Building a beehive – national, modified national and 14×12 hive types explained

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Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Beekeeping advice, Making a beehive | Posted on 10-05-2011

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As a b2b writer I’ll occasionally get the urge to revisit an article and tweak it. A word or a sentence will start to bother me. So I’ll change it. And then the paragraph it sits in won’t work as well. So I’ll swap it around, only to find that doing that messes up the ending. Before you know it I’ll have cut and pasted the thing to shreds and found that I’ve had to start over again practically from scratch.

My first homemade beehive, completed in the summer of 2010, is back in pieces on the garage floor.

It didn’t have a varroa mesh floor, which wasn’t the end of the world, but it struck me as sensible to provide it with one before installing a colony. More significantly, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted it to remain a modified national. And I didn’t like the roof. And, well, I’m not terribly good at sawing wood in straight lines so wasn’t convinced about some of the gaps between brood chamber and super. And then I bought a tin of bee-friendly beehive paint and thought that I should probably use it to cover up the untested Sadolin Classic Wood Protection Colourless Base I’d already coated it in.

All that said, my haphazard approach should at least reassure any DIY beekeepers contemplating making their own beehives: believe me, if I can do this stuff, you can.

modified national plus 14x12 eke and frames

A modifed national brood chamber, together with eke to convert it to a 14x12, plus national DN4 frame (left) and 14x12 frame (right) for comparison. I'll fix the eke permanently to the underside of the brood chamber.

Let’s focus on perhaps the most serious problem. I chose the ‘modified national’ design because, well, I was given a set of plans. And because the ‘national’ remains the most popular type of beehive in England. Interestingly, it isn’t the most popular hive type among experienced beekeepers in these parts (north Essex). We’re surrounded by fields of yellow oil seed rape – as anyone who’s driven up the M11 couldn’t fail to spot. The bees love it and they make lots of honey out of it. Local, more experienced, beekeepers therefore tend to favour the ‘14×12’, sometimes referred to as the ‘national 14×12’.

Now if you’re wondering what the differences are between a ‘national’ beehive, a ‘modified national‘ and a ‘national 14×12’ you’re not alone. I searched high and low before being told the answer.

A ‘national’ beehive, sometimes also referred to as a ‘standard national’, has a brood box measuring 460mm x 460mm x 225mm externally. So does a ‘modified national’. The only difference between the two is that a ‘standard national’ has a double-thickness wall on two sides (the sides that carry the frames). The ‘modified national’ has L-shaped rails top and bottom, connected to the side walls (see photo above). The top rail carries the frames. The bottom rail extends outwards to line up with the floor. As a consequence the ‘modified national’ can be made with four walls of uniform thickness. The ‘national 14in x 12in’ shares the 460mm x 460mm footprint, but is a lot deeper – 315mm deep to be precise. It can therefore take taller frames, which means more brood and, ultimately, more honey. Whoever came up with the idea of mixing imperial and metric measurements was clearly having a laugh.

All three hive types share the same floor, super and roof dimensions. The differences only affect the brood chamber. Both the ‘national’ and ‘modified national’ brood chamber can be converted to a 14×12 by means of an ‘eke’ – a 460mm x 460mm x 90mm wooden spacer. Which is what I’m now adding.

Many ‘homemade’ hive plans quote internal or (occasionally) external dimensions only, forcing the DIY beehive builder to compensate based on the thickness of the timber they’re using, or compromise based on the standard external dimensions of shop-bought crownboards, queen excluders and floors. The internal dimensions are more important. Get those wrong and either your frames won’t fit or your bees will fill the gaps with brace comb.

national brood chamber dimensions

National brood chamber dimensions: the figures in brackets show the width at the narrowest point, where the frames hang.

That being the case, why did I quote external dimensions? Because if you ask any experienced beekeeper what size a national brood chamber is, chances are those are the measurements they’ll supply. The internal dimensions of the brood chamber are shown in the table above.

And if you think that’s confusing, don’t get me started on brood and super frame types and spacing…

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Slow bee colony build-up in May

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Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Apiguard Thymol, Bee diseases, Beekeeping advice, Varroa destructor | Posted on 04-05-2011

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Something’s wrong. I only have two frames of brood and the bees are very docile. Too docile. Just a couple of miles away Michelle’s colony has nearly filled its second super.

I have varroa. I have wax moth. I appear to have some small red mites, possibly balaustium, which I’m told are harmless to bees but feed on pollen. I may have nosema. It’s always hard to avoid a slight sense of one-upmanship with other second-year beekeepers, but this isn’t quite what I had in mind.

I’ve recently been to several presentations on honey bee diseases and poor colony hygiene, so am trying to remain objective and to not fall into the trap of transposing it all to my beehive. But I’ve seen the varroa, the wax moth and the balaustium (if that’s what they are). Granted, not in any great numbers: less than one varroa a day, and two wax moths and five balaustium in total. Hardly an epidemic. There’s no sign of dysentery to indicate nosema, and no melted larvae to point to European Foul Brood. The queen is present and laying. I have eggs, larvae, capped brood and newly hatched bees, as well as uncapped stores and pollen. But I have only two frames of brood. Four frames of brand new foundation remain untouched.

It might be the queen. Michelle’s colony swarmed on Friday. On Monday we opened her hive to take a look and found 6-8 queen cells the size of Cadbury’s Crème Eggs. Interestingly, we also found the old queen amid a small heap of writhing workers on the next door neighbour’s driveway. She looked absolutely knackered (the queen, not the next door neighbour), which you could forgive her as the colony itself had bees spilling out from every quarter. They were pinging off our veils. All frames were heaving under the weight of stores, eggs, larvae and capped brood, while drones the size of my thumb stomped about looking ready to pounce – which I guess they were.

So what’s with my bees? I even cut the hedge to give them more sunlight.

Last Tuesday I ran into Robert, my bee guru. He suggested I had nothing to lose by going for a little shock and awe. Apiguard for the varroa, Fumidil B for the nosema (as it will do no harm even if it isn’t present), and an uncapping tool and no mercy for the wax moth. The red mites will sort themselves out, he said.

I’m going in…

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