Think about building a home from the ground up. What’s the first thing to address before you can start adding walls and other structures? The foundation. Level hives are key to a safe and productive life for bees, just as level ground is vital to a sturdy home for people.
Creating an even hive surface is essential for beekeepers. A level hive impacts comb production, hive stability, bee safety, and your ability to work around the hive. Today we’re talking about why a level hive is necessary, and how you can make sure your hive is set up for success. Here we go!
Gravity plays a big role in how bees build comb. That same cosmic phenomenon that keeps our feet on the ground is also to thank for bees’ vertical comb building. Bees naturally build comb in line with the pull of gravity. So, when a hive is level, they create that ideal comb structure beekeepers hope to see when they remove a frame from their hive.
When a hive isn’t level and leans in one direction or another, the bees are thrown off. Instead of building a nice vertical comb, they build their comb in an asymmetrical or undesirable shape. The comb made in an unlevel hive can encroach on adjacent frames, creating a bit of a mess for beekeepers. This is how cross comb happens, or comb that is built between multiple bars. Cross comb can be a significant source of frustration for beekeepers that requires a lot of work to fix. Last week, we talked about how to prevent cross comb and what beekeepers can do to manage it. Level hives are essential to making sure you won’t need to navigate cross comb aftermath.
Gravity can also affect the hive’s ability to support comb when it’s full of the honey that bees work so diligently to produce. Once the bees build their comb and pack its cells with honey, that comb is heavy. Consider this: one pound of comb supports 22 lbs of honey. That’s a lot! Uneven distribution of weight placed on a frame can cause the comb to detach or break off.
The weight of a honey-filled comb can also alter an already-level hive. It can cause the hive to become more unstable or settle into the ground. For this reason, it’s good to periodically assess how level your hives are so you can make sure everything continues to go smoothly inside.
An unlevel hive isn’t just problematic when it comes to building comb. Beekeepers need to be able to safely spend time working with their bees and around the hive. If a hive is positioned on an incline or an unstable surface, it can create difficulty for beekeepers as they go about their business. That’s because an uneven hive site might cause them to lose their footing, or to spend more effort being careful in their movements. Beekeepers should work on a flat surface so they can focus on the work at hand.
Level hives are important to protecting bees from danger. If a hive is unstable, it can tip over if it’s bumped into. A knocked-over hive cause structural damage or create breaks in that hard-earned comb. That sort of disaster could kill bees! We’re all about beekeeping for the bees here, and any precautions to keep them safe should be a priority.
When you’re looking at the best spot to set up your hive, hopefully you’ve already chosen a great site. It should be within a couple of miles of good forage, enjoy good airflow, and get sunshine early in the day. Check out our Bee Yard Setup and Siting Blueprint if you need help figuring out where to put your hive and what will make your bees happiest!
Whether you own a Beepod, another top bar hive, or a Langstroth or Warre, placing your hive on a level surface is crucial for all of the reasons we’ve discussed. Avoid choosing a spot with sloping or slanting, and instead, pick a place that is as even as possible.
You can add things to your chosen surface to create a good, level plane for your hive. Stone, bricks, or wood are some of the materials beekeepers place beneath their hives to give them an even foundation. Some beekeepers use a level tool (you know, the ones with floating bubbles that indicate whether a plane is level) to assess if a surface is up to par. Many will just eyeball the situation and call it a day.
If you’re installing or moving a Beepod, you’ll want to avoid placing the unit on sand or dirt, since the hive’s four legs can sink into that type of material. Laying down gravel or bricks is ideal, and once you position the Beepod, the give of the earth will help to level the hive. Some sources might encourage tipping the front of your hive to allow moisture to drain. We prefer that you keep a Beepod completely level – it drains adequately without any tilting.
A level hive is an easily overlooked aspect of having happy, productive bees, but it’s pretty simple to fix. Make sure you position your hives on flat and even ground. It ensures your bees won’t be tempted to build undesirable comb, you can safely access and work around your hives, and your bees can make themselves at home in a stable and secure environment.