In this posting, I describe your options for configuring a hive, focusing on the configuration and weight of Langstroth hive boxes.
There are a variety of bee hive options on the market today including the National (popular in the UK), Top Bar (popular in Africa), and Langstroth (the worldwide standard). Prior to becoming a bee keeper, I researched each of these options and came to the conclusion that the Langstroth is the best option for hobby beekeepers. (It is a time-tested design, the equipment is widely available and the drawn-out comb can be reused after honey has been extracted, making life a little easier on your bees.) After using, the Langstroth hive for over two seasons, I can say that I remain enthusiastic about this design, but I've changed my opinion on the best way to configure it.
Basic Hive Configuration
A Langstroth hive is created by stacking hive boxes of the same length and width upon each other. The bottom hive box is used by the bees for rearing brood. The second hive box sits on top of the first and is given over to the bees for honey storage. The third and subsequent tiers of hive boxes are used by the bees for additional honey storage. These boxes function like attic of the house - the bees have enough honey to last the winter stored in the second box, but will store any additional reserves of honey in these upper boxes. When bee keepers harvest honey, they are taking the additional reserves of honey that are stored away in the attic.
All of the above mentioned boxes have the same length and width so they can be stacked one upon the other. But the height of these boxes vary. Traditionally, the Lanstroth hive is configured with two "Deep" hive boxes on the bottom. These deep boxes are 9 5/8 inches high. Then there are two options for the boxes that form the "attic." "Medium" boxes measure 6 5/8 inches deep and "Shallow" boxes measure 5 11/16 inches deep.
Hive Box Weights
Medium and Shallow hive boxes were created to make bee keeping easier. These boxes are smaller, and therefore, weigh less than "Deep" boxes when filled with honey. This makes them easier to pick up and move when doing routine hive inspections or when harvesting honey. Here is the typical weight of these various hive bodies when filled with honey:
- Deep - 101 pounds (11 pounds wooden box & frames + 90 pounds of honey)
- Medium - 48 pounds ( 8 pounds wooden box & frames + 40 pounds of honey)
- Shallow - 36 pounds (6 pounds wooden box & frames + 30 pounds of honey)
When I purchased my first set of hives, I purchased two Deep boxes to form the core of the hive and two Medium boxes to form the "attic." At the time, I reasoned that I would not be moving the Deep boxes that frequently, so the weight would not be a problem, particularly since I'm in good health and reasonably strong. After working with this configuration for two seasons, I've formed a different opinion. Specifically, a 100 pound box is just too heavy for one adult to manage comfortably. And if you want to involve kids in bee keeping, the weight is out of the question.
If you are considering adding a hive to your garden for the first time this year, I would recommend using only Medium and Shallow hive boxes. To provide adequate space for brood and honey storage for your bees, you'll need to use three Medium boxes in place of the two Deep boxes that are normally used in a traditional Langstroth configuration. You then have the option to use either Medium or Shallow boxes to form the "attic."
The advantage of using all Medium boxes is that you'll have only one size of frame and foundation throughout the hive, making all the parts interchangeable. The advantage of using Shallows for the attic is simply that of lower weight.
Since I already own some Deep hive boxes, I plan to keep using these as brood boxes (bottom most tier) since these aren't moved during inspections or harvesting. I'll then replace the second Deep with two Mediums and use mediums for all subsequent layers.