Learn As You Go Beekeeping – 101

Learn the parts of a beehive and their purpose.

Hive Components
Hive Components

Since we have been taken with beekeeping and will be writing more about honey bees and their fascinating lives I thought it would be fun to create a series of educational articles about bees. We’ll talk in more detail about the equipment in this post and let me say we are total newbs to beekeeping so any comments from beekeepers to correct inaccuracies are welcome.

In our first post we’ll discuss some basic terminology. A hive is a place where a colony of bees lives. A colony of bees can live in a hive but a hive cannot live in a colony of bees. Why? Because the hive is the actual home of a colony. A colony is the “family” of bees that inhabit the hive. An apiary is a collection of hives full of colonies.

Looking at the image above we’ll start at the bottom and work our way up. In modern beekeeping a hive consists of:

  • A hive stand
  • A bottom board
  • Hive bodies, sometimes called a brood box, sometimes a honey super.
  • Wooden frames which hold wax foundation, sometimes wax coated foundation
  • An inner cover
  • A telescoping outer cover

The hive stand serves as a landing place for the incoming bees and a launch pad for bees heading out to forage. In nature bees basically jump out of hollow trees and other odd places…so this is really an unnecessary item. We have them because they are inexpensive and will allow me to take better photos of bees being bees. Or not. For me it neatens the look of the hive.

The bottom board should have a screened opening to allow for ventilation and helps in the removal of varroa mites. Varroa mites are a parasite that weakens the bees and colony as a whole and will effect the production of honey. As a parasite goes…it’s huge in size in comparison to the host. In size relationship it would be like having a Big Mac stuck  your back. A bit uncomfortable to say the least. We’ll talk more about them in another post. The little stick like contraption is called an entrance reducer. It serves to close off the hive so the bees can control access and defend the colony if need to be. The little blob next to the reducer is a feeder. We’ll need to feed the bees when we first install them before the nectar flow of budding plants is in full swing.

Next up is the hive body. The two primary uses of hive bodies are: 1) a place for the queen to lay eggs, and 2) a place for the foraging bees to store pollen and nectar. The hive body is filled with wooden frames with foundation as a place for the bees to build honey comb or brood comb as the colony sees fit. Brood comb will be where new bees are made and honey comb is, well a place for nectar to be turned into honey. Bodies come in three sizes and two configurations. Size wise there are deep bodies, about 9 1/2 inches tall; medium bodies, about 6 5/8 inches tall; and shallow bodies, about 5 11/16 inches tall. Two bodies are shown in the illustration above.

To complicate the matter a bit…bodies come in either 8 frame or 10 frame capacity. When full of honey a 10 frame deep body can weigh 60 to 70 pounds where an 8 frame will weigh proportionally less. We chose to use medium, 10 frame bodies for weight control (my brain says I’m 25 years old, my body begs to differ) and to standardize the frames for flexibility.

Approaching the top of the hive we come upon the inner cover. This serves two purposes as well. First is for bee space, which we’ll talk about in another post. The other reason is because bees like to plug holes with propolis, a sticky substance  made from tree sap, tree buds, and other sources. Without the inner cover the bees will pretty much seal the telescoping cover in place making access to the hive difficult. You’ll hear of people eating propolis for it’s purported health benefits. Another subject for another post.

Finally we come to the telescoping cover. This  protects the colony from rain, snow, and other inclement weather. Bees don’t do well in wet weather.

Those are the main parts of a hive used in modern beekeeping today. As we add components to our hives I’ll discuss their purpose and use.

Stick around as we go forth on our journey into beekeeping. This will be fun and we’ll all learn something!

Illustration courtesy of Hive Tracks.

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