gabled roof.
A vented gabled roof.

Cutting the hand holds in was the most fun. I built a sled for the table saw and it worked great. One other thing is I built the inner covers with 3/4″ material instead of 1-1/2″ material and they work great and will hold up any feeder. On the supers I added two small pieces of paint stick stirrers (free from Home Depot) which is where the feeder slides behind. The reason for the combo super/feeder is you would never use them both at the same time. That way storage of the feeders takes very little room.

The inside of the vented gabled roof.
The inside of the vented gabled roof.
Vent hole in gabled roof of homemade bee hive.
Vent hole in gabled roof.
A moisture quilt box with screened ventilation ports.
A moisture quilt box with screened ventilation ports.
A slatted rack.
A slatted rack.

Next are the inner cover/super/feeder combo pictures. The inner cover is slotted on the back to allow the bees to come up into the feeder. This opening would have hardware cloth put over it when being used as an inner cover. I wonder if I am providing too much ventilation, if so I can always cover holes up. It has (3) 3” holes for ventilation. I use 3/4”x3/4” material for the frame which provides plenty of support.

The super has two small pieces of paint stir sticks stapled to the sides which hold the feeder in place. They don’t interfere with the foundation frames. The feeder is made from scrap 3/4” material and hardware cloth, and it slides down into place behind the pieces of paint sticks. It forms essentially a screen chute the bees climb over and down to the syrup. It is a no-drown feeder.

The container is a  1 1/2 gallon container from Home Depot for $.99. I throw the lids away. When through feeding pull the feeder out, remove the inner cover or screen the feeder slot in it, and put frames in the super. If not using the moisture quilt, move the inner cover above the super.

The inner cover, super, and feeder.
The inner cover, super, and feeder.
The inner cover/feeder bottom. The opening in the back allows bees to go up the the feeder. The three holes in front are for ventilation.
The inner cover/feeder bottom. The opening in the back allows bees to go up into the feeder. The three holes in front are for ventilation.
The stir sticks stapled to the inside of this super guide the placement of the feeder.
The stir sticks stapled to the inside of this super guide the placement of the feeder.
The no-drown feeder.
The no-drown feeder.
The backside of the no-drown feeder.
The backside of the no-drown feeder.
Front view of the no-drown feeder.
Front view of the no-drown feeder.
This super can be used as a feeder or, without the bottom, it can be used as a regular super.
This super can be used as a feeder or, without the bottom, it can be used as a regular super.
The feeder box with plastic tray in place.
The feeder box with plastic tray in place.

These are pictures of the screened base, the hive stand base, and the Imirie shims. I designed the base with two slots which provide for a winter position for the typical real estate sign board/sticky board (also useful if using oxalic acid vapor for mite treatment) and a slot for a cafeteria tray (about $2 on eBay) which I will put cooking oil in to drown small hive beetles.

A wooden cover will cover the back which is held on with magnets. The base is screened top and bottom. The landing is made of a piece of Douglas Fir. Home Depot has 4 x 4 x 8’ for $15 which I split in half and then make the landing boards. Also works well for ridge caps on the roof.

All screw holes are plugged with hardwood plugs. Stands are 20” x 60” and are treated 2 x 6. Each one will hold three hives but I am going to put two on them and put plywood between them which will make a work surface. They can be put on blocks or mounted to 4 x 4s. The Imirie shims are dovetailed because I think it is easier to make and stronger than a mortise joint. For some reason, my bees love the entrance in the Imirie shim and use it much more this time of the year than the main entrance .

The screened bottom board with small hive beetle tray inserted.
The screened bottom board with small hive beetle tray inserted.
Back view of the screened bottom board with plastic tray.
Back view of the screened bottom board with plastic tray.
The top of the hive stand.
The top of the hive stand.
The have stand showing hive placement.
The hive stand showing hive placement.
Imirie shims.
Imirie shims.

Last, I changed my hive stand a little bit. I dadoed the center supports so the 4 x 4s fit in them to prevent tilting. I added hoist hangers on the two middle supports so I’m not depending on screws to hold the weight of possibly three hives. I also bolted the 4 x 4s in with 3/8” x 5” carriage bolts. The 4 x 4s will be 18” in the ground and I will stabilize them with Sackrete.

The reinforced hive stand.
The reinforced hive stand.

And here are the finished hives in place:

Here are the four completed hives with a Flow hive in the center.
Here are the four completed hives with a Flow hive in the center.

Comments

Sharon
Reply

These hives are beautiful. Obviously a lot to thought and craftsmanship went into these.
I usually put a rock on top of my flat roofs to hold them on in a wind. Are these roofs secured on, or is that not an issue due to their design??

Does Rick make his plans available? If he makes and sells the hives, the cost to ship them up to where i live in Ontario from Tennessee would most likely make them cost prohibitive. I appreciate it if he says no, but if I don’t ask the answer for sure is not yes!

Granny Roberta in nw CT
Reply

I don’t enjoy woodwork. This post makes me daydream about exchanging my beloved for someone who will do this kind of beautiful woodwork for me.

Sarah
Reply

Wow!! Very impressive and very helpful, especially the explanations and photos of each “layer”. Thanks for sharing!!! 😀

Jeffrey
Reply

Best of luck with them. They look great, I hope the bees thinks so too.

Vic Macdonald
Reply

It is always good to see some new input and wait for comment, Well done on the stand and feeder.

