Langstroth Hives: A Complete Guide
The Langstroth hive revolutionized beekeeping in many ways. It was the first hive that allowed the beekeeper to monitor the health of the colony while harvesting honey.
Honey production was boosted due to the hive allowing bees to reuse comb instead of having to start over after harvesting. The Langstroth hive quickly became the most popular beehive. In fact, many of the newer hives today are based on the Langstroth.
When and Why Should You Choose a Langstroth Hive?
The Langstroth hive is a classic beehive. In fact, this might be what most people picture when they think of a beehive. It was created in the mid-1800s by Lorenzo Langstroth, who was a reverend as well as an apiarist.
Langstroth studied countless beehives before coming up with the classic design. One feature often up for debate is the moveable frames. There is much discussion on whether or not the Langstroth hive was the first, but it’s certainly the one that dominated.
The Langstroth hive is incredibly customizable. In fact, you can put boxes of various sizes together to create your hive.
If you’re looking to produce a great amount of honey, you might find that the Langstroth is the best. It’s easy to expand to create a large apiary.
The Langstroth hive, however, does require a fair amount of maintenance. You will have to monitor the frames regularly, as well as keep up with the health of the colony.
Individual Components & Features of a Langstroth Hive
The Langstroth hive has three main sections: the lower section, boxes, and upper sections. Within those three sections, there are many more features and parts.
The main component of the lower section is the bottom board. This part has to support the whole hive. There are a few types of bottom boards to choose from, which are either solid wood or screened.
One of the more popular bottom boards is screened. These provide great ventilation to the hive, but they’re also great for another purpose.
Many beekeepers use something called a sticky board. The sticky board is a removable insert that usually comes with a screened board. The sticky insert “catches” Varroa mites as they fall through the screen.
You can then remove the insert and inspect the mite situation. It’s important to get rid of these parasites, since they can damage the colony.
The entrance to the hive is fairly large and allows multiple bees to enter and exit at the same time. However, the size of the entrance can cause a few problems too. During the cold winter months, the large entry could become a pest invitation.
Mice, in particular, are known to make their way into beehives for a little warmth and a sip of honey. Don’t worry too much, though, mice are not known to harm bees, they will usually go for the honey stores.
This section is where you will find the supers. The supers come in various depths and widths. You can easily stack different sizes on top of each other to create the perfect hive.
The depth of the super comes in three variants: shallow, medium, and deep. You can also choose the width of the super; these are determined by frame count. There are two types available: eight and 10 frames.
In the hive, the medium and deep supers are usually used at the bottom for brood. The reason why these are usually only used for brood is the weight. A fully loaded deep super can weigh up to 80 pounds, even a medium super might weigh up to 60 pounds.
With a Langstroth hive, you can mix and match the supers as you like. You can easily use a deep super at the bottom and shallow at the top.
Some people will even use eight or 10 frames in the same hive. This, however, is not recommended.
Eight-frame boxes are the most popular choice for private use. These are easier to lift and operate, compared to the mighty 10 frames.
Foundations and Frames
The Langstroth hive started out as a foundationless hive. Without a foundation, the bees get to draw their comb as they like, similar to the way they do in nature. Over the years, however, buying frames with foundations have become popular.
When using a frame with a foundation, the “pattern” of the comb is already made for the bees. All the bees will have to do is build their comb around the foundation. This is quicker than if they had to draw it from scratch.
Using a foundation will also help to guide the bees as they are building their comb. A common problem in foundationless frames is cross-comb. Simply put, this is just wrongly-placed comb that won’t work for brood or honey.
The foundation is either made of plastic or wax, and it’s shaped in the typical hexagonal pattern similar to what bees do. Even if you choose to use a plastic foundation, it’s usually coated with wax to encourage the bees.
Using a foundation frame does come at a price, though. The wax that covers the foundation is beeswax from large commercial beekeeping sites. Studies have shown that the beeswax used can contain some amounts of pesticides.
When choosing a frame, you have two options: wood or plastic. Wooden frames are the most popular choice since it’s a natural material. Plastic, on the other hand, is durable and it won’t rot in case of a rainy summer.
The upper section is the last part of the hive. This part is also crucial for the well-being of the bees since it protects them from the elements.
The inner cover is placed on the top box. It’s a flat piece of wood, usually with a gap to allow bees to exit and enter. There’s also a hole in the inner cover where you can place a feeder if necessary.
The top cover is the last piece of the hive. Its main purpose is to cover the hive and protect it from the elements. A telescoping top cover is another option, this will also cover the sides of the hive.
Since the Langstroth hive is the most used beehive in North America, there are lots of available accessories.
Many beekeepers choose to use a hive stand, for the better hive access it provides. Another great reason for a stand is to make it more difficult for pests to enter the hive.
