What is a Bee Hive?

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Getting familiar with the parts of a beehive can feel a bit daunting. 

Before I dive into our hive here I would like to point out that there are different types of hives out there. The most popular by far is the Langstroth hive, which we are using and I will be showing today. However, there are different types of hives available including the Top Bar hive and Warré hive. Each of these types of hives are unique and provide different advantages and disadvantages to beekeeping.

The hive that I am demonstrating with happens to be our own hive that we will be using to house our very first colonies of bees. We have purchased two hand made hives from a local company called Bee Furniture who makes the most beautiful "bee furniture". The owner has also turned into our personal bee guru and has already helped us immensely. 

I am going to break this hive down into each part and explain how it works!

The Bottom Board

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Some hives are propped up on a stand to keep it elevated off the ground. We are going to be placing our hives up on blocks so we do not need a stand for our bottom board to rest on. 

The bottom board here is screened and has a corrugated plastic board underneath it that can slide in and out. The purpose of the screen is to properly add ventilation when needed. Adding or taking away the board can aid with controlling the temperature and ventilation of your hive.

The second purpose for this screened bottom board is for varroa mite control. The mite inspection tray pulls out and allows you to count the mites that have died and fallen out of the hive. This determines a course of treatment for these mites.

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The Hive Body

The hive body consists of the largest size box for the hive. It sits on the bottom board and through the front, you can see an opening which is the main entrance for the bees to the hive. You can see guard bees standing out here protecting the entryway.

We have chosen a 10-frame sized hive, meaning that ten frames of comb can sit in each box of varying heights. 10 frames are the most common though they do have different sizes like the 8 frame or even 6 frame sizes.

We have not ordered our frames for our hives yet so I don't have a photo to show for now. 

Another name for this box is a brood box or deep super. All of these names mean the same thing and are just referring to the height of the box. 

The purpose of placing the largest box on the bottom is to give the colony lots of room to live and grow. With the longer frames, they have room to lay and hatch eggs as well as store pollen and honey to eat. The hive body is the area where the colony thrives and lives.

In each of the 10 frames, there are areas for brood (eggs), pollen and honey. The bees work from the middle out filling frame by frame. Once the bees have filled out 7-8 frames in the hive body, it is time to add another box!

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Honey Supers

Honey supers are smaller boxes, sizes medium and small, that sits above a hive body with shorter frames inside. These are added on once the hive body fills up, and gives the worker bees more room to start storing their honey.

In the wild, many honey bees make their home inside hollow trees. These hives mimic colonies in the wild by stacking vertically so the bees build up, just like the trees. The higher up in the hive you get is where you start to see that golden honey, so adding these supers creates more space for these bees to work.

Another reason to add on supers is that the colony can outgrow the hive. When this happens the queen packs up and moves out in search of a more suitable home and takes all her babies with her. Waking up to see that your colony has swarmed and left is not a good thing! Adding on a super, or splitting your hives if you have too many supers on already, can help save this from happening.

We have to keep in mind when adding these supers to a hive, it also creates more weight. A full small super is around 30lbs, a medium 50lbs and a full deep super can get up to almost 100lbs! Once you have a few of those stacked high, it can be quite the workout. 

The frames for these boxes vary in height for the small and medium. Some beekeepers suggest sticking to having your supers all small or all medium (or all deep to match the hive body, but that can get quite heavy) so that they can mix and match equipment easily.

A queen excluder is a framed screen, similar to a bottom board, that allows worker bees to pass through but keeps the queen blocked below. Beekeepers use this to prevent queens from going up into the honey supers and laying eggs, but this seems to be more commercially used and less for backyard beekeeping, so we decided to not go with one.

Inner Cover

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The inner cover is placed on top of the final honey super. It helps to regulate the hives temperature, as well as a barrier to help ensure the worker bees don't glue the roof of the hive to the top honey super with propolis. A hive tool is sometimes needed to help remove the inner cover as the girls do a great job of sealing everything up.

The reason there is a notch in the top of the inner cover is for a second entrance into the hive. Once the hive is a few boxes high, it can be a quicker route to the honey than climbing up from the bottom.

It can also help with ventilation into the hive, which is very important for colony health. Ventilation is a common theme to pay attention to, especially in the damp climate that we live in!

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Outer Cover

The most common outer cover you will see is a flat roof, telescoping cover. These roofs fit over the top of the inner cover and serve as protection from the weather.

With the bee furniture that we have purchased, we have gone with peaked roofs. The main reason for this is our damp and mild temperatures. This causes many problems with mold and mildew, so our best friend will be proper ventilation. 

As you can see in the photo, there are multiple screened holes in our cover that allows air to pass through. The peaked roof also acts similar to the attic of a house, helping regulate the overall temperature.

The cover still telescopes over the rest of the hive and keeps everything covered from the elements as well holding everything in nice and snug.

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Entrance Reducer

An entrance reducer is the small piece of wood you see blocking the bottom entrance to the hive between the bottom board and the hive body.

It is used to protect the hive from different creatures that may try to rob the hive including small mice and especially wasps. 

The reducer can be added during wasp season but also taken out when there is less threat to allow more ventilation. 

All these parts combine to create an amazing example of biomimicry.

Creating amazing structures that originated in nature and utilizing their systems. 

The reason we decided on getting two hives instead of just one was the idea that we could easily help one hive if it was looking in need, with some frames of bees from the other hive.

Not to mention, more hives = more honey!