beekeeping equipment

Customize a beehive and make it your own

When you customize a beehive it becomes a statement of who you are as a beekeeper. Your beehive becomes a signature that reveals your love of bees and the factors you consider important to their health and well-being in the climate where you live.

I am endlessly fascinated by the unique variations, so when I saw these pictures of the hives belonging to Carol Nelson, I just had to know more. What are all the parts and their purposes? How did she come up with the ideas?

Some of the enhancements, such as the striped landing boards, have been discussed here on the site, but I had all but forgotten about them. But when I saw the photos, it all came rushing back.

I asked Carol to describe her three hives, known as the Submarines (yellow), the Blue Meanies (blue), and the Apple Bonkers (green). The photos were taken in early June, just after she completed a Taranov split on the Blue Meanies and produced the Apple Bonkers.

Bear in mind that Carol lives in Wisconsin, a place with cold and snowy winters. Although your climate may be different, pay attention. You may find an idea to incorporate the next time you customize a beehive of your own.

Carol’s description, going from top to bottom:

Landscaping bricks for weight. I use two lighter weight bricks so I don’t kill my back with one heavy brick. I also offset them so they are easier to get a grip on. It’s also easier to separate them with the hive tool, if frozen, when I pop the lid for refilling sugar cakes in winter. This year I am adding a piece of hardware cloth, maybe a slick waxed plastic, next to the winter tar paper wrap so the bricks don’t rip the tar paper.

I made a top cover that comes out far enough to be a partial awning providing a little protection from rain on the entrance but mostly for snow, which can be fairly deep in this part of the state.

Next is a medium empty super to contain the feeder jars.

The first blue eke is actually the base of the feeder board which has 5 wide-mouth mason jar holes cut into it. I generally use no more than two but put screen over the others, held in with a mason ring, for ventilation. It is not attached to the medium super.

The second blue eke is a solid eke with no entry hole. I noticed my first year back at beekeeping (after 30 years) that the feeder jars sat right on top of the frames which limited access to the syrup. There wasn’t a configuration of jar holes that didn’t, in some way, obstruct access, so I made a solid eke 3/4″ and it solved the obstructed access problem. The bees had plenty of space to access the entire lid surface of each feeder jar. I actually expected a problem with burr comb but when the hives get full of stores and the honey supers go on, I remove the solid eke. If there is any burr comb before then, I scrape it off with the hive tool and eat it!

The upper entrance eke is for ventilation and to get the bees familiar with an upper entrance. I find that this “training” isn’t necessary if the bees have wintered over since they learn the upper entrance route during cleansing flights once the cluster has moved closer to the top than the bottom. I use 1-3 upper entrance ekes when the honey supers go on. It certainly does reduce congestion in the hive during the active foraging season. The solid eke and the entrance eke combined have a 1.5″ free space. I still don’t know why I don’t have issues with burr comb buildup. I refer to this space as the hive rec room. Then again, I could call it the bee barroom since they come up, have a drink, and hang out.

The next blue wide piece is the slatted rack. I use them winter and summer. It’s a bit more space in warm weather and helps cut the draft in winter.

Next blue piece is a back-access screen bottom board. To the front of the screen is an extended landing platform. When it’s very hot I see a lot of bees using the extended landing board when fanning, more fanners than what would fit on a regular configuration. I also use a screen ventilation board on the top of the hive for better summer ventilation (NOT in winter!).

The landing board is painted with directional lines guiding them in. I don’t know if this actually works but it’s fun to look at. I think it may be more functional in a huge apiary with many nearly identical hives. I also try to color code hives for fast identification by the bees which, again, would probably be more useful with many hives, not my 3! But, it was fun so why not? I also put a “roof” over the entrance so it is easier for the guard bees to protect. Yellowjackets can’t sneak in from the top. It also makes it easier for ME to squash the yellowjackets with my hive tool.

The last blue bottom piece is a reversed regular bottom board to hold the mite collection grid for mite monitoring. I coat the mite grid with a combo of 1/2 petroleum jelly and 1/2 mineral oil. The bees don’t come in contact with it and it traps any mites AND the pesky ants.

To the back of the last layer you can see a black piece of fabric pinned to the side with a thumbtack. This fabric is connected in the back and on the other side to a piece of wood I use as a door which opens to access to the mite board without bothering the bees. In hot weather I can open the door to provide ventilation up through the hive. On chilly nights, especially in fall, I keep it snugged in pretty tight using the back cinder block for a little additional pressure.

The hive sits on a board on top of three cinder blocks to keep it off the ground. I have nail boards around two of my hives but not the third. The nail boards, made by actually pounding in rows of nails, has held up well, but the one on the Blue Meanies was made with carpet tack strips and deteriorated after one season. I’m not sure they are even necessary if your hives are up off the ground. If a skunk wants in the above ground level hive, it will have to get up on his back legs, which exposes the vulnerable belly. The bees know what to with a nice soft hairless belly! I have a healthy population of skunks and raccoons but have never seen any signs of either in my bee yard, not even around the hive not protected by a nail board.

The other photos are just to show the landing board patterns. I have tried both leaving the landing boards on and taking them off for winter. If left on the snow builds up and can be a problem with entrance blocking. This year I am leaving the landing boards on but adding a piece of waxed Plexiglas angled from the outside edge of the board back to the hive itself. I am calling this the winter sun room. I am also going to get a small landing board on the upper entrance or maybe just thumb tack a curl of tar paper over the hole. It would be wind protection and gain some additional warmth when the winter sun comes out.

One last thought: I put the solid eke under the quilt (3″ deep and filled with wood chips) for winter so the sugar cakes are available from every direction.

Thanks, Carol, for lots of ideas. If anyone else wants to chime in on how to customize a beehive, I would love to hear it.

Honey Bee Suite

Customize a beehive Carol-Nelson-650

The Blue Meanies live here. © Carol Nelson.


The Submarine hive showing all the components. © Carol Nelson.


Here you can see the landing stripes on the Apple Bonkers. © Carol Nelson.


  • I paint my hives, but I’m feeling a bit lazy reading this – that’s a very pretty looking set of hives. Having the hive parts different colours makes it easy to see what parts are in the hive: queen excluder, crown-board etcs

  • Very elegant designs and paint schemes! I got a good chuckle out of the use of the Yellow Submarine movie character names for the different color hives. I also had to look up the term “eke”!

  • I really like your strips on the landing pad. It made me chuckle and am considering doing the same on my one hive.

  • I’m in MN. I never use any kind of bricks or cement blocks under the hive. It’s just one more place for rodents and hornets. I do use flat paving blocks under the hive which are more stable during the winter freeze and spring thaw. However I do use two rectangular bricks on the tops of the hive. It takes a Patricia level wind to dislodge telescoping covers but even with nothing on top they’re not going anywhere. On a more practical note I rotate the bricks from front to back to left to right as I work through the hives. When juggling supers, frames, bees and miscellaneous it’s easy to forget which you’ve cracked. With a glance I know which ones I’ve been in, messed with, and attempted to proved that my storage logic is better than theirs. For the winter I try to find a bowling ball sized rock for each hive (with one flat side).

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