Hive stands

The humble hive stand … so often ignored, overlooked or taken for granted. Hive stands fulfil an important function in the apiary. If designed properly they help both the beekeeper and the beekeeping.

In contrast, the bees themselves probably gain relatively little, though there are some benefits for the bees from using well-designed or constructed hive stands.

Function

The clue is in the name. The hive stand is the platform or support upon which the hive, er, stands. In terms of function they:

  • Raise the hive off the ground
  • Provide a sturdy and secure (and possibly even level) base for the hive
  • Are a convenient site to place things that would otherwise get lost in the grass or tripped over
  • Provide some clear working space around a hive for colony manipulations

Do the bees care about any of these things?

No.

Why not? Well, we could get into a philosophical discussion here about sentience in honey bees and whether they ‘care’ about anything. However, it’s probably easier to simply state that none of these things make any real difference to the bees within the hive.

They’re perfectly happy on the ground or, as below, on a pallet. There are thousands of bee hives sitting on pallets across the country. Bee farmers routinely use pallets, often with four hives in a square, each facing in different directions.

Hives on a pallet

Hives on a pallet

The pallet provides a relatively flat platform 1, it prevents weeds growing directly across the hive entrance and it is reasonably stable. It’s a perfectly adequate solution … unless your apiary is prone to flooding.

Where did Noah keep his bees? In his Ark hive.

Where did Noah keep his bees? In his Ark hive.

My first research apiary was near a burn that flooded every winter. And most summers. We very quickly learnt that we couldn’t safely keep hives on pallets during any month of the season where it rained a lot i.e. any month of the season, since this is Scotland 😉

Beekeepers back

Many beekeepers develop bad backs. Hive inspections involve lots of lifting – hopefully of heavy supers – and bending over. Although you can inspect colonies on pallets from a kneeling position it’s not something I enjoy 2.

Therefore, if I’m going to be standing, it helps if the hives are closer to me than they’d be on a pallet.

Almost all of my hives are on hive stands of some sort or another.

Decisions, decisions

If you are building (perhaps too grand a word for most of the stands I use … cobbling together?) hive stands there are a few design decisions to be made.

  • One or more hives per stand?
  • Dimensions – primarily height above the ground and, sometimes, depth
  • Achieving the sweet spot that balances strength, cost and weight
  • How to make them level, or to provide a level platform in an uneven apiary

Single stands are fine, though they perhaps lack flexibility. They do little other than separating the hive from the ground. Most of the equipment suppliers sell them, some with inbuilt landing boards which is a nice touch, though unnecessary.

Stand and integral landing board

Stand and integral landing board …

I’ve got a handful of these but they tend to get used for bait hives or as a last resort. Firstly, they’re a bit too low for me, only lifting the hive about 25cm above the ground. Secondly, they provide no ‘work area’ around the hive.

The advantage of a single hive stand is that the colony inspection cannot disturb any other colonies on the same stand. There’s nothing else on the stand to get jarred, bumped or disturbed. However, with care during inspections and calm bees, the benefits of a double (or more) hive stand outweigh the risk of disturbing a second colony.

I therefore prefer double or treble hive stands. Many of my hives are on double stands (on the right in the image below). This was an entirely pragmatic design decision as I’d managed to scrounge a pile of pressure-treated 1 metre pieces of wood from an unfinished fencing project.

The apiary in winter ...

The apiary in winter …

I cut one fence panel in half to make the end pieces, with four others to make the sides and support rails. With four 3×2″ legs from pressure-treated decking joists (also scrounged) and a handful of screws these cost almost nothing and have worked very well.

Ironically, they’re ideal for one hive … this leaves space for the various colony manipulations.

Inevitably, most have two hives on them 🙁 Or three poly nucs.

Six poly nucleus colonies on hive stands

Lots of poly nucs …

Bigger is better

These double stands are easy to move about. They fit in the back of my small car. However, once you start making treble hive stands things get a bit heavy.

And a bit cumbersome.

Moving hive stands

Moving hive stands

If they’re built strongly enough to take three full hives (perhaps 250+ kg at the height of the season) they might also need intermediate legs for support 3.

As an alternative you can assemble hive stands on site from breeze blocks and horizontal bars. Again, a fencing project came to my rescue and I managed to get several 2.5m metal uprights that are immensely strong and make excellent rails to stand the hives on.

Breeze blocks and metal rails

Breeze blocks and metal rails

These are very effective as hive stands. Inexpensive, strong, big/wide and ‘bombproof’. Wooden rails are fine as well, but need to be substantial for multiple hives.

A collapsed hive stand does not make for happy and contented bees 🙁

Height and depth

The height of a hive stand is a personal choice. What fits me – standing 6’1″ in my wellies and beesuit – is probably too high for a slightly built beekeeper a foot shorter. I like the top bars to be about the same height as a roof stood on its edge i.e. ~17-20 inches.

This is because that’s often exactly where the roof ends up … leaning against the hive stand.

Three 140mm breeze blocks place the top rails of the stand just under 17″ from the ground, which is close enough for me.

Depth i.e. front to back distance, of the top of the stand should (obviously) be the depth of the hive. Any more and it can cause problems with the sublimators that need to be inverted during use.

However, what’s more important is the separation of the horizontal rails that support the hive. This is an ideal place to hang frames temporarily while you conduct inspections. Very low hive stands and very deep frames don’t mix well.

The steel fencing post and breeze blocks hive stands (above) have too narrow a gap for hanging frames. It can be done – and regularly is done – but they have to be placed at an acute angle.

A bit wider would be better

A bit wider would be better

In our bee shed the hive stands are higher than usual as we spend a lot of time with the hives open and this saves bending down too much. The colonies also get far fewer supers, so rarely get unmanageably tall.

