Hive Considerations for Beginners

Autumn and winter are the time of the year to start planning for the upcoming beekeeping tasks ahead.  Because new beekeepers often ask me which hive style to choose for their apiaries, I will explain a few advantages and disadvantages of different hive types with respect to size, material, weight, and built-in insulation.

Wooden Langstroth or Dadant (jumbo size Langstroth style) are the standard throughout most of the world, but there are several variations to consider.

The standard Langstroth hive consists of two deep hive bodies for the brood chambers, with honey supers on top. The brood chambers (called “deeps”) are approximately 9½ inches deep and can weigh up to 80 lb each when completely full, and accordingly, can be difficult to manipulate.

Langstroth hive with two “deeps” on the bottom as brood chambers (the pink and yellow boxes), separated by a queen excluder from two Western honey supers above (turquoise and purple).

 To get around this problem, some beekeepers make up a hive with “Western” or medium hive boxes approximately 6½ inches deep, using three of these boxes for the brood chambers. 

Langstroth hive with three Western boxes on the bottom as brood chambers, separated by a queen excluder (gray line) from the top two Western boxes used as honey supers.

In Europe, Dadant hive bodies are in wide use.  These jumbo-sized brood chambers are approximately 12½ inches deep–30% larger than the standard Langstroth hive body.

Left, two Dadant hives with jumbo brood chambers. Right, contrast a Langstroth deep frame to a 30% larger Dadant jumbo frame, with a lot of bees on each.

It is also possible to use a single deep hive body for the brood chamber, but this is not recommended for beginning beekeepers in our area.

Insulated hives are also in use in western Washington state, and some beekeepers swear by them.  They are usually made of a plastic outer cover with an insulated core, and some contain 8 frames instead of 10 to make up for the space taken up by insulation material.  

All-plastic hive with built-in insulation.

The internal insulation helps to protect the colony from heat and cold.  Insulated hives cost about 40% more than wooden hives.

In general, insulated hives cannot be used with wooden hive bodies, and one must be careful that the parts will actually work together, because the dimensions are different.  However, one company sells a plastic bottom board with a pollen-catcher that is specifically sized to fit wooden boxes.

Insulated plastic top and bottom kit to upgrade a wooden hive.

In summary, as a beginning beekeeper, you have a number of decisions to make before receiving your first bees, whether they will be purchased or acquired as a swarm. These choices will shape your apiary, and affect both your beekeeping practices and your pocketbook.

Recent Posts

link to January Tips

January Tips

A monthly offering of useful hints for beekeepers In January, the bees are snug in their hive, with the queen at the center of the warming cluster. There are no drones, typically no brood and the...