Backyard Beekeeping As A Family Activity

Is beekeeping a good family bonding activity?

No cell phones, no iPads, just family interaction at the hive.
What better way to teach your children about the importance of family interaction, social structure, and environmental responsibility?
The perfect family activity.

What Is The First Step In Starting Backyard Beekeeping?

The very first step in considering backyard beekeeping as a family activity is to make sure no one in your family is allergic to bee stings.
The next step in starting a backyard beekeeping as a family activity is to get the family to say “yes” to the idea.
Present the idea of beekeeping as a family activity using the following three sentences. The number of family members that agree to participate in this family activity will be surprising.

  • Everybody knows we all need to be kind to the environment.
  • And everybody says how important it is to do things as a family.
  • Would it be OK if we looked into backyard beekeeping as a family activity to improve the environment?

Please remember, every family member is not required to be an enthusiast or even involved. If the uninterested family member does not feel pressure to participate, the odds of them becoming engaged after the fact, at least a little, are extremely good. Truth is, even if no one except you is interested in backyard beekeeping, the odds of other family members becoming curious are pretty good.
Of course, the bigger the family the more likely others in the family will be interested in beekeeping.
Don’t forget to include the extended family as well. What a great opportunity to include grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends.
Your kids will be anxious to share their newfound information with their friends, which will build your child’s self-esteem.

What Are The Step By Step Instructions For Setting Up My Backyard Beekeeping Project?
Decide on how many hives:

Most beekeepers recommend stating with a minimum of two honeybee hives.
There is a risk of hive failure, so to be sure that your family hobby is not squelched in the first year by starting with two hives.

Select a hive site:

It is very important to select your beehive site correctly the very first time.
There is an old saying “Move a beehive less than three feet or more than three miles”
Honey bees navigate by memorizing their terrain down to the nth degree.
Moving the hive more than three feet can thoroughly confuse the honeybee and they can die because they cannot find the hive.
If a hive is moved more than three miles, the honeybee will completely re-orient itself to the new terrain and there should not be a problem.
Ideally, above the equator, hives should face as close to the southeast as possible.
Afternoon shade can help reduce the bee’s energy expenditure to keep the hive cool in the summer.
Also, take into consideration how much space you will need to get to the beehive to service the hive or to harvest the honey.
And remember, bees require a takeoff and landing flight path of several feet in front of the hive. Do not place the hive in a position that people will be entering the flight path.

Decide on what kind of hive you want:

There are several different kinds of honeybee hives, each with their own unique qualities.

Langstroth Hive:

Way back in the mid-1800’s Lorenzo Langstroth made two critical observations of bee habits that lead him to the design of his beehive, a design that remains a favorite to this day.
The two observations Langstroth made were:

  • Honeybees fill any crack in the hive that is ¼ inch or less with glue they made which is called propolis. Propolis is a very effective glue and that is why beekeepers use a special tool to break the frame away from the hive when removing the frame from the hive.
  • Honeybees build a very organized honeycomb structure if the honeycombs have between1/4 inch and 3/8 inch between the honeycombs. Honeycombs greater than 3/8 inch apart tend to cause the honeybees to build excessive disorganized honeycomb that is frequently attached to the honeycomb next to it.

Based on these observations, Lorenzo Langstroth designed his first beehive in 1851 using vertical frames as a structural base upon which honeybees can build their honeycomb.
A Langstroth hive is expanded by adding addition story to the top of the hive.

Warre Hive:

In nature, honeybees frequently select an old hollowed out a tree to build a new colony.
They enter the hollow tree and start to build their honeycomb downward inside the tree.
This is what Abbe Emil Warre had in mind when he designed the Warre hive.
The Ware hive starts with a bigger box frame than the subsequent smaller boxes that are added to the bottom of the hive for expansion.
The Warre hive has horizontal “bars” or “slats” at the top of each story of the hive upon which the bees start to build their honeycomb downward into the boxes below the top story. The hollow lower stories of the hive simulate the hollow tree. There is no frame structure in this type hive, the bees make their own freeform frame which hangs from the slats.
Hive expansion is accomplished by adding additional stories to the bottom of the hive.
One drawback to this design is the weight of the hive that has to be lifted to add additional stories, not a hive for the “weak of back” crowd.

