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The Anatomy Of A Honeybee Hive

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.

Bottom Boards

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.

Hive Bodies

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

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

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

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.

Inner Covers

The inner cover serves as a barrier between the outer cover and the hive itself. It helps the bees with climate control, and if you remove the outer cover it can work as a top entrance as well.

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.

Outer Covers

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.

Wrapping Up

That’s it for today. Stay tuned for some of my thoughts on the economics of beekeeping soon!

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5 Responses to The Anatomy Of A Honeybee Hive

  1. I would highly recommend that organic beekeeping be looked into. We do not yet have bees but there is a wealth of information supporting organic , sustainable agriculture and the health of bees and garden.

    We also make sure we have plenty of mason bee houses. These are native pollinators that do a much better job than honey bees. They do not produce honey but are vital to most crops. The houses are easy to make and the kids love to help. These houses should be on the to-do list of any gardener. Without these little helpers most gardens fail.

    • For the most part, you don’t need to have a permit.

      Many urban areas have specific restrictions you’ll need to abide by if you are in town, and most states have some rules to abide by. Washington State, for example, requires you to register your hives but you don’t need to buy a license or anything.

      Most areas have a beekeepers association or club that can help you with legality/fee issues for your specific location.