Honey Bee Hives: History and Variations of Design

Honey Bee Hives: History and Variations of Design
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Honey Bee Hives: History and Variations of Design

Honey Bee Hives: History and Variations of Design

Modern honey bee hives are a surprisingly recent development in history. Although mankind has been dependent upon beeswax and honey for thousands of years, our knowledge of honey bees really didn’t expand much during all of that time.

The History of the Bee Hive

Hives made of woven wicker, called skeps, were probably the very first bee hives. Skeps have been in use since at least 5000 B.C.

But skeps are rudimentary hives at best. The only way to remove honey combs from a skep is to tear or cut them out.

In fact, the honey crop is usually harvested from skeps by simply killing the entire bee colony with a poison such as sulfur smoke.

In spite of their inadequacies, skeps are still widely used in many parts of the world.

Over the centuries, many different styles of honey bee hives were developed. But they all shared a common deficiency with the skep – combs were not removable. The only way to remove individual combs from these hives was to cut or tear them out.

But in 1851, the science of bee hive design took a radical leap forward.

Lorenzo Langstroth and the Concept of Bee Space

Lorenzo Langstroth was a pastor who had a passion for beekeeping. But like all beekeepers who came before him, he was frustrated with the inadequacies of the bee hive designs that were available.

Ebook Hive

So he decided to design a hive of his own. And his honey bee hive design revolutionized beekeeping.

That’s because Langstroth discovered the principal of bee space, which meant that individual combs could be removed from his hive without cutting them out, and without harming the bees.

Though it took thousands of years to discover, the concept of bee space is utterly simple. Langstroth discovered that if the components of a hive are separated by a spacing of 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch, the bees would not build comb between the components.

Langstroth’s honey bee hives, designed upon the principal of bee space, became extremely popular with beekeepers throughout the world.

Langstroth Honey Bee Hive is Still the Most Widely Used

The modern bee hive used by the majority of professional and hobbyist beekeepers is still essentially the hive that Langstroth designed.

Langstroth hives are expandable by adding new sections to the hive. These sections are called supers, and vary somewhat in width and depth. It’s common to start a hive with super that is about 10 inches deep, called a hive body, and then add shallower supers on top for honey storage.

All of the combs of a Langstroth hive are built in wooden or plastic frames. The majority of Langstroth hive supers hold 10 frames of combs. But another style, designed to hold 8 frames, is gaining in popularity.

Top Bar Hives

An alternative to the Langstroth hive is the top bar hive. Top bar beekeeping has been exploding in popularity in recent years, primarily among hobbyist beekeepers.

Top bar hives are smaller than Langstroth’s in terms of internal volume, and are expanded laterally rather than vertically.

A top bar hive consists of only 1 hive body. The internal volume of a top bar hive is expanded by adjusting the positioning of a false end board, and adding new bars containing strips of beeswax foundation upon which the bees build combs.

Generally, honey is harvested from top bar hives by removing the honey combs from the hive, crushing them, and straining the honey.

The Warre Hive

Warre honey bee hives are sometimes referred to as vertical top bar hives. Rather than expanding the hive laterally as with most top bar designs, the hive is expanded vertically, as with a Langstroth hive.

But unlike a Langstroth, new hive boxes or supers are added from the bottom instead of from the top. So the bees are always expanding their nest downwards, building from the top down.

The Warre hive was designed by Frenchman Abbe Emile Warre. His intent was to create a hive that would be easy to build, easy to manage, and that would come very close to duplicating natural conditions for the bees.

The Warre hive is not nearly as popular as Langstroth or top bar hives. But it has become more popular in recent years, as many beekeepers feel that the best way to maintain healthy bees is to duplicate natural conditions as closely as possible.


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