The Langstroth Hive is by far the most popular type of honey bee hive in the Northern United States and many other parts of the world. Its simple construction and standardized design make it the obvious first choice, click here to see Langstroth Bee Hive plans. There are alternative plans on the Build a Beehive Page. In Britain the Langstroth Hive is not used extensively, there are at least five other types of hive available plus the home-made top bar hive.
It consists of a number of boxes, open at the top and bottom. These, containing frames, are stacked on top of each other. The deep boxes contain the brood nest, the shallow boxes hold the honey. A weather-proof roof goes on top of the stack, a floor underneath.
The boxes, roof and floor are not usually fixed together by the beekeeper, although the bees use propolis to glue everything together. If honey bee hives are to be moved, either for pollination purposes or just to a better location for honey production, as with heather honey, the boxes have to be secured. Commercial bee farmers use hive staples, amateurs moving just a few hives use straps. The kind of ratchet-straps used to tie down luggage are ideal. It is important to tighten these securely, one does not want a hive to come apart during transportation, especially of it’s inside a station wagon or estate car. I speak from experience.
Some beekeepers use a queen excluder between the brood boxes and the shallow boxes (sometimes called honey supers). The queen excluder prevents the queen from venturing up into the shallow boxes to lay eggs.
This means only comb containing pure honey exits in the supers making honey harvest easier, one doesn’t want bee brood in the honey.
All the Langstroth Hive boxes are filled with frames. In many states it is actually illegal to keep bees in anything other than a removable frame hive. This is to allow the state bee inspector to inspect the hives for disease.
The frames have a sheet of beeswax foundation fixed within to give the bees something on which to build their combs. The foundation forms the center rib of the combs, cells are build on each side of the sheet.
The foundation usually contains wire, sometimes wire are stretched across the frame, to reinforce the wax. When honey is harvested the shallow boxes and frames are removed, the cappings carefully cut from the outside of the combs. the combs are placed in an extractor or centrifuge where they are spun, slowly at first increasing the speed during the process. The honey is thrown out by centripetal force, hits the inside of the extractor and collects in the bottom where is is drawn off into buckets.
If you drive about the countryside in America you may see white boxes, sometimes hundreds stacked on pallets. These are Langstroth Hives. There is an enormous industry of bee farmers who move their hives, on massive trucks, around the country to pollinate almonds, oranges, stone fruit, beans and all manner of crops.
The farmers, who are not known for their open-handedness, pay large sums of money to rent bees. Brokers arrange the schedule between the bee farmers and the crop farmers so the arrival of the bees coincides with the opening of the flowers. The hive remain in the orchards or field for a few weeks until the flower are set. Then the bee farmer returns, often at night, to load up the pallets of honeybee hive with forklift trucks to transport them to the next crop.
I was in Oregon on vacation when the orchards were full of blossom. My wife and I were driving through the picturesque blossom trails. I commented to her that we hadn’t seen any bee hives which was surprising. Ten seconds later, we rounded a bend in the road and were confronted with four or 500 Langstroth Hives in a flat clearing in a field. The air was black with honeybees. We parked nearby, my wife hurriedly wound up the car window as bees bounced off the glass.
It was quite a sight to see so many bees in one place. If there were 500 hives, with an average of 40,000 individual bees in each hive, there would have been 20 million bees busily collecting pollen and nectar and pollinating the fruit trees in the process. It was a very impressive site.
I once heard a talk by a commercial bee farmer whose business was in pollination. He managed his bees in such a way that they produced no surplus honey. He said it was so much trouble to open the hives and extract, pack, and market the honey, he chose to concentrate on pollination. The extra boxes and consequential increased weight would make the transport much more expensive. Of course his friends neighbors and business contacts made the assumption that if he had bees, he must have honey, the two are inextricable. At Christmas he would have to buy jars of honey from a local beekeeper to give away. I thought this was pretty amusing.