A stand can be handmade, either by building it yourself or simply stacking cement blocks. You can also purchase a ready-made stand. No matter what you choose, the important thing is that it’s stable.
An entrance reducer is a piece of wood that is made to fit in between the bottom board and the first super.
Many beekeepers opt to use one for various reasons. Some do it to prevent honey robbers, others to prevent mice from entering.
A queen excluder is a flat rack made of either metal or plastic. The holes in the rack are large enough for workers and drones to pass, but the queen won’t fit.
It’s usually used in between the brood chamber and the honey super, to prevent the queen from laying eggs in the honey.
If you want to prevent mice from entering the hive, I recommend getting a metal mouse guard. A determined mouse can quickly chew through a wooden entrance reducer.
Another good way to use an entrance reducer is when your hive is weak or just starting out. The entrance reducer only allows a few bees to enter and exit at the same time.
A slatted rack is another great option for the lower section. This is a wooden rack that fits in between the entrance and the brood chamber.
The slatted rack helps with hive congestion and ventilation. This feature is great for hot summers when the bees are working extra hard to cool the hive.
The rack raises the brood chamber just enough to get a good airflow inside the hive, cooling it down. When using a slatted rack, the queen tends to lay her eggs at the bottom.
The slatted rack also prevents the bees from building ladder comb at the bottom. Ladder comb is a little bit of extra comb the bees often build in spaces larger than themselves.
The ladder comb helps the bees to crawl between sections. When they build it at the bottom, you will have to remove it before you can remove the super.
How to Maintain a Langstroth Hive
Maintaining a Langstroth hive can be hard. With all the frames, it requires some monitoring and a little bit of heavy lifting. Keep in mind that every time you need to check on the frames, you’ll have to lift one or more supers.
Expanding a Langstroth Hive
Expanding the hive when needed is extremely important. You want to make sure the bees have enough space, to avoid swarming. If your colony decides that space is tight, a group of workers, drones, and the queen will set out to find a new hive.
If the bees have too much space, though, they will want to fill it up with resources. The bees will work even harder to produce enough honey to fill the empty space. This could lead to a few losses within the colony.
When you’re expanding a Langstroth hive, you can do so in one of two ways: supering and nadiring. Supering means you add new boxes to the top.
When supering, you’re actually adding honey supers to give the bees more room to make honey. Nadiring is used when you add boxes to the bottom of the hive.
Adding boxes to the bottom of the hive is more natural for the bees. In nature, honeybees will build their comb from the top down.
As winter is approaching, it’s crucial to make sure your hive is ready for the cold weather.
There are a few things you can do when preparing, one of which is adding an entrance reducer, mentioned above. The entrance reducer will limit the amount of cold air coming into the hive.
An insulation box, or quilt box, is also a great way to keep your bees warm. The quilt box goes on top of the hive underneath the top cover. It contains either wood shavings, cotton, or other insulating materials.
The quilt box prevents moisture from vaporizing and creating droplets that might fall on the bees. During winter, the last thing you want is a wet hive—the bees wouldn’t survive.
If you’re using a screened bottom in your hive, you may want to exchange it for a solid bottom. The screened bottom will allow too much more cold air to enter the hive and your bees won’t be protected from the elements.
Living in a windy area, you will most likely need to secure the hive. As the bees eat through their honey store during the cold months, the hive will become lighter. If there’s a sudden gust of strong wind, the hive could take a dive.
How you secure your hive is up to you. Some beekeepers like to tie it down using straps, others weigh it down using heavy materials. Some beekeepers will even build a wind-break around the hive, using hay bales.
Harvesting honey from a Langstroth hive requires a few tools, such as a honey extractor and an uncapping knife.
The first thing you should do is inspect the frames. Look for capped cells, since that means honey. A good rule of thumb is to harvest when 75 percent of cells are capped.
Use an uncapping knife and fork to remove the wax caps. Then place the frames in the honey extractor. The extractor will spin the frames and all the honey will come out while keeping the cells intact.
How Much Do Langstroth Hives Cost?
The cost of a Langstroth hive varies greatly depending on the material, size, and manufacturer. On average, you will probably have to spend around $200 for your first hive.
If you’re a keen DIY addict, you could even build one; here is an example.
Pros and Cons
A Langstroth hive is a classic, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any negatives. Let’s sum them up:
- Produces great amounts of honey.
- Can be expanded in two ways.
- It’s easy to find information about the hive since it’s so common.
- Boxes can be very heavy.
- Not a natural habitat for the bees.
A Langstroth hive consists of brood boxes and honey supers, all of which contain either eight or 10 frames. The Langstroth hive can produce a great amount of honey, which is why it’s so popular, although ensure you place it in a good position on your land.
With a Langstroth hive, you get to be the beekeeper you want to be—whether you want a large apiary or just a small hive in your yard.