What is a Beehive?
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? What is a beehive and how do bees make 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? 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!
Honey Bees Live In Beehives
A hive includes bees from the subgenus “apis”, such as our honey bees. In some parts of the world, some bee species 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. They have a special plan for surviving Winter.
Where Do You Find Beehives?
In nature, you will often find honey bees that have created a beehive in a hollow tree. What is a beehive in a hollow tree called? We call it 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.
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.)
It is uncommon to find honey bees nesting in the ground. Ground bees often end up being Yellow Jacket Wasps!
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.
A beekeeper may have a couple of hives or many more 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.
What Is a Beehive Made Of?
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.
It consists of the bees and the resources they need for survival. The interior of the hive area is coated with sticky propolis.
Propolis is a mixture of plant resins, beeswax and saliva. Propolis 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.
The bees cant raise young and store food inside an empty cavity. Much like our homes have furniture, the beehive needs structure.
Honey bees make beeswax from wax glands on the underside of their abdomen.
The beeswax flakes are shaped into hexagonal cells to create honeycomb. Many strips of honeycomb will be inside a hive.
They are also used to hold developing babies called “brood”. Baby bees are the future of the hive.
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. A small entrance near the bottom of the hive structure is easily defended.
The honey bee queen lays eggs in the bottom box of honeycomb. We call this area the “brood nest”.
Bees store pollen in cells near the brood nest. This make it easier for nurse bees to feed the young.
Honey bees store excess honey in the top part of the beehive. Beekeepers place boxes called supers on top of the hive to collect honey.
Honey bees make honey to store for winter use. Without a sufficient supply of honey, the beehive will die.
Some types of bees do not make honey but for the honey bee colony – this is how they survive.
It is important that the beekeeper only harvest excess honey. The bees need to eat to!
Both bees and sometimes beekeepers work together to create a home for bees. The beehive requires cooperation of many individuals.