What is a Beehive?
What is a beehive and how do bees make their home? We know so many fascinating facts about honey bees. The delicious honey they make and the flowers they visit to collect pollen and nectar but what about their home?
Specific images may come to mind when you think of a beehive? But, what is a beehive exactly?
When you say the word are you thinking about the physical structure where bees live? Perhaps, a man made box that beekeepers provide for bees. That is the most common use for the term.
Yet often, when we say beehive we are taking about not only the physical location but the bee family that lives inside too!
The word beehive can refer to everything inside the hive including the wax comb and all the bees inside.
Honey Bees Live In Beehives
Bees from the subgenus “apis”, such as our honey bees live in beehives. In some parts of the world, there are bee species that build open nests.
However, in most regions – the honey bee nest will be inside an enclosed cavity. Here, the bees carry on all the life sustaining activities of honey bee life.
A simple view from the outside of a beehive gives no indication of the magic happening inside.
In fact, during Winter the hive may seem dead – but the bees are snuggled inside. With enough stored food and good health – they should be ready for Spring.
Where Do You Find Beehives?
In nature, you will often find honey bees that have created a beehive in a hollow tree. When a colony lives in a tree, beekeepers in my region of the country call is a “bee gum”.
But, bees don’t have to live in trees. They may move into an empty wood or plastic box. The inside of an unused gas grill can be home to a colony of honey bees.
Sometimes bees move into structures that conflict with the desires of humans. Homeowners do not like to find a honey bee hive inside the walls of their home. (A good reason to caulk any openings to the outside.)
While it is not impossible, it is uncommon to find honey bees nesting in the ground. Ground dwelling bees often end up being Yellow Jacket Wasps– not bees.
Beyond natural hive locations, there is another common type of bee home. This is a man-made box used by beekeepers.
There are several different types of beehives. The term apiary is used to describe a group of hives in one location.
A beekeeper may have a couple of hives or many in one central location. Having the hives closer together makes for more efficient bee management.
However, grouping many hives together increases competition for foraging. We don’t want to place too many colonies in one location.
How many hives can you have in one spot? That depends on the foraging conditions in your area. Bees can be kept in most regions of the United States.
What Is a Beehive Made Of?
A honey bee colony most often lives in a hollow tree or a man-made hive. Inside the physical structure, we find the true heart of the beehive.
Sheets of honeycomb containing thousands of individual wax cells form the backbone of the hive. In these hexagon cells, bees raise young and store food for Winter.
Most Popular Standard Beehive Type
Modern beekeepers use several styles of beehives. But, the most common is the Langstroth hive developed in 1851. This hive design features honeycomb held in a wooden frame.
Using the principle of bee space, this hive design revolutionized beekeeping. Bee space (commonly referred to as 3/8”) is the space that bees will naturally leave between sheets of honeycomb.
They also leave this space around the edges of combs as a dead-air space for insulation. The removable frames of a Langstroth hive facilitate hive inspections.
The honey bee queen lays eggs in the bottom boxes of the hive. This is the brood nest area. Honey and pollen is stored in cells near the brood nest. This make it easier for nurse bees to feed the young.
The top boxes of a hive stack may contain excess honey for the beekeeper. These boxes used by beekeepers are called supers.
The honey harvested should not rob the bees of their Winter food. Only extra honey beyond what the bees need should be taken.
Inside the Bee Hive
Rather than the external surface, which could be a tree, wooden box etc, let’s consider the inside of a hive.
A beehive is a family of bees and the resources they need for survival. The interior of the hive area is coated with sticky bee propolis.
Propolis is a mixture of plant resins, beeswax and saliva that has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. It is used to seal cracks and contributes to beehive health.
An excess of propolis makes hive inspections more difficult. The boxes and frames will seem to be glued together.
They are also used to hold developing babies called “brood”. Baby bees are the future of the hive. During the warm season, the bee population must be continuously renewed.
Final Thoughts on the Beehive
The beehive is a dwelling place for bees and everything located inside. It may be the inside of an tree or a man-made box.
Beehives are where the magic of the bee world shows off its best efforts. This industrious little insect fights to survive against all odds in the big wide world.