Honey Bees and the Langstroth Hive

Honey Bees and the Langstroth Hive

Ever wondered about the history of beehives? Where did the come from? And who invented them?

Today we will take a closer look at the Langstroth beehive, along with basic beekeeping tips for beginners.

It all started back In the 1850s, when the Langstroth hive was first patented. Lorenzo Langstroth developed a bee hive that is still the most commonly used man-made beehive design in use today… And for good reason.

Different parts of the hive, such as vertically hung frames and a modular hive makes adapting it to your needs super easy!

The Langstroth remained popular throughout the years, mainly due to its ability to provide superior shelter and make harvesting  honey much simpler.

The original Langstroth hive ceased production in 1920, but its fundamental design still lives on in many of today’s modern beehives.

Before Langstroth’s hive design, beekeepers generally kept their bees in ‘skeps’ (woven straw basket hives), pottery vessels, and hollow-log wooden box hives. Sounds awesome! But not ideal!

Some of these primitive hives had movable top bars from which the worker bees suspended their combs.

The top bar method is now once again becoming popular with beekeepers. In fact, it can be seen with many modern top bar beehive models and has been used for centuries in Africa.

However, the forerunner’s to the Langstroth beehive had no convenient way of harvesting honey. So good old Langstroth started working on a new and improved hive.

langstroth hive

It’s All About Maths and Hive Frame Space

Lorenzo Langstroth discovered that beekeepers could not only determine the dimensions of the comb, but also control how large or small bees would build their combs.

By simply adjusting the amount of available space in the hive, beekeepers were able to mould the beehive to their requirements.

In a beehive, bee space allows for the free movement of bees as they build new honeycombs, care for their young, and produce honey.

Therefore, Langstroth proposed an ideal amount of space between honeycomb layers suitable for the optimisation of these bee activities.

The numbers he came up with? Between 0.25 inches and 0.3125 inches. (6.3 and 7.9 millimetres.) And it worked! It worked really well!

The bees would create comb on the frames without connecting them all together in one large mass. These proved to be the magic numbers for maximum efficiency and ease of use.

So he was good with bees and maths! Sounds like our type of guy.

In line with his vision, today’s modern Langstroth beehive has a multi-layered structure.

These beehives come with completely removable frames that encourage the orderly building of honeycomb by the bees.

Easy in and easy out!

Which ultimately helps to improve the overall ease of collection of honey too.

The different components of the Langstroth beehive are:

  • The bottom board: on which the rest of the hive rests

  • The hive body: where the queen lays her eggs and the workers raise the brood; which is made from a box called a super.

  • The queen excluder: a mesh that the queen cannot fit through which keeps the queen from laying eggs in the honey cells

  • Shallow supers: the layer in which the bees store their honey. This layer is about half the depth of the hive body, hence its name.

  • Top covers: Removable covers for the top of the hive.

Other parts include an outer cover and Inner cover. A brood chamber.  And boxes such as shallow boxes, deep boxes, medium boxes, deep medium boxes and brood boxes make Langstroth hives super flexible.

langstroth siuper

Langstroth Beehive Supers are Super

For the storage of honey, beekeepers favour shallow supers rather than full-sized supers. But why? Surely full-sized supers would mean more of that precious liquid gold!

Well, it’s all to do with weight… and honey is relatively heavy.

A shallow super weighs about 15.9 kilograms when full. While a deeper super can weigh as much as 36.3 kilograms! Yikes!

However, since not many beekeepers are weightlifters, the shallow super is the most sensible choice. Beekeeping is all about making life easy for both bees and keeper.

Ultimately, opting for shallow supers make for easier removal and replacement of honeycombs. Less stress on the bees and easy to slot in and out.

For most beekeepers, especially commercial beekeepers, removing filled combs and replacing them with empty ones is as vital to beekeeping as oxygen is to life. Yep… Honey makes the world go round.

The brilliance of Langstroth’s invention lies at the economic heart of the matter:

Bees will continue to make and store honey as long as they have enough storage space.

And with the Langstroth model beehive, bees are never lacking with space. Need more? Not a problem, it’s easily added on.

langstroth frames

Improving Your Honey Harvest

In addition to having adequate storage space, it is also necessary to ensure that bees have enough food for the winter.

After all, honey should never be seen as something a beekeeper is entitled to.

