Learning the Function of Beehive Parts
Can you name all the parts of a beehive and tell their function? Well, don’t feel bad if you can not – at least in the beginning. Beekeeping is one of those activities that comes with a lot of terminology. Different types of equipment, tools, bees, management styles, etc. How can you keep all these beekeeping related supplies straight? Don’t fret just learn more each season.
When a new beekeeper enters the “world of the bee”, there are so many new things to learn. Beekeeping equipment choices can be confusing.
Wanting a proper home for their bees, new beekeepers often worry too much about every little detail.
The structure the colony lives in must be suitable and meet their needs. A beehive is not only a box or structure. It is also the family of bees within it.
If you want to learn how to be a good beekeeper, you need to know your tools. Don’t fret over the unfamiliar names of your beehive equipment.
You will learn in time and some of the items (or tools) available – you may never use. Learn the basic part of your hive and grow from there.
What are the Different Types of Beehives?
Beekeepers worldwide use many different hive designs in their bee yards. And some beekeepers build their own hives or bee boxes.
In the United States, you most often find beekeepers using Top Bar Hives, Warre Hives, or Langstroth Hives. There is no – one perfect hive.
The style you choose may reflect your beekeeping goals. Top Bar Hives are used by many beekeepers who desire pollination.
Langstroth hives are for those hoping to produce a lot of honey. Each hive style has benefits and disadvantages.
The Langstroth Hive Standard
The Langstroth Hive was developed by Reverend Lorenzo Langstroth in the mid 1800’s. He designed this hive building on the work of other bee researchers that came before him.
This hive design was an occasion where the structures inside the hive are the parts that made history. The “Lang” hive featured removable frames.
Removable frames allowed beehive inspections without destroying the honeycomb structure.
Less disturbance to the bees appealed to beekeepers and the Langstroth Hive quickly gained popularity. It is still the most popular hive design in use today.
Parts of the Langstroth Hive
The most common hive in use – most beginning beekeepers start out with a “Lang” hive. The most common hive components are:
- a bottom board (solid wood or partial screen)
- bee boxes – called “supers” that hold frames
- frames of various sizes and usually wax foundation
- an inner cover
- and a top cover
Lang hives feature a top and bottom with a series of vertically stacked boxes. Inside the boxes – wooden frames hold foundation and honey comb.
The boxes (also called supers) provide a place for bees to raise young and store food. Extra boxes are added to hold a honey crop for the beekeeper.
A standard Langstroth hive holds 10 frames. ( 8 frame Langs have risen in popularity.) Beekeepers use many variations of the Langstroth Hive – including a long Lang! But all work on the idea of removable frames.
Choosing a Beehive Configuration
How you choose to set up your Langstroth hive will depend primarily on 2 factors. The climate in which you live and personal preference.
Some beekeepers have a tall stack of boxes and other have less. If there was truly 1 way to successfully set up a beehive, everyone would be doing it that way.
Since that is not the case, there are several setups to try until you find the best one for you and your bees.
Connect with other beekeepers in your area and learn how many boxes their hives need for Winter.
Bee Hive Setup – Basic Beehive Parts You Need
Most beekeepers who live in the Southern US can over-winter bees in a standard configuration of 2 boxes.
One super that is deep sized (or also called Hive Body) and one shallow super for the bees for Winter food storage.
Bottom Board – Base of a Hive
Everything needs a good foundation. The beehive is no exception. Hives can get very heavy. The bottom board is the base part of the hive.
Place your bottom board on a firm surface raised off the ground. A hive stand can help prolong the life of your wood by keeping it off the ground. Paint exposed wooden surfaces!
A Solid Bottom Board features a wooden bottom with no screen. The design of the sides creates a front entrance for the bees when a hive body is added.
Solid bottom boards have been in use for years. They are especially useful in climates that experience very cold winters.
A relatively newcomer on the scene, is the screened bottom board. It is similar in construction to a regular bottom board.
Instead of a full plank bottom, a large area of screen is installed. The wire (size #8) prevents robbing bees and predators from entering the hive bottom.
Originally, the Screened Bottom Board was developed as a soldier in the war against varroa mites.
It was hoped that the screen bottom would allow mites to fall through to the ground and perish.
In reality, research has shown that this bottom board has a very small affect on mite numbers.
If live in a region that experienced hot Summer temperatures. Using a screened bottom board can help keep the hive cooler.
Many Southern beekeepers keep hives are placed in full sun attempting to dissuade Small Hive Beetles.
But this hot location causes the bees to have to work harder in summer to keep the hive cool.
A bottom board with a screen insert, helps with ventilation of the hive. It is also useful when conducting varroa mite counts.
Hive Boxes “Supers” – The Expandable Part of a Beehive
The Deep or Hive Body –(Deep Super)
Several terms are used to name this section of a hive. You will hear it called a : Deep Super, a Deep, a Brood Box or a Hive Body.
This box sits directly on the bottom board. The deep box measures 19 7/8” in length and 16 ¼”wide. You will start out with 1 and add other boxes as needed.
Boxes of the beehive are distinguished by their height. A deep hive box is 9 5/8” tall and will hold brood frames ( 9 1/8″ tall).
Depending on local climate conditions, you may choose to use 1 or 2 deeps. Beekeepers in regions with long cold winters may need 2 deeps to provide enough honey storage space.
