Types of Hives and Hive Equipment

Agricultural engineer, Science and Education Administration, Bee Management and Entomology Research, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis. 53706.

Revised October 1980
Pages 46 – 48

Honey bees existed on earth long before the appearance of humans. In these early times, bees lived in naturally protected sites such as caves, trees, overhangs, and other similar locations. When humans appeared and advanced in knowledge sufficiently to realize the importance of the honey bee as a source of honey and wax, they attempted to control its existence and distribution by providing a suitable abode or “hive.” The hive may be defined as a manufactured home for bees.

Early hives were crude shelters made from any suitable material available to man in his particular locale. Probably the first hives were horizontal sections, either rectangular or circular, made of bark with the ends closed by wooden plugs. A perforation in one end provided an entrance for the bees. Other materials used included clay, cork, wood, and straw. Generally, these materials were shaped into cylindrical or basket-shaped vessels in which a small colony of bees could be kept. Some were furnished with wooden bars on which the combs were built, making it easier to remove the honey and wax. Later, this same type of bar was used in various types and sizes of hives made of wood that sometimes could be enlarged.

Hives of this type were used throughout the bee-populated parts of the world until the 16th century, when a series of events advanced the science of beekeeping and resulted in a corresponding advance in hive development. Events mainly responsible for this advance included scientific developments enabling beekeepers to better understand the life cycle and biology of bees, management techniques that provided greater colony control, and the spread of the honey bee to two new continents. This advance in apicultural knowledge led to the eventual discovery of the “bee space” by L. L. Langstroth and his subsequent development of the movable-frame hive in 1851.

Langstroth patented his hive, and during the next half century many others developed hives using his principle, often violating his patent. Claims of the perfect hive were frequent and often disputed. Differences of opinion centered mainly on the size of the hive, a single hive body being considered enough to satisfy the brood space requirement for an entire colony. During this period, the development of the excluder, extractor, and comb foundation advanced the production of extracted honey and increased the demand for large colonies. The resulting change to production of extracted honey led to the use of multiple-story brood nests for each colony. By the early 20th century, discussion and experimentation led to increased use of the Langstroth hive or the Dadant hive.

The dimensions of the Langstroth hive and frame are given in figure 1. The original Langstroth hive contained 10 frames spaced 1-3/8 inches center to center. The Dadant hive contained 10 frames of the Quinby size, 18-1/2 by 11-1/4 inches, which gave it about the same capacity as a Langstroth hive with 12 frames. The Dadant hive was changed about 1920 to the modified Dadant hive and it is still in existence today. The modified Dadant hive had 11 frames of the Langstroth length and Quinby depth spaced 1-1/2 inches center to center.

Figure 1. - Plans and dimensions for Langstroth 10-frame beehive.

Figure 1. - Plans and dimensions for Langstroth 10-frame beehive.

Figure 1. - Plans and dimensions for Langstroth 10-frame beehive.

Figure 1. - Plans and dimensions for Langstroth 10-frame beehive.

Standard Hive

The 10-frame Langstroth hive today in American beekeeping is known as the “standard” hive and is increasing in popularity and usage. Several variations of the standard hive are used to a limited degree and include the 8-frame Langstroth, modified Dadant, 12-frame Langstroth, and shallow square. The shallow square is a square hive that holds 13 frames but is only 6-5/8 inches deep. Hives used today are basically of the same design and vary in the size of the hive body and the depth of the frames it contains. The design, dictated largely by the requirements of the bees, is of simple construction and can be used in multiple parts to serve any need.

Figure 2. - Modern beehive cut away to show interior and placement of movable frames: Bottom, full-depth hive body; middle and top, shallow hive bodies.

Figure 2. - Modern beehive cut away to show interior and placement of movable frames: Bottom, full-depth hive body; middle and top, shallow hive bodies.

The modern American beehive consists of a bottom board, usually two hive bodies with frames of drawn comb for the brood nest, supers for the honey crop, inner cover, and outer cover (fig. 2). It is designed simply, lightweight, mobile, economical, and provides the beekeeper maximum opportunity for colony control. The hive bodies that are occupied by the queen and her brood are referred to as brood chambers, and the ones used for storage of surplus honey are called supers. Brood chambers and supers of a hive may be separated by a queen excluder that confines the queen and drones to the brood nest but allows the worker bees to pass into the supers to store surplus honey.

The usual recommendation for housing a single-queen colony in honey-producing areas is three standard brood chambers and three supers, totaling six standard hive bodies. In 6-5/8-inch-deep equipment, four bodies commonly are used for brood chambers and four for supers, totaling eight bodies.

Generally, having all hive equipment of the same dimensions is advantageous to the beekeeper. Brood chambers and supers can then be used interchangeably within or between hives. The “so-called” shallow super may be anyone of three depths. Shallow supers used for the production of section comb honey are 4-3/4 inches deep, and those for extracted honey may be either 5-11/16 or 6-5/8 inches deep. All three depths are used for the production of bulk comb honey. Some beekeepers use 6-5/8-inch hive bodies for brood chambers.

Bottom boards usually are reversible, so that a full-width bottom entrance of either 7/8-inch or 3/8-inch depth may be used. Either of these entrances may be restricted to any desired opening size by use of entrance blocks or cleats. The reversible bottom board can be easily removed for cleaning and may be used with or without a hive stand. Covers are used to protect the top of the hive and may be either of two basic types, the flat cover or the telescoping cover. The flat cover is made of a flat board with cleats on opposite ends extending down over the front and back of the hive and is used without an inner cover. The telescoping cover

extends over the top of the hive to a depth of an inch or more, is covered with sheet metal, and is generally used with an inner cover. Inner covers contain an oblong hole to accommodate a bee escape and to provide an opening for feeding sugar syrup.

Hoffman Frame

The “Hoffman”-style frame is used almost exclusively in America. This type of frame is self-spacing through contact of the wider top portion of the end bars of adjacent frames. The frame is designed to receive foundation, and the end bars contain holes through which wires may be installed for embedding in the foundation to provide support. Foundation is a sheet of pure beeswax embossed to correspond to the bases of honeycomb cells. Foundation is available in various types and thicknesses. Thin foundation generally is used for comb honey production, and crimp-wired foundation commonly is used for brood and extracting combs.

Aluminum and plastic foundations have been developed and consist of a thin sheet of the material embossed with the cell base and coated on both sides with a thin layer of beeswax. Neither of these foundations is readily accepted by bees unless properly installed in frames and given to the bees during a heavy honey flow. An aluminum foundation is not suitable in the brood nest of the hive, probably because aluminum is a good conductor of heat.

Recently, hive equipment has been made of materials other than wood. Plastic material is most commonly used and all hive parts, including one-piece molded combs made from plastic, are available to the beekeeper. Generally, plastic equipment is as yet unproved, more expensive than wooden equipment, and being used to a very limited extent by the industry.