Cedar Beehives to Start

When I started trying to decide which beehive starter “kits” to purchase I discovered that it wasn’t quite as simple as identifying the best package for the price. There’s the issue of wood, frame size, whether to go with deeps for brood or all mediums, and then what type of foundation to use (or whether to use foundation at all).

At first I was overwhelmed by all the choices. So I paused and turned back to Michael Bush’s book, The Practical Beekeeper. I’d purchased it last Fall as the primary resource. I wanted a hard copy of the book because I don’t have high speed internet access at the farm so relying on the blog posts doesn’t work well when I’m there.

I read about Michael’s experiences and recommendations and compared what he said to the products I identified in the catalogs I’d picked up at workshops in 2012.  I also perused discussions on various beekeeping fora, like beesource.com, and read random blog posts I found when searching Google for terms like “foundation or foundationless frames for new beekeeper.”

Back in the Fall 2012 I’d already decided that I didn’t want to paint my hives with traditional cheap latex paints, as recommended in the workshop sessions for beginning beekeepers. The smell of paint bothers me and the volatile organic compounds contained in most regular paints is a proven carcinogen. I knew I was trying to avoid VOCs in my own home and it didn’t make sense to expose the bees to more toxins.  I asked a question about VOCs at a workshop and the speaker looked at me like I was from Neptune and said “you aren’t painting inside the hive.” Well, duh, I knew that. But that doesn’t mean the VOCs from paint are in the environment where the bees live and work.

I spent some time researching environmentally-friendly paints and, in the process, in late April  I discovered a few options for cedar hives.  I’ve used cedar myself for managing insects in my garden and house and appreciate that cedar doesn’t need a chemical finish. Although bees are insects, they don’t seem to have a problem with cedar hives. And it makes intuitive sense to me that cedar hives might be more likely to repeal wax moths and, maybe, even varroa mites and other bad bugs that can carry diseases that put a strain on the colony.

Cedar hives are slightly more expensive, but only slightly more. In fact, after taking into account everything that’s included in the full hive kit I found that the cost difference is relatively insignificant. And if the bees are end up stronger, then I’ll save money in the long run.

One of the things I want to test is whether the cedar hives yield different results than hives from other woods and hives that are painted. So I will definitely try out the cypress and pine options and use different types of finishing compounds. But those tests will come in the future.

For now, I’m starting with Western red cedar. Last Friday, I ordered two hives from Legacy Apiaries in Indiana. One hive without frames and one hive with frames. Both fully-assembled. Received an email that my hives have shipped, so delivery will be in time to get my bees next week.

In the next post I’ll talk about going with all medium boxes and how I made that decision.