Top Bar Hive:

Top bah hives (AKA: TBH) are the easiest to maintain and harvest from but they have no expansion capabilities.
THB is a one level hive, wider than Langstroth or Warre hive, and holds normally twenty-four “bars” or “slats” at the top of the hive. Like the Warre hive, the honeybees build their honeycombs downward freeform in a Top Bar Hive.
Top bar hives set up off the ground at a height of the beekeeper’s discretion, frequently between 18 and 30 inches above the ground. This height makes it much easier for the beekeeper to access the hive for maintenance and harvesting, and the one that makes the most sense for people of less strength, such as children and elders. The top usually opens on hinges, another plus for the beekeeper.

The Flow Hive:

The Flow Hive is the newest of all the beehive designs. It is designed for maximum observation of the working bees in the hive, but more importantly, it was designed to eliminate the time and effort needed to harvest the honey, the most time-consuming aspect of beekeeping.
As a family activity, Flow Hives tend to eliminate many of the family bonding aspects of beekeeping achieved with other types of beehives, and it is not well suited for building the hive as a family project either.
Many established beekeepers have a strong dislike of the Flow Hive.

Buy Your Bee Hive Or Built It?

Now that you have decided on what type of hive suites your needs best, why not start the family hobby by building your own beehive?
For those of you with enough of the DIY skills, there are several YouTube tutorial videos on how to build your own beehive, some for about $20.

Bee Hive Stand:

Beehives need to be up off the ground to protect both the bees and the beehive.
If you are handy enough to build your own beehive you certainly can build your own bee hive stand.
There is a controversy over whether or not the beehive needs to slope to the front. This controversy arises because the answer is different depending on what kind of bottom board you are using. If you are using a solid bottom board, the hive does need to slope forward to promote rain runoff and prevent water from standing in the hive.
For hives with a screened bottom board, no sloping is required.

Protective Gear And Hive Tools you will need to consider purchasing:
  • Jacket With Hat Veil or complete bee suit.
  • Gloves
  • Smoker
  • Hive Tool
Bee Jacket/Suit:

Most beekeepers use bee jacket/suit and head protection. Sometimes the jacket/suit and the hood are two different pieces of equipment; sometimes the bee hood comes attached to the jacket/suit.
One piece suits are more expensive but highly desirable. Make sure to select a hood that gives you an excellent visual field up, down and sideward. The suit (or pants) needs to have a good seal at the ankles as bees will tend to fall to the ground during maintenance or harvest and when on the ground, they tend to climb. Be sure they don’t climb up your leg on the inside of the suit. Good news is, if they do climb up your leg, they can only sting once!

Bee Gloves:

The old leather bee glove is still a favorite among beekeepers but in recent times lighter weight gloves with more flexibility have been gaining in popularity.


When choosing a hive smoker you want to consider these factors:

  • Does it have a heat protection cage?
  • Is it durable stainless steel material?
  • Does it have a mounting hook?
  • Are the bellows easy to use?
Hive Tool:

Beekeepers need a hive tool to break the propolis bond between the honeycomb frame and the beehive. Honeybees use propolis (glue) to seal everything in the hive.

So after reading this article, and deciding beekeeping would be a good family bonding activity, there is just one more thing to do before starting the process of becoming a beekeeping family:

Do I Need Permits For Backyard Beekeeping?

Depends on where you live.
In this day and age it seems like everything is regulated, sometimes down to the color of your home. Beekeeping regulations are usually passed and enforced by the city in which you live.
Most legal minds agree that if your city regulations do not speak to beekeeping activities, then it is permissible to have backyard beehives.
For a quick answer, try Googling “beekeeping in your city” and you will frequently find links to your city’s website page that answers this question.
For a more definitive answer, contact your city planning commission and ask the question.
If you live in a city or county that has a BeeKeeping society, contact them, they will almost certainly have your answer.

Happy BeeKeeping

Paying It Forward

Robert Donaldson

I am Elizabeth's father, a physical therapist, and someone who has completely landscaped our family home's nearly 1/2 acre lot after losing our home and landscape to the Thomas wildfire in 2017. All landscaping was done to accommodate our wildlife friends, especially the birds and bees.

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