However, in addition to being really heavy- there are other concerns with using 2 deeps.
If you have to locate your queen, you have many more square inches of space to inspect.
Also, if you have a large colony in the hive and the population drops unnoticed. You may end up with a pest problem-especially trouble with wax moth larva.
Inside the deep bees raise their young and store food. Honey in this area is for the use of the bees – not the beekeeper.
Each bee box of a Langstroth hive contains removable frames. The number of frames in the deep box (commonly 10 but you may have 8) will become filled with beeswax, food and babies.
These frames can get very heavy so most beekeepers do not prefer to use deep frames for collecting a honey harvest.
Supers – Bee Boxes Medium and Shallow
Medium supers are the same length and width of the other boxes. The height of the medium super is 6 5/8”.
Again, you will choose appropriate sized frames (6 1/4″ tall) to fit inside the box. A medium super gives you just a bit more room for the bees to use.
Mediums do provide a bit more room but that makes them heavier too! They are becoming more popular but are not always available locally.
Shallow supers share the same length and width of the other boxes. Their height measures 5 ¾” ( 5 3/8″ tall frames)
Most beekeepers use shallows to hold their honey crop. A shallow full of honey can get quite heavy but still be manageable.
A common hive set up is 1 deep and 1 shallow – area intended just for the colony. (Perhaps more or larger boxes in colder regions.)
Other shallows will be added for the honey harvest. Hive boxes are one of the most important component parts of your hive. You will need extras.
Frames: The Parts of a Beehive that Hold Comb
Plastic frames are available but wooden frames are still the most common. Each super size will hold a corresponding size frame. Frames will be longer or shorter depending on which super they go into.
Frames are easy to assemble. Be sure to use nails and glue. These frames will experience a lot of stress while being pried from the hive. Proper use of wood glue keeps the frame usable for a longer time.
Foundation In the Hive
Inside the frames, beekeepers install foundation. Foundation is one of the most critical parts of a beehive.
The most common types of foundation are beeswax, beeswax with wire and plastic.
The purpose of foundation is to encourage bees to build straight combs within the frame. This keeps the frames removable – which is the purpose of them in the first place.
Beeswax foundation is made of beeswax and other waxes. We assume it is pure beeswax but that is not always the case.
Beware of cheap beeswax foundation on the market. If it sounds too good to be true, heed the warning.
Plastic foundation is preferred by many beekeepers, especially larger commercial operations. A plastic sheet is made with a honeycomb embossed design.
A layer of beeswax is brushed on the plastic foundation. This encourages the bees to use it. Plastic foundation is durable and easy to install but some bees are reluctant to use it.
You can have beekeeping success with either type of foundation. I suggest you not put new plastic and beeswax foundation in the same box.
The bees will prefer the wax and be slow to work on the plastic. After the wax is build out, the foundation type doesn’t matter as much.
Some beekeepers are proponents of foundation-less beekeeping. This technique has some good points but I don’t recommend it for beginners.
Inner Cover: Part of Beehive that Insulates and Eases Inspections
One of the most versatile parts of a beehive is the inner cover. An inner cover provides correct bee space on top of the hive.
The box underneath the cover will have enough space for bees to move over the tops of the frames. But, it prevents frames from being attached to the outer telescoping top.
This makes opening a hive easier. If the inner cover is stuck, you can insert a hive tool underneath and release the frames.
The inner cover is reverse able. The notch should be up and toward the front during the warm season.
If you desire to use the inner cover for a second entrance, flip the cover over (notch faces down) and slide the telescoping top forward to allow bee access. An oval hole in the center promotes good air ventilation.
Telescoping Top – Roof for the Hive
The most common top used for our beehives is the Telescoping Top. Made of wood and covered with metal, the top has sides that extend for a few inches down the side of the hive.
Sealing the colony well and less likely to blow off, telescoping tops are very useful.
If you really want a special look for your hive, consider the garden hive top!
Parts of a Hive that are Optional
- an entrance reducer – wooden piece to block part of front
- queen excluder – a piece of narrow wires that prevent queen access to the honey supers
- feeders – you need to feed your colony but kit feeders are not necessary
- hive stand – raising the hive up off the ground is good but you can use other types of stands
- slatted racks – placed between the bottom board and the first bee box to provide ventilation and clustering space
These parts of a beehive perform some necessary functions and some will not come with a beekeeping kit. But, a beekeeper will not need all of them.
How Many Beehive Boxes Do I Need?
When you first begin a new hive, start with 1 deep box. As they bees complete comb in this box, prepare to add another.
The size of that second box will depend on the size needed for your climate and beekeeping style.
It is always a good idea to have a couple of extra super boxes on hand. There will come a time when you need one in a hurry.
Final Thoughts on Parts of a Beehive
Don’t forget to paint your beehive for beautification purposes or protection.
Purchase and prepare your equipment weeks prior to bee arrival. This is a good time to add extras such as entrance reducers, feeders and equipment to keep the queen from laying eggs in your honey supers.
During the busy bee season, some beekeeping supplies may be temporarily hard to obtain. Good planning will make your bee season much easier and more enjoyable.
When you understand the function of each part of the hive, you are better equipped to manage your bees.