Two suggestions: The slatted board strips should run parallel to the broad entrance piece thus avoiding a cold entrance and draughts. To overcome this “Langstroth” cold entrance fault and do away with the slatted board, make your entrance on the broad side ie. the frames are then at right angles to the entrance as is always the case with feral colonies. We also use a swivel entrance for ease of closure when you need to move your colony.

Re the vent holes, the bees will seal up the openings to suit their needs. At the end of the season you will have a good idea of how much venting is needed (Normally very little, because of the chimney effect).
Keep up the good work.

Kind regards.
Vic.

Rusty
Reply

Vic,

Since the introduction of varroa, beekeepers—at least down here in the states—have gone to slatted racks that are parallel to the frames. This allows maximum debris to fall through the slats. Putting the slats parallel to the standard entrance inhibits the separation of debris (and mites). I’ve checked with the US manufacturers, and they all put their slats parallel with the frames now, although you used to be able to find them both ways.

Also the warm way/cold way argument became more or less meaningless with the addition of screened bottom boards. While most of the air used to come through the entrance, now most of it comes up through the screened bottom.

Varroa changed many management practices, and the thinking on both these items were affected by it. The magnitude of the varroa problem is so big, other management preferences take on less importance.

Just my opinion, of course.

Carlie
Reply

Wow – beautiful hives…… Will be sharing this post with my apiary manager!

Dave Maloney
Reply

How nice of Rick to share the details and such excellent photographs of this project!

Deb Western Catskill Mtns NY
Reply

Rick that is an impressive hive, a labor of love. Thanks for all those good ideas.

Larry Fuchs
Reply

Nice work Rick. Might I suggest that you NOT permanently attach a sheet of plywood to the hive stand, but make it a partial drop in, if you really want a work spot. The reason being, from the pictures, it looks like the distance between the lateral boards is the same width as a frame. Therefore, you could use that space to hold any frames that you have out of your hive while completing your inspection(s) or work within the hive so long as you do not seat the hive stand too close to the ground. Just a suggestion.

Glen Buschmann
Reply

Hi Rusty and Rick(s) —
Regarding the hive stand — with the middle 2×4’s dadoed down to about 1×4 and bolted to the 4×4’s, it looks like a significant weak spot once the stand is stacked with filled hives. I hope Rick C. has plans to reinforce this platform with added bracing and / or more legs. The way you do it Rusty with a post at each of the four outside corners looks much better.

The hives look great.

Glen B

Rick
Reply

Sharon,

I know it’s dangerous to say never, but I have yet to have a hive top blow off. HOWEVER…I am planing tomorrow to screw eye rings into the bottom of the roofs and the hive stand so I can strap them together. I will post a picture on this site. Granny… don’t throw your beloved out, insure his other wonderful qualities far outweigh some basic carpentry skills. Thank all of you for such kind comments and most of all thank you Rusty for allowing me to share this. I didn’t even know it had been posted I was just going through reading all your blogs and cane across it. The knowledge you share through your experiences makes for far fewer mistakes for all of us.

Christine
Reply

Awesome looking hive. Thanks for sharing, I admire your skills.

Kathy
Reply

These hives look Beautiful!! Nice work. 🙂

ET Ash
Reply

Simply beautiful!

Kevin
Reply

Hi Rusty-

First of all, thank you for the outstanding website you have put together.

It was a beautiful day in the Olympia area today (as I am sure you are aware) and I was able to go through my hives. I have two top-bar and three Langstroth hives, and all are looking good with eggs, larvae and a small patch of capped brood. I am cautiously optimistic but have been disappointed later than this in past seasons.

I was going through a hive I raised from a split last year with the plan of converting it to a single deep hive. Both deeps had lots of bees although the bottom had no honey left. The top deep is heavy with stores and bees. The 4th frame contained larvae and lots of eggs as well as one large, golden queen and one slightly less large but equally gorgeous black queen. They were at times within centimeters of each other and were clearly not antagonistic. I watched to see if one was laying and the other not but was worried about cooling of the brood. I caught one of the queens with the idea of putting one on each side of the queen excluder but in the end figured they were smarter than me and left them alone (I have learned this slowly the hard way). Have you seen this before?

Rusty
Reply

Kevin,

Yes, quite frequently. From what I’ve read and what I’ve observed, it is not at all unusual to have two queens in a hive. They are usually mother/daughter combinations and may persist for long periods of time or not. Sometimes one will suddenly decide to off the other, for no apparent reason, or one disappears and we don’t actually know why.

I think that lots of times they are there but the beekeeper doesn’t notice. Oftentimes we look for the queen, and once we find her, we are satisfied and close up the hive. But if you keep looking for a queen, even after you found one, you can sometimes find another.

I’ve seen them actually brush past one another, so they are obviously aware of each other but don’t seem to care. There is so much we don’t understand honey bees.

Sam Shafer
Reply

Rick/Rusty,

I was wondering if that is 1/8″ opening stainless steel screen you’re using on the screened bottom board and ventilation holes? I have been looking for that and have not found a good source for it. That seems to be common on the screened bottom boards and screened inner covers I’ve bought and I like the size. I would like to buy it in rolls like you buy ordinary window screen but all I have been able to find online comes in pieces that are very expensive. Do either of you (or anyone else reading this) know a good source?

Rick
Reply

Sam,

I don’t use SS hardware cloth as it runs about $1/SF. It is available through Gopher.

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