How to Get Started
Now that I have told you some of the many the benefits of having bees, I am going to tell you the basic style of beekeeping and some cheap ways to keep bees. Again, my focus is on survival beekeeping, or “off the grid” beekeeping. I will give you a list of what you need, and then tell you how to make some of the items, or find them cheap. Once again, I suggest that you find a book about beekeeping to help you understand the terms I use and the different kinds of hives available for beekeeping. You can find books everywhere—used book stores and yard sales are the cheapest, and you may even find used equipment there as well.
As a beekeeper you must have protection. Beekeepers suits can be expensive—cost of protective gear ranges from $100-$200, depending on what you get (hoods and gloves, full body suits, etc.). Suits can be found online, in beekeeping stores, swap meets, or yard sales. However, if you’d like to take a thrifty approach you need to have:
- High rubber boots, which can be found at farm supply stores or retail centers such as Walmart. Make sure you own a pair that you can get in and out of quickly and can go over your pants.
- Pants that can be tucked into your boots. I like to use duct tape to tape the boots onto the pants so your legs and feet are completely protected.
- Long-sleeve shirts than can be tucked in to your pants.
- Hooded jackets, which can be cinched tightly around your face, so only your face shows.
- A ball cap worn under the hood—the starting point of a screened hood. To make this, stitch screen over the top of the hooded jacket and then use duct tape all around the screen to keep the bees out. The cap pushes the screen away from your face.
- Welding gloves that you duct tape the ends to the jacket sleeves so you’re all sealed up.
Another cheap way is to use a rain suit that you can duct tape your gloves, boots, waist, and stitch a screen over the face.
Now that you are protected from head to toe, let’s focus on where you will keep the bees, or the bee hive. The most commonly used hive is called a Langstroth hive. It is made as an open top hive and holds frames that can be removed to inspect brood (aka baby bees or larva) and to pull honey out of the hive. You can order a pre-built hive or find plans to build your own hive from the internet. There are also many books on how build and use the Langstroth hive. I will repeat myself again: find a book and use it as a resource. And take any classes you can find in your area. I have been keeping bees for more than 10 years, and have lost hives due to my “learning experiences”. But just like anything, you never know until you try.
The next hive I am going to show you is called a barrel top drum hive. It is made with a plastic 55 gallon drum. From one barrel you can make 2 hives. These drums can be found at
make it easy to cut it in half; we want to use the bung holes for entrances, so we end up marking lines. It is possible to cut the barrel with a handsaw, but for the sake of time, use an electric saber saw. Once the barrel is cut in two,
build a box out of 2 inch by 3 inch lumber, to fit snugly around the barrel. This frame acts as a stiffener, preventing the barrel from warping out of shape. It also acts as the support for the top bars. This will also keep the top of you hive even so when you get your lid ready it will fit snug. Before the barrel half could be slid into the wooden frame, a portion on the barrel rim had to be cut off so that the barrel would fit squarely into the frame. Once this was done, the barrel and frame were put together and decking screws were used to secure the barrel to the frame. Counter sink the screws a little so the comb will not stick to the sides. The bees will make comb around the screws and it will be hard to get the top bars out with them stuck to the sides.
Next a set of legs were added. Try to keep the legs from extending out too far from the barrel and becoming a trip hazard while working on the hive. Also try to avoid covering the bung hole so that there is an entrance for the bees. When making the top bars out of 3/4 inch rough-cut pine (1 inch thickness) make them long enough to extend to the outside edges of the support frame. The lid will cover the whole top so you want it even all the way around.
Corrugated metal for roofing. This will get hot but you do not have to paint it or stain it every other year. Make sure you drill two holes in the front and back of the hive to help with air flow. In the winter time you can place a cork in the holes to help keep the bees warm. In colder places you can place spray foam in the holes to keep the cold air out. You can either tie down the corrugated metal with rope or just set a couple of rocks on top. Since it is corrugated, there is plenty of ventilation as well. One sheet from The Home Depot is big enough to make covers for both hives. (In this demonstration, a stand to hold up the top bar so you can look at the comb—the bees comb mimicked the shape of the drum half.)
*Note: all pictures are taken from an article, Barrel Top Bar Hive, on Robo’s World website, http://robo.bushkillfarms.com/beekeeping/barrel-top-bar-hive/.
You need to put a little bit of wax on the top bar so the bee know where to start building comb, but other than that you have just made a hive from stuff that is commonly throw way. This is a great way to save drums, even metal ones, and use for something other than a trash can. It’s a great home for your bees, and keeps the dump free of landfill.
As a survival person, I have done 12 hives this way. The cost is none and most of the time is only a few hours to build. I have found that metal drums work the best. That way the heat does not warp the hive and it will keep its shape.
Now remember a hive is a box with something for the bees to build comb off of. Here are a few different ones I have done as well and all seem to make good homes for bees.