This week (fingers crossed) my bees will arrive. I have new beehives ready and waiting. Ever seen the inside of a beehive?
I bought my hives in pieces, doing the assembling and painting parts myself (my woodworking skills aren’t up to piecing my own yet). They are Langstrom hives, which is what is standard in the beekeeping world. Here’s how they work:
On the bottom board is the entrance reducer. Without it on, the bees can enter the hive anywhere along the front edge of the bottom board. With it, they are limited to just one hole (either big or small depending on the direction of the entrance reducer). When the bees first arrive, I’ll use the smaller hole, so the colony is safest from outside invaders while they settle in and get strong enough to defend themselves.
Next comes a hive body. This is a four sided box (no top, no bottom) that sits on the bottom board. It will house the queen and her brood (the eggs and larvae and new bees!), as well as some stored honey and pollen that the brood use. There will also be worker bees tending the brood, coming and going with nectar and pollen, keeping the place clean and cool, etc.
All that bee activity happens on comb. This is the mass of little hexagon storage units that bees are famous for. There is comb not just for honey, but also to store that pollen and hold those eggs and developing bees. If you gave your bees just an empty box, they’d make comb whatever way pleased them inside it, which would make it very difficult for you to check up on them or harvest honey. So beekeepers put in frames for the bees to build the comb organized in a way that is removable, and therefore easy for beekeepers. Here’s a single frame:
Bees can fill the frame in with comb with only a thin strip of wood at the top to guide them, but most beekeepers put foundation in the frame. I’ll be experimenting with both. Foundation is a sheet of beeswax (or many beekeepers use plastic) that gives the bees something to start from. Wire is sometimes embedded in the beeswax to make it stronger.
Ok. So then these frames go into the hive body (that empty box). They hang down from little ledges at the top of the hive body so that they can be pulled out and put back by the beekeeper when she inspects the hive.
Notice in the picture, you can see light coming through the hole in the entrance reducer! This is where bees would come in, and they have room (the height of the bottom board) to move around underneath the frames. Most hive bodies have room for 10 frames. Here’s what it looks like all full:The bees have room to walk up and down the comb they build on the frames. This is part of why I chose not to build my own this year: bees are picky about space. There is a magic number for them: 3/8 of an inch. Inside a hive, if there is a gap larger than that, bees are likely to fill it with comb. If there is a gap smaller than that, they are likely to fill it with propolis (which is like bee cement).
On top of the hive body comes another hive body, identical to the first. Remember, they’re bottomless, so bees can move from the bottom hive body to the top hive body without any trouble. When the bees first arrive, they will need some time to build their numbers and get food stored up. So at first, all they’ll need is one hive body. But in time, they’ll fill it, so I’ll be ready to add that second one.
On top of the hive bodies, more boxes with frames are stacked on. Commercial beekeepers will usually devote two hive bodies for the brood, and then start using what are called honey supers. They’re identical to the hive bodies, except shallower so that when they are filled with honey, they’re not so heavy. They keep the queen out of those top boxes so there is only honey and not baby bees in those boxes. For my purposes, I chose a hive body that is called a medium super, half way in depth between a traditional hive body and a traditional honey super, so that they can be multipurpose: deep enough for brood, but not too deep for honey. So all my boxes are the same size.
And then finally, the telescoping cover goes over the inner cover. It is usually metal on the outside and has edges that come over both the inner cover and the top bit of the top box to protect the hive from the weather.