The survival of the colony should always come first.

And sometimes, this means not helping yourself to those all important reserves. The bees will love you for it. We promise.

In fact, it is for this very reason why many beekeepers undertake their last honey harvest in the late summer…

So that the bees can collect plenty of nectar to turn into honey come autumn and see winter through like champions.

So. Now you want to perform your first honey harvest. What exactly do you need to do?

Before you can harvest honey, you first need to set your hive the right way.

Setting Up the Langstroth Beehive

When it comes to setting up your Langstroth hive, due care must be taken to ensure that all of the hive frames are loaded correctly.

This is because the comb is angled slightly upwards to prevent the honey flowing out.

And if it is loaded incorrectly, the flow of honey will be hampered during extraction.

During extraction, beekeepers can remove the framed combs from the shallow supers and spin them in a honey extractor or centrifuge.

This removes the honey from the comb while leaving the structure intact. Some like to use the beeswax for candles, soaps and polish.

However, since it takes about 20 pounds of honey to make a pound of beeswax for the hive, reusing combs generally makes it possible for beekeepers to harvest more honey.

Once you have collected your first batch of extracted honey, it should then be passed through a screen to make sure that no remnants or organic matter make it into the jar.

Some honey can’t be harvested, which includes crystallized honey left on the frames after extraction. Or honey that is not wax capped, and therefore unripened.

This honey is usually placed back into the beehive for the bees to clean up. A little extra energy for the work ahead of them.

This entire setup of the Langstroth beehive makes it relatively easy for a beginner beekeeper to harvest honey. And all without damaging the hive or hurting any of the bees in the process.

fresh organic honey in jars

Using Beekeeping PPE

Western Honey bees are known for being reasonably docile. (Iberian honey bees… not always as mellow!)

However, caution is essential for new beekeepers. Which is why many choose to wear a veil and gloves to shield their faces and hands.

This helps prevent bee stings from happening while working with the hives. However, there is no need to fear your bees. Simply exercising caution is more than enough!

You may notice that expert beekeepers also tend to move very slowly when opening the hive. This is also true when removing and replacing hive frames.

Moving slow can help keep honey bees calm, which is what is best for everyone involved. A calm colony equals a happy colony… and beekeeper.

But why is slow movement an important precaution to take? Basically, it all boils down to pheromones.

When alarmed, bees release what is known as an alarm pheromone whenever they need to use their stingers.

This pheromone announces to their sisters in the hive to sting anything nearby, leading to angry bees and lots of potential bee stings. Ouch!

However, beekeepers are able to mask this pheromone with the smoke from a bee smoker. A bee smoker is essentially a set of bellows attached to a fireproof can with a nozzle at the top.

The smoke from the bee smoker calms the bees by encouraging them to stop working and start eating honey.

How does this work?

Well, they start eating in case they have to abandon their hive due to fire. Those honey calories give them the energy they need for a mass evacuation. Let’s call it bee instinct!

Thus preoccupied, the bees are less likely to become restive or defensive as the beekeeper works at the hive.

top bar honeycomb

How to Make Extra Money From Beekeeping

What’s the best thing about a honeybee besides pollination? It produces honey! And for some beekeepers at least, that is the bottom line.

A single beehive can have as many as sixty thousand honey bees in a single colony.

And such a large number of bees will require sufficiently large food sources such as large vegetable farms, orchards, or other areas of thick, flowering foliage.

However, beekeepers will not always have access to such lavish food sources to supply all of their bees.

Therefore, some opt to supplement their bees’ natural foods with man-made nectars and purchased pollen.

On the other hand, some beekeepers decide to rent their bees to farmers to help with for crop pollination.

This has many benefits, including:

  • The beekeeper can ensure the bees have access to nectar-rich plants while earning extra income from renting out the bees.

  • The bees are able to produce more honey for the hive, resulting in improved colony success.

  • Increased honey, comb, and wax production can lead to more produce to sell.

  • The farmer gets a bounty to harvest thanks to the bees pollination power.

This critical crop pollination performed by bee is one that we have come to be reliant on.

It is also one of the main reasons why the beekeeping industry is gravely concerned by the ever growing issue of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

However, that is a separate post to be covered soon.

So for today, we are just about done. Do you use the Langstroth Beehive? Or do you prefer using a different method or model?

Let us know in the comments section below.

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