Layens Hive

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Among the many different hive configurations available to beekeepers, let me introduce you to the Layens Hive. With origins dating back to the late 19th century, French beekeeper, Georges de Layens yearned to develop a hive that was more in harmony with the bees. In recent years, the Layens Hive has experienced a resurgence in popularity among beekeepers worldwide.

Horizonal layens hive design with two front entrances.

Advocates for the Layens Hive are drawn to its practical advantages and how this type of beehive aligns with sustainable and natural beekeeping. Yet, no hive is “best” – you have to find what is best for you.

Overview of the Layens Hive Design

One of the most notable facts about the Layens hive is that it is a horizontal beehive. It is typically a single long box.

This differs from the industry standard Langstroth hive that consists of vertically stacked boxes. Two  ½” high horizontal slits serve as openings to the Layens Hive– they may be on one long side or one on each end.

Today’s Layens hive holds 20 large frames (13” x 16” deep). The hive can have more or less frames (12-30+) depending on the honey flow in the regions where they are used.

A solid bottom board protects the hive from drafts and pests and predators. Some beekeepers add sections of screened bottoms to aid in hive ventilation.

A removeable roof protects the interior from weather and keeps the colony safe and dry.

When constructed properly, the Layens hive has thick walls. This combined with the horizontal orientation, help regulate temperature and humidity levels within the hive, ensuring the colony’s comfort and survival.

Advantages

The theory is that this hive design is more in tune with the natural tendencies of honey bees. Hence, the goal of the Layens hive is to allow the bees to exist in an more natural environment with minimal beekeeper intervention. There are some undeniable advantages to this system.

  • enhanced insulation properties
  • larger spans of comb building
  • fewer disturbances to the colony (minimal inspections)

Disadvantages

Yet no hive style is the perfect fit for every beekeeper or location. There are obvious disadvantages to using the Layens hive.

  • difficulty in finding mentors who use the same hive in your area
  • hives are large and heavy – difficult to move
  • most honey extractors can not handle the large frames
  • adding a box for additional space is not feasible

Common Challenges and Solutions

Here are some of the common challenges of this hive design.

  • cross-combing
  • overwintering in extreme climates
  • ventilation

Cross-combing occurs when bees build comb across multiple bars. This is a bit more involved than extra burr comb. Cross comb makes hive inspections difficult. Monitor colonies during comb construction and ensure that the bars are evenly spaced.

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Even though they provide more insulation than standard hives. Layens hives can be a challenge in areas with long, harsh winters. Food is stored along a horizontal path instead of directly overhead the cluster.

If the bees do not move across the frames to food stores, they may die during cold weather. Consider using sugar cakes for bees or fondant on the top bars.

Poor beehive ventilation is the death of any colony. Ensure that your Layens hive has good ventilation – a couple of ventilation holes in the hive body or roof may be sufficient. These should be periodically cleaned to prevent obstruction.

Beekeeper inspecting frames from various beehive styles.

Comparisons to Other Hive Styles

Management of a Layens hive is similar to other hive styles in some respects. While the idea of less interference is admirable, this does not mean that you can be completely hands off. You still need to monitor colony conditions and health.

To better understand what makes the Layens hive different from other popular hive designs – lets compare it to the two most popular – the Langstroth hive and a regular Top Bar Hive. I will discuss the major differences in design and more importantly management.

Layens Hive vs Langstroth Hive

Design

Layens hive: The Layens Hive features a horizontal layout in some regions – only top bars are used and the bees build natural comb. Other beekeepers do use frame and possible foundation.

But, typically the comb area has larger dimensions than the Langstroth Hive, that facilitate brood rearing and honey storage.

Langstroth hive: The Langstroth Hive has a vertical design of stacked rectangular boxes with removable frames that hang vertically. This modular design allows for easy expansion and manipulation of hive components.

Management

Layens hive : Management of the Layens hive has an emphasis on minimal intervention and natural beekeeping practices. The horizontal layout and larger comb area reduces the need for frequent inspections and frame manipulation.

Langstroth hive: Langstroth hives offer greater flexibility and scalability in terms of hive management, with standardized frame sizes that enable efficient honey extraction and colony expansion.

However, the vertical configuration of this hive requires more heavy lifting. And the necessity to address issues such as use of a queen excluder (or not) and management of the bee brood boxes.

Frame of comb from top bar hive vs wooden frame from a layens hive both covered with bees.

Layens Hive vs Top Bar Hive

Construction and Comb Management

Layens Hive: There are a couple of modified plans for Layens hives in different parts of the world. In general, they feature a solid hive body with either frameless bars that guide natural comb construction or large frames that can be used with foundation. The horizontal orientation and continuous comb strips allow bees to build larger areas of comb

Top Bar Hive: Top Bar hives also consist of a single horizontal box. They use sloped bars as guides for comb building. As the bees construct comb downward from each bar careful management is required to prevent cross comb from forming.

Accessibility

Layens Hive: One of the best features of the Layens hive design is the easy accessibility for the beekeeper. The horizontal layout allows easy manipulation of comb strips with no heavy lifting. In general, the maintenance requirements are minimal due to fewer components to manage.

Top Bar Hive: Top-Bar Hives require careful management of comb alignment and spacing to prevent issues such as comb collapse or attachment to neighboring bars or the sides of the box. This is especially true in the beginning and may be difficult for novice or beginning beekeepers to manage.

FAQs

What is a Layens beehive?

The Layens hive design is a long horizontal hive that consists of one box that holds 13-20 large frames (13” x 16” deep on average).

What makes the Layens Hive different from other hive types like Langstroth or Top-Bar hives?

The Layens hive is a horizontal beehive with larger frames than a standard Langstroth hive. This gives the queen more room to lay in a larger area of comb surface.

Does the Layens Hive use frames?

In some regions, beekeeper do not use frames or foundation inside the Layens hive – allowing the bees to build natural comb. However, some beekeepers do use large wood frames with wax foundation.

How do I harvest honey from a Layens Hive?

Harvesting honey from a Layens Hive typically involves methods such as crush-and-strain or comb slicing.

A Final Word

The idea of less interference is admirable. However, whether or not the Layens Hive design is right for you depends on many factors. If you are not inspecting the colony as often – will you miss major problems?

There is no perfect beehive. If you choose one of the less popular options (like the Flow Hive) or this design by our favorite French botanist – find a support group of beekeepers in your region to help you.

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