During the cold months of winter, I look forward to catalogs. Oh sure, there are the collection of seed magazines. Big, bold, color pictures with luscious descriptions tempting enough to cause me to get out my credit card. Daydreams of making more room for yet another variety of tomato or perhaps an heirloom bush bean. Yeah… those are nice, but there is a particular genre of catalogs that I really look forward to. Those catalogs are beekeeping supplies!
January and February are slow months for beekeepers. Honey has been extracted. The supers have been removed. Repairs to frames have been made and new foundations applied. Bees are clustering in the hive and there isn’t much for their human caretakers to do other than thumb through catalogs and dream of springtime, fresh pollen, and warm weather.
Winter is also a time when I think of the structure of the hive. In particular, the ‘wooden ware’ as it is known in the industry. Each component of a Langstroth hive has a particular purpose. Starting from the base, here is the anatomy and purpose of each piece:
Hive Stand: as the name implies, its purpose is to keep the hive off of the ground. It also elevates the hive so if a bee predator such a skunk stops by, the skunk has to stand up, exposing his belly to the bees. If the skunk makes the poor decision to go after the bees, other bees will sting the exposed stomach. This always sends the skunk (or other predator) away in a hurry.
Bottom Board: this piece goes directly above the hive stand. It prevents predators from coming into the hive from the bottom. It is a solid piece.
Alternately, there is a Screened Bottom Board: which does the same thing as the standard bottom board. This piece as the name implies is a screen. It improves air circulation in the hive and helps eliminate condensation from building up. It is also useful if you are checking your bees for Varroa mites. If do you have mites in the hive, it also provides an opportunity for mites to fall out of the hive.
Brood Super or Deep Brood Box: this is the lowest large box in the hive. This is where the queen bee will lay her eggs and the young bees are raised. Above the brood box is another deep super. Its purpose is for honey storage for the bees. (It is commonly accepted that the bottom two boxes of a hive are left for the bees. They will sometimes store honey in the bottom box as summer progresses.)
Queen Excluder: this piece is often considered optional. Its purpose is to keep the queen bee confined to the bottom two boxes. This piece is screened (or vented) so the worker bees can freely move from the bottom boxes upward into the honey supers. However, the screen is small enough that the queen bee cannot pass through and forces her to lay her eggs in the brood box. In some circles, beekeepers may refer to this as a ‘bee excluder’ if their bees don’t move beyond the bottom two boxes.
Honey Super: this a shallow box compared to a ‘deep’. During late spring and summer, bees store honey in the frames within the honey super. If it is an abundant season, there will be multiples of these honey supers placed on top of the deeps. (Some beekeepers have been known to place up to 8 or more in a single summer, resulting in a towering hive.) These honey supers are considered to be where beekeepers gather their honey from.
Inner Cover: This is the next piece as we work our way up to the top of the hive. It is a solid piece with a hole in the center. It helps provide ventilation, reducing condensation within the hive. If there a notched hole at one end, it can also provide an additional entrance for the bees.
Outer Cover: this is a solid piece and is considered the ‘roof’ of the hive. It helps keeps predators out, protects the bees from inclement weather, as well as keeps the hive dark. Most beekeepers will place something heavy on top of the outer cover such as a brick or rock. By doing so, it prevents the cover from being blown away in strong winds.
There are other wooden components to a hive. Perhaps the most common item people think of when they think of a hive is a frame. Frames are sized based upon the size of the box they will go in. Frames come in deep, medium, and shallow depths. Regardless of the depth, bees will build out a ‘drawn comb’. When the frames are in a brood box, eggs are laid in cells and for frames in a honey super… honey is stored in each cell.
Bee hives have a logical layout. Each component has a purpose. Wooden ware doesn’t have to be mysterious. So folks, pick up those bee supply catalogs. Decide on the size of the hive and get ready to place your order. You can put together a Langstroth hive.