The space immediately below the hive stands is used for storage, but there’s still sufficient space between the hives to hang frames on the horizontal rails that are 15 inches apart.

Bee shed hive stands

Bee shed hive stands

On the level

There are dozens of hive stand designs available, some simple – like those above – and some much more complicated. There are clever stands with folding legs that make transportation easier. I’ve not used these so can’t comment.

Apiaries very rarely have level ground … the paving slabs in the photos above are properly levelled, but very much the exception. However, hives generally need to be reasonably level. If you’re using foundationless frames they must be almost perfectly level perpendicular to the orientation of the top bar or the comb will be drawn at an angle to the top bar.

Try topping up a Miller feeder with a couple of gallons of syrup in a sloping hive …

Very few stand designs provide an easy way to level the hives … but here’s one that does. Calum, a regular contributor of comments on this site, sent me this photo some time ago. This hive stand is built using adjustable galvanised steel scaffolding feet as ‘legs’.

Scaffolding 'feet' for legs

Scaffolding ‘feet’ for legs

This is a neat solution. It probably needs some additional cross-bracing but is easy to dismantle and transport, and easy to level. The only thing stopping me from trying some like this is the cost of the base plates and screw jacks. These are widely available and on eBay are £35-45 for four. Lyson make something similar but, because it’s specifically for beekeeping, it costs $80 4.

If you know of a less expensive source please add a comment below.

Finally, I like my stands to have crossbars i.e. going from front to back between the rails. You can see some in the photo of the two hive stands on the hivebarrow. Most of my double stands are similarly set up. These crossbars provide a convenient secure point to put a strap around, effectively tying the hive to the stand. For poly nucs in particular this is essential if your apiary is exposed and windy.


 

Footnotes

  1. Though not necessarily level.
  2. I don’t feel as if I have sufficient manoeuvrability and my knees are pretty dodgy from a combination of old age, sports injuries and general misuse.
  3. I should add that the legs on the treble stands in the photo above are also from scrounged wood from a fencing project – they’re really too substantial, but it was either use them or <eek> pay for something else.
  4. The UK importer for Lyson doesn’t currently list a price for this item.

12 thoughts on “Hive stands

  1. Stephen Auty

    As you’re on the subject of stands and with the Asian Hornet in mind, there is much evidence that the AH hawks underneath raised hives and pops up and snatched the incoming / outgoing bees.
    While there is some suggestion under floor entrances help, they are not immune either and in France they have ended up putting a ‘skirt’ of fabric around the stands to stop the practice

    Of course 3/4 sturdy pallets stacked may help prevent this behaviour IF the AH doesn’t like flying through the pallet akin to Luke Skywalker inside the Death Star !

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Interesting … thanks Stephen
      Other than the ‘Livingston stowaway’ we’re mercifully free of AH incursions in Scotland. At the moment at least.
      I wonder if – like bees – AH’s don’t like flying through mesh. Bees will usually fly over chain link fencing or even quite large mesh chicken wire. If that’s the case a simple skirt of chicken wire around the hive stand might be sufficient. Whatever the Luke Skywalker-like flying abilities of the AH are, I’ll still prefer my hives to be at a manageable height to save my back.
      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  2. Emily

    I’ve been thinking about hive stands recently because I’ll need another one to do artificial swarms next year. Thornes cost anything from £15 unassembled to £78 (!) for a double. My husband made me my current double one but may not have time next year. Pallets are a good idea as I’m a shortie.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Eek!
      £78? I’ve got a stack of unused double stands outside at the moment. I’d better go and lock them up. I’d be surprised if they cost 78p each – for the screws and Cuprinol wood preservative. Pallets work fine in terms of having a clear flat(wish) area to work, but I do like the ability to hang a frame from the stand as I do inspections. On pallets I end of standing the frame balanced on the lug and the side of the hive, and then knock it over with my clumsy flailings. You can tuck them up safely in a two-frame nuc box, but that’s overkill for a quick inspection.
      Of course, there are several ways to do an artificial swarm vertically … a split or a Demaree for example. However, if you like the idea of pallets because of your height, you could struggle with one of these towers 🙂
      The breeze blocks with a couple of strong wooden or metal beams take a lot of beating … or how about a milk crate?!
      Milk crate hive stand and bait hive

      Reply
      1. Emily

        Yes best lock those hive stands up before I come and pinch them! Now where am I going to get a milkcrate? I do have a milkman… but as I’m tucked up in bed at 4am there aren’t many opportunities for conversation. Like the estate agent sign posing in the photo, presumably waiting to be made into varroa boards!

        Reply
        1. David Post author

          Waste not, want not 🙂
          That was the ‘For Sale’ sign for the house we first bought when we moved to Scotland. I placed that bait hive in the little courtyard garden and ten days later a swarm arrived. I’ve had swarms to the same location every year since. I think the Correx sign eventually got converted into the slide for a Cloak board.
          I wouldn’t bother the milkman … milk crates are a little on the small side for stability 🙁

          Reply
  3. Nicola

    As always, a really interesting read even about, as someone else wrote, a mundane subject. But one important to get right. Thank you for a great article.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Thanks Nicola
      I think the main thing to realise is that there are loads of ways to get this right … but some slightly better than others 😉
      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  4. fred

    I use old car tyres …bit of thin wood tucked into front = landing board…..disappointed look of visitors expecting a pretty white hive at the aesthetics never fails to please me

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Fred
      I should have included car tyres … I’ve seen them used very effectively. Thanks. I also agree that there’s often a chasm of difference between the public expectation of an apiary – a neat line of bright white WBC hives – and the reality:

      Not all hives are WBC's

      Cheers
      David

      Reply

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