Modern beekeeping is generally done in something called the Langstroth Hive. This is a fairly old design, but it has stood the test of time. In a Langstroth Hive bees build honeycomb into frames that are designed to be easily removed from the hive itself. When you see the ‘stacked box’ style of bee hive, that’s a Langstroth hive.
A Langstroth hive starts with a bottom board, one more more hive bodies or honey supers, an inner cover, and a top cover.
There are a ton of other things you can add in as a specialty item, but the stuff above are the basic requirements.
The bottom board is the floor of the hive, and serves also as the landing area. Since it’s a double duty item the bottom board is larger than the hive bodies and supers. Most bottom boards have a shallow side and a deep side. This was originally to help keep the hive warm in winter and cooler in summer, but nowadays most beekeepers use an entrance reducer instead of flipping the bottom board. Hives can weigh quite a bit, so picking them up to flip a board is a pain in the butt.
There are two main kinds of bottom boards. The oldest style is a solid bottom board, though a few years ago many bee keepers started using a screened bottom board instead. The main benefit of a screened bottom board is to allow varroa mites to drop through the screen. Without the screen the mites could just crawl back into the hive and find a new host.
A hive body is a simple wooden box with a standard inside dimension. Both hive bodies and supers have interior dimensions of 14 11/16 inches by 18 5/16 inches. A hive body, also called a deep, is 9 9/16 inches tall and is the largest hive body in common usage.
It is usually only used for the brood chamber because it gets way too heavy if it’s filled with honey. A deep full of honey weighs up to 90-100 lbs.
Rudy’s Note: The brood chamber is the part of the hive where the queen lays eggs and the worker bees care for the larvae.
Honey supers are used to provide the bees with space to stash honey, pollen, and nectar. It gives them room to expand which prevents swarming and keeps the bees happy. There are three main types of honey supers in common usage.
Medium Supers (aka Western Supers)
Western Supers are the largest super in common usage and are 6 5/8 inches tall. They’re a reasonable compromise between weight when full of honey and minimization of the number of supers required for a hive. When full of honey, a Western Super can weigh upwards of 60 pounds.
Shallow Supers are the smallest honey super in common usage, measuring 5 3/4 inches tall. They’re good for beekeepers that don’t want to deal with the weight of a full Western. A shallow weighs up to 45 pounds when full of honey.
Comb supers are a specialty super and aren’t really for honey as much as they are for the creation of marketable or consumable honey comb. They use special frames (we’ll discuss frames in a minute) that make it easier to manage the creation of honey comb. Comb supers are only 4 3/4 inches tall.
Frames and Foundation
A removable beehive frame is the structural element that holds the comb within the hive body. It starts out as a simple frame, and the bees turn it into so much more! You can either use a plain frame and let the bees do what they want or you can use something called foundation to help them out.
Foundation helps the bees create comb in the way you want them to. You can either buy completed comb foundations, wax foundation that only has an pattern for the bees to follow, or even plastic foundation that has a similar pattern.
Rudy’s Tip: You can get a plastic frame that has an integrated plastic foundation. It’s not quite as versatile as a wooden frame, but it’s probably the cheapest option if price is a significant consideration.
You can get foundation with different cell sizes. The most common size is for common worker brood, but you can also get them with larger cells for drone brood.
During the winter time you can also dump sugar on the top of the inner cover and the bees will be able to get to it without getting too cold.
The outer cover fits on top of the hive, and is used as a weather cover for the most part. Most hobbyists use a telescoping cover which extends past the edges of the hive and below the top of the topmost hive body or super. This helps keep the weather out of the hive.
Commercial beekeepers often use a migratory cover which is a solid cover that does not extend past the edges. They use this so they can pack the hives densely onto pallets when transporting them.
That’s it for today. Stay tuned for some of my thoughts on the economics of beekeeping soon!