Horizontal Hives

Before we started beekeeping, the extent of our knowledge of beekeeping was seeing white boxes stacked tall on the edges of almond, orange, and avocado orchards in the San Joaquin valley.  We grew up watching these boxes come and go year after year, season after season.  When we started beekeeping we bought those same type of vertical hives.  We didn’t know that there were other types of hives, and we didn’t know how much commercial beekeeping had influenced backyard beekeeping.  A month after we purchased the bees and the vertical boxes we learned about horizontal hives, specifically Langstroth Long and Layens hives.  Five years later and using horizontal hives exclusively, we will tell others that switching to horizontal hives was one of the best beekeeping decisions we made.  Since we started using horizontal hives, our beekeeping method has changed.  Instead of keeping bees, the bees keep us.  We try to manage the bees as close to nature as possible and spend more time observing the bees instead of inspecting the hives.  No longer are we tearing apart a hive and invading the bees’ house, no longer do we stand in a cloud of agitated bees while inspecting the brood, and no longer are we lifting heavy boxes to perform hive inspections.  Managing the bees has changed for the better.

A horizontal hive is a chest like box that holds removable frames.  The bees move horizontally in the hive from frame to frame to grow the colony and store resources.  Here at Bee Kept the “bees” use two hives…Langstroth Long and Layens Hives.  Let’s break down the differences and benefits of each hive.

The Layens hive was developed by George de Layens and it is a European style hive.  The frame style is longer than it is wide which allows the bees to efficiently store capped honey and resources on the brood frame.  On each brood frame they create a thick honey rainbow on the frame which is enough honey for the bees to survive the winter.  The hive box is made with thick sidewalls (1-1/2”-2” ) and this insulation helps the colony efficiently manage the heat of the hive.  This hive is low maintenance for the beekeeper and less invasive for the bees.

The Layens hive holds 14-20 frames.  The hive box and frame is not common which means that it has to be built.  The top bar of the frame acts as a cover board (a cover board in a vertical hive covers the top of the box so the bees are covered when the lid is removed).  In the Layens hive, the top boards of the frames fit together flush so that when the lid is opened, the bees remain down below.  This makes inspections easy because only one or two frames are exposed to light and the outside air.  (In a vertical hive, the whole box is exposed to the light and air).  A full honey frame weighs 8-10lbs.  The honey extractor for Layens frames is not readily available and there is only an electric version.  The extractor is more expensive than a Langstroth extractor.

The Langstroth vertical hive was developed by Lorenzo Langstroth who is known as the father of American beekeeping and for developing the removable frame beehive as well as discovering bee space.  The Langstroth Long hive is a variation of the vertical hive is built to fit Langstroth deep frames.  As with the Layens hive, the hive box is made with thick sidewalls (1-1/2”-2”) and this insulation helps the colony efficiently manage the heat of the hive.  This hive is low maintenance for the beekeeper and less invasive for the bees.

The Langstroth Long holds 31 deep frames, and this frame is one of the most common frames.  The frames are readily available, but the hive box has to be built.  Sometimes you can find people selling them on FB Marketplace.  The hive requires coverboards.  Coverboards can be the size of a 10 frame deep vertical box.  Often the coverboards are 2-3” wide and fit together flush on top of the hive.  As with the Layens hive, this allows a couple of frames to be exposed at a time.  A full capped honey frame weighs 6 pounds.  The extractors are readily accessible, affordable, and are available in manual and electric.

Hopefully the comparison of the two horizontal hives helps you decide which one to use.  If you need more information or have questions, the feel free to send a message.

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