Parts of a Beehive-What You Really Need
When a new beekeeper enters the “world of the bee”, there are so many new things to learn. . What type of bees should I buy? How do I buy bees? Where should I put my hive? etc. However, beekeeping equipment choices can be confusing too. Understanding the name and function for all the parts of a beehive, is important.
Beehive components have unfamiliar names and can be confusing to understand at first. That’s okay. Learn the basics first and grow from there.
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What Kind of Beehive To Choose?
Beekeepers worldwide use many different hive designs in their bee yards. In the United States, you find beekeepers using Top Bar Hives, Warre Hives, Langstroth Hives and others. There is no 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 was developed by Reverend Lorenzo Langstroth in the mid 1800’s. This hive design was an occasion where the parts of a beehive 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 design in use today.
Parts of a Hive – Langstroth 10 Frame
Components of the Langstroth hive include:
a bottom board,
boxes ( at least 2 or 3 ) containing frames and wax foundation,
an inner cover
and a top.
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 are in used in some areas.)
Everything needs a good foundation. The beehive is no exception.Hives can get very heavy. The bottom board is the base of the hive.
Place your bottom board on a firm surface raised off the ground. Paint exposed wooden surfaces to prolong the life of your wooden bottom board.
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.
But instead of a full plank bottom, a large area of screen is installed. The wire (size #8) prevents robber 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.
I use screened bottom boards on my hives. I live in the hot southern part of the US. My 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.
Learn more about choosing a bottom board on my Solid vs Screened Bottom Boards Post- Here.
Hive Boxes (Also called “Supers”)
The Deep or Hive Body –(Deep Super)
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.
The boxes of the hive are distinguished by their height. A deep is 9 5/8” tall and will hold brood frames.
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 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. It is not as simple as just giving them plenty of room and forgetting about them. They will need to be monitored.
Inside the deep bees raise their young and store food. Honey in this area is for the use of the bees – not the beekeeper.
The brood frames in the deep (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 honey harvest.
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 to fit inside the box. A medium super gives you just a bit more room for the bees to use.
Some beekeepers prefer to use only mediums. They will use 3 mediums for the basic colony configuration. This allows them to have fewer parts of a beehive to store when not in use.
Mediums do provide a bit more room but that makes them heavier too! If you choose to use mediums, make sure you have an order source. They are becoming more popular but are not always available locally.
Shallow supers share the same size of the other boxes. Their height measures 5 ¾” . Most beekeepers use shallows for honey harvesting. A shallow full of honey can get quite heavy but still be manageable.
Like other beekeepers, I use shallows for honey production. But, I also use them as part of my basic hive configuration. My basic hive is 1 deep and 1 shallow. I leave this area for the bees. Other shallows will be added for my honey harvest.
Having 10 frames per box is the industry standard, but 8 frame size boxes are used by some beekeepers.
Plastic frames are available but wooden frames are still 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.
Inside the frames, beekeepers install foundation. Foundation is one of the most critical parts of a beehive. The comb will hold developing bees and food stores. The most common types of foundation is beeswax, beeswax with wire and plastic.
The purpose of foundation is to encourage bees to build straight combs within the frame. The 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.
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. 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. A bee escape plug can be used in the vent hole, if desired, to allow its use when harvesting honey.
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.
How Many Boxes Do I Need?
In temperate climates, 1 deep super will not provide enough space for bees and winter food storage. In colder climates, beekeepers used 2 deeps (hive bodies) for the bees home.
If you live in a warmer climate (like me – in South Carolina), you may choose to use 1 deep and 1 shallow for your colonies. Yes, I do have to monitor my hives closely but most years this is plenty of space for my bees. I find the inspections and lifting of boxes easier.
If you choose a Langstroth hive, or any other for that matter, be sure to raise the hive up off the ground. A wooden bottom board is one of the first parts of a beehive to degrade.
Place the colony on a hive stand or stack of cement blocks. This protects the wooden components of the hive and its easier on your back. You might choose to paint your beehive for beautification purposes or protection.
Purchase and prepare your equipment 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 parts of a beehive may be temporarily hard to obtain. Good planning will make your bee season much easier and more enjoyable.