Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Breaking Down a Honey Bee Langstroth Hive

When you start out in beekeeping it can seem pretty daunting how many different setups and how many varieties of tools there are available. Here at Brushy Mountain Bee Farm we try to not only to provide a wide variety of tools for each beekeepers preference but also information to help better understand the beekeeping process.

When it comes to beekeeping, of course the most important part are the bees, but you can’t have bees without a hive. There are many elements to a complete honey bee hive. Some parts are a necessity while others are beneficial but not required.

Starting from the top of the hive,

here are all the parts you might find:

HIVE TOP: A hive top is necessary to seal the hive and provide protection from the elements. Two standard types of hive tops are the flat telescoping top and the A-Frame top. We manufacture our A-Frame top with a solid copper roof to make for an elegant garden piece but this design does have functionality as well. The weight of the Copper top prevents the hive top from blowing off during high winds, whereas, the telescoping top requires the beekeeper to place a weighted item on top to secure it down. The hive top has an overhang to prevent rain from seeping into the hive. 

INNER COVER: This is the barrier between your hive boxes and the hive top. The inner cover provides a flat ceiling to help control the bees buildup as well as make it easier to remove the hive top. Bees will secure the hive by "gluing" equipment together using propolis. Without the use of an inner cover, beekeepers would end up pulling apart their hive tops in order to inspect their hives. In addition to being a barrier, the inner cover creates dead air space for insulation against heat and cold and can also be used as an additional entrance via the hole in the center and grooved opening on the side.

FRAMES and FOUNDATION: While everything else is the shell of the hive, the frames are where life happens. Everything a colony does, from raising brood to storing pollen, nectar and honey, happen within each frame. Each frame holds a thin sheet of foundation, a hexagonal pattern structure the bees use to store. Foundation can be made of pure beeswax sheets with wire support running through or plastic foundation with a thin layer of beeswax coating. Beeswax foundation without ingrained wire support can also be used, but if you plan to use it, especially on larger frames, you may also want to consider support pins or support rods to help. Once the foundation begins to fill up it can get really heavy, if not supported, could collapse on itself.

HONEY SUPER: This is where the fruits of you & your bee’s labor really show! Bees throughout the season are constantly producing honey to feed not just the present colony but build up surplus for whenever there’s a dearth and the bees are not able to forage for more resources. A colony will need upwards of 50-60 lbs. (roughly one full super) of honey in order to survive through the winter months in a temperate climate. The honey they have stored in abundance to the 50-60 lbs. can be harvested and extracted. Nothing tastes as good as honey from your own hive! The supplies used in a Honey Super are no different than what is used in the rest of the hive. They are called "honey supers" simply because they will be the designated supers to hold the excess honey.

QUEEN EXCLUDER: In order to prevent the queen from moving up into the honey supers and laying eggs in your honey, beekeepers will place a queen excluder above the brood chamber. The precise grooves in these plastic or metal sheets are wide enough to allow worker bees to easily move throughout the hive and narrow enough to restrict the queen. Locate your queen before placing the excluder onto the hive. Ensure she is located below the excluder or your honey supers will quickly become the brood chamber.The queen excluder is a completely optional tool. You will find a lot of beekeepers divided on the importance of it.

HIVE BODY: Your laying queen needs somewhere to lay her brood. That is where a hive body comes into play. Hive bodies are used as brood chambers for the queen to lay her eggs and rearing of new bees. The hive body contains the frames the queen will build the brood chamber. Size-wise, deep hive boxes are most commonly used for brood chambers but there are several beekeepers (including many here at Brushy Mtn) who are using medium supers (same size as the honey supers) for both honey supers and hive bodies. Boxes used for brood chambers are always the lowest boxes of a hive.

ENTRANCE REDUCER: When a hive is healthy and functioning at full force during the summer having plenty of entrance space is great, but when a hive is young or not functioning at its best, it will need a more manageable entrance to guard. With an entrance reducer you can manage the size of the entrance so when the hive is weak it has less of an area to defend from robbing bees and other smaller pests.
BOTTOM BOARD: The ground floor of your hive. A bottom board helps seal the hive from the bottom to avoid excess buildup as well as security from pest trying to get into the hive from below. For generations most bottom boards were solid wood but, in assisting with management of Varroa mites (bloodsucking ticks that leaves bees vulnerable to diseases) in a hive, screened bottom boards have become very popular. Not only do the screen help provide ventilation but it also allows for falling Varroa mites to be completely expelled from the hive. Screened bottom boards also come with a gridded corrugated sheet that you use occasionally to count how many Varroa mites fall out of the hive and decide if a mite treatment is needed to lower a Varroa infestation.

HIVE STAND: The hive stand has three functions. One: It helps elevate the hive off the ground. To help protect it from pest and building moisture you will want your hive at least six inches off the ground. Two: It provides and extended landing platform for your bees so they have more room to maneuver in and out of the hive. Three: It makes your hive look pretty. The hive stand is not a necessity but elevating your hive at least six inches off the ground can help protect your hive.

10-Frame Hive Stand

If you have any more questions regarding our hives, feel free to contact us at or call us at 1-800-BEESWAX (233-7929)

Learn more about the beekeeping supplies.
Learn more about the difference between 8 & 10 Frame hives.

Order one of our Complete Bee-ginner's Starter Kits