The lure of a honeycomb dripping with fresh, amber sweetness sends many a would-be beekeeper to Internet shopping sites, where the cold reality of an expensive hobby awaits them. But apiculture predates even the oldest store catalog, dating back over 4,000 years, and pricey commercial hives needn't stand between an enthusiast and a rewarding hobby. Plans abound for DIY bee boxes that will keep bees buzzing contentedly and thrifty beekeepers smiling over honeypots of happiness.
There are a number of reasons people choose to build DIY beehives to keep bees. Colony collapse disorder -- a recent decline in successful bee populations -- has many scrambling to create inviting environs where the insect kingdom's most effective pollinators can thrive. Gardeners and farmers, for whom pollination is imperative, often keep beehives as an on-site pollinators. And of course honey collection, with its promise of sweetness and hint at prosperity, drives many to establish colonies in their backyards.
A Langstroth box is the most commonly seen beehive, an upright structure that resembles a series of stacked boxes. The Langstroth is composed of four main parts: bottom board (the floor), supers (body), frames and covers. Building a Langstroth requires moderate carpentry skills, appropriate cutting tools, nails and detailed plans (free plans are downloadable at various sites). Though the standard hive design and the easiest beekeeping setup to maintain, construction of a Langstroth hive can take many hours to complete, so reserve ample time for the project.
Top Bar Beehive (Honey Cow)
A top bar bee box, though less popular than the Langstroth due to lower honey yields, has some advantages for the DIY beekeeper as it's relatively simple to make and can be constructed of recycled materials. Resembling a feeding trough or window flower box and nearly as easy to make, the top bar beehive (nicknamed the “honey cow”) requires only limited woodworking skills and chemical-free wood, and it only takes an hour or two to build. Some believe the honey cow is more bee-friendly as well, as it's less invasive and allows bees to define their own space.
Though by no means poised to make a comeback -- and illegal in some areas, as they can't be opened and inspected -- traditional English skeps were the standard in beekeeping for centuries before the Langstroth came along. A skep is an inverted, woven basket made of straw and cane, and it requires both specialized tools and a few days' work to build. Though skeps are impractical compared to the Langstroth or the honey cow, they add an antique visual element to any farm or garden and require ancient techniques that would otherwise be lost to time.
Rodney Wilson is owner and manager of Goldfinch Farm in central Kentucky, where he oversees veterinary and management practices for a diverse group of animals, from dogs and cats to pigs and chickens. He's written professionally since 2001, with articles appearing in such publications as The Cincinnati Enquirer, CiN Weekly, Baby Guide and Akron Life.