Choosing the Right Beehive (Part 1)

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Bee hives of a modern style

In the wild, a colony of honeybees will look for a hollow or a cavity so they can build their next within it.

When the colony is getting ready to swarm, they send out the scout bees from the home nest.  Those scouts are assigned the mission of finding a suitable cavity for a hive.  The measure the size of the cavity by walking around within it.

Then the call goes out.

When the rest of the warm arrive, all the bees cluster at the top of the hive. At this time, workers (of suitable maturity) secrete wax from their glands.  They then mold it into the familiar hexagonal shape of the combs. They start by attaching to the top and then start to descend down through the rest of the hive.

A man-made hive is just an attempt to mimic the conditions needed for a suitable hive in the wild.  It is meant to encourage bees to settle into a colony and make it their own.

modern beehives lined up

What is a hive?

  • An enclosed structure
  • Where bees build their beeswax
  • Where bees build their comb
  • Store their honey and pollen for food
  • Rear the brood, to include: eggs, larvae and young

Two things to remember about man-made hives, though:

  1. Man-made hives need to ensure that they have the correct dimensions to adequately support a swarm.  But not too spacious.
  2. The hive must be bee-tight.  That is, there can be no cracks, openings or crevices in the hive.  The only way in or out can only be the entrance.  One way in and one way out.

Today, most beekeepers use hives that have movable wooden frames.  These wooden frames persuade the bees to build their wax and comb. The added convenience of being to move these boards allows inspection of the colony by the keeper and to also extract the wax and honey.

Placement of Boards in the Hive is Vital

Rev. Dr. Jan Dzieron, a Polish beekeeper, discovered in the mid-19th century that the frames have exact measurements and placement.

The center of adjacent brood combs should be 1.5 in (38mm) apart which is the same spacing between the natural combs.

Another discovery by the “father of American beekeeping“, a Rev. L.L. Langstroth (seriously?) showed that bees leave a 1/4 to 3/8 inch (6 to 9 mm) space in between the walls of the next and their comb.  He dubbed this as “bee space”.

“Bee space” is the size of the gap that the bees need to move freely around the hive.  If the gap is less than a 1/4 inch then the bees will fill it with a resinous substance they collect called “propolis”.  Adversely, any gap larger than 3/8 of an inch will be filled in with brace comb, which are connections of wax between different surfaces in the hive.  Pheew…worker bees, indeed.

When either of gap fillings happens, it makes it resoundingly more difficult for inspection of the colony wax and propolis stick and tear away other parts of the hive when boards are removed.

With these findings, Langstroth was able to design a hanging frames hive that is still the foundation of modern beehive design.

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