The Hive Layout (Choosing the Right Beehive Part 2)

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This is Part 2 in Choosing the Right Hive. You can read Part 1 here.
There are a bunch of types and builds to modern beehives but mostly they share same basic structure (discovered by L.L. Langstroth):
modern beehive diagram with labels

Basic Beehive Build and Layout

  • A cavity where frames are placed at a suitable distance apart.
  • The floor or bottom board of the hive is placed elevated on a stand. This reduces moisture in the hive as well as raising the bottom of the hive up to a suitable working height.
  • The bottom or floor can be solid or of the screened variety. The screen with a removable tray makes it easy for modern beekeepers to inspect for varroa mites within the colony.
  • Around 3 sides there are fillets, 7/8 in deep. This gives an entrance on the 4th side when the brood box is placed at the top.
beehive screen panel called varroa mesh
Screen panel at bottom of hive to scan for varroa mites.
  • The entrance can be further reduced in size with an entrance block. This fits in the space and has a depression in the center that is 3/8 in high and 3 to 4 in wide. The entrance block shouldn’t fit too tightly so that it can removed and replaced if wanted.
  • Standing on the bottom board is the brood chamber or brood box. This for the queen to lay her eggs and the worker bees to gather and store the honey and pollen to feed the developing larvae.
  • The brood box is deep and contains the frames which are supported on plastic or metal runners on either side of the brood box.
  • These runners are narrow, bent over the length of the rabbet and nailed to walls so that the lip curves over the wall’s thickness.
  • A frame on top of the runner has its top flush with the hive wall (“bottom bee space”) OR it has its bottom bars flush with the bottom of the beehive wall (“top bee space”).
  • The queen and drones are larger than the other bees. They are prevented from moving upwards into the above boxes (the “supers”) by a “queen excluder”. A queen excluder consists of a framed grid. It can also be a plastic or metal sheet that is slotted. Whichever one is used, it is always the same dimensions as the hive cross-section. This allows ONLY the smaller worker bees to pass through.

A beehive queen excluder

  • In the midst of the active season, that season when the bees are collecting nectar, more boxes are placed OVER the brood box and above the queen excluder. These are the supers and it is where the bees store the honey. While they are the same cross-section dimensions but more shallow than the brood box. The frames inside are fitted to fit the shallower box.
  • By building the supers upward, one on top of the other, this allows the colony to always remain in a cavity while at the same expanding for more storage of honey. Generally, you’ll need 3 to 4 supers for each colony.
  • The first is filled with honey while the 2nd and 3rd are present to allow for expansion and more honey storage. The 4th, cleverly, is to replace the first once you extract the harvest.
  • The inner cover, a flat, removable board, fits as a cover on the top super. There should be one or two holes in the cover to allow for feeding bees.
  • Something known as a Porter bee escape is also placed inside. This allows for the clearing of the bees in the super should you choose to harvest.
  • On top of the inner cover is the telescoping cover, the “outer cover”. It can have ventilation holes in the center, top of each side and then covered with bee-proof mesh. This ventilation allows for airflow and a drier hive.
  • This prevents other insects like wasps, bees, and other insects from raiding the hive and stealing the honey reserves.
  • Lastly, the outer cover is more often than not covered with sheet metal for durability and weather integrity.

References:
UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment
The Beekeeper’s Bible: Bees, Honey, Recipes & Other Home Uses-Hardcover

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