Buying Your First  Langstroth Hive

Now that you have an idea of some of the basic considerations that go intobeginning beekeeping,it’s time to decide which hive is right for you.

Now that you have an idea of some of the basic considerations that go into

beginning beekeeping,

it’s time to decide which hive is right for you.

honeybees near a langstroth hive
honeybees on a Langstroth frame

Have you ever driven down the highway and seen many white, square boxes in the middle of a field?
If you have, those are Langstroth hives.

History

Langstroth hives are the hive type most commonly used in the United States by both backyard and commercial beekeepers. They are used by commercial beekeeping operations because they are easy to stack, load, and transport around the country for the purposes of commercial pollination.

honeybees on a langstroth frame

Lorenzo Langstroth designed the first “Langstroth” hive in 1852, but today’s version is by far a more basic version from the original of his name. The key features remain, namely:

The most important feature to this hive
was the movable frames.

While others had figured out bee space and movable bars and frames, Langstroth’s design was the first to make it practical to mass produce and eliminated a lot of the issues with previous designs. It’s a little known fact that Langstroth kept his bees without foundation in the same way we do in all three hive designs we use and sell.

HOW TO LANGSTROTH

Langstroth hives yield the most honey, need a moderate amount of management, and require heavy lifting.

People that want to stick with the standard, tried-and-true design with the most resources and teachers available, tend to choose the Langstroth hive.

If a strong colony has overwintered and resides in a Langstroth hive, it can produce a lot of honey in a good season. Generally, Langstroth hives can yield the most honey of the three hive types we offer. Keep in mind bees need enough honey to make it through winter (40-60 lbs at least where we are in the Pacific Northwest, but that will be more or less depending on your location) and we always recommend taking no honey from them in the first year. After all, their whole purpose in life is to build up enough honey stores to thrive through the cold months. Taking it all from them only sets them up to fail!

Langstroth hives are generally expanded and increased by adding empty boxes on top of the hive. This is called supering(adding boxes to the bottom is called nadiring).

This allows the bees to build upwards to store more honey. In your first year you will likely use at least two boxes, but most likely three and possibly four total. Note: you can add boxes under the hive (nadir) exactly like a Warre Hive and allow the bees to move downward like they would in a natural cavity. This is much easier when using all boxes of the same size.

Choosing medium sized boxes means the boxes are shallower than deep Langstroth boxes. This makes lifting lighter and the profile of the hive slimmer. Similarly, you will be choosing eight frame or ten frame boxes (meaning the boxes fit eight or ten frames across). The difference between these choices means how much you are maximizing the bees’ honey yield and how much you want to lift. 8-frame medium boxes full of honey weigh approximately 40-60 lbs. 10-frame deeps can weigh approximately 60-80 lbs. Additionally, you can use a combination of deeps and mediums depending on your needs.

How much care does a hive need?
Less than a dog, more than a goldfish.

During the cold months, you won’t be doing anything to your hive aside from make sure they are staying dry and their entrance is clear so they can come and go to the bathroom (cleansing flights). In the winter, a skeleton crew of bees balls up at the center of the hive, moving as a group and eating the honey and pollen stores they’d worked so hard to gather during the season. As they won’t fly below about 45°, the bees will stay in the hive until the weather warms up, when they will start taking their cleansing flights and the queen will start rebuilding the population in anticipation of forage season.

Once spring begins and the weather is consistently over 50°F, beekeeping season is on! You will want to monitor your hive’s health.

At the height of the season, plan to check on your Langstroth hive about every 3 weeks depending on the strength and size of the colony. In comparison, you would be checking on a top bar hive via the window at least every week to week and a half and a Warre hive about every month.

FRAMES, BOXES, AND WINDOWS

Langstroth’s original design used foundationless frames.

Foundationless means the four-sided frames are empty in the middle without plastic or wax foundation, and the bees build their own natural combs within. Foundationless frames require more careful management early on, especially when starting with brand new equipment. Once established however, it’s quite simple to add frames in a foundationless hive. As you gain experience and your apiary grows, you’ll begin to accumulate valuable frames with drawn comb inside. This can be used when starting new colonies or expanding your current ones. A trick experienced foundationless beekeepers use to ensure straight comb construction is to stagger empty frames with frames that contain drawn combs, alternating foundationless / drawn / foundationless / drawn. The bees will be forced to build straight combs in the foundationless frames.

The most critical thing to ensure straight comb production is the use of comb guides. We include these for the top and bottom of our frames. A stick, a strip of foundation or a wedge all work well to encourage the bees to build straight combs from the start. It’s not 100% successful, but without comb guides you can be sure you’ll have crooked combs and an inaccessible mess of wax in each of your boxes.

We use and encourage the use of foundationless frames and bars in all of our hives because it lets the bees build their own natural combs to the sizes they prefer, doesn’t introduce plastic or contaminated wax from unknown sources, and lets the beekeeper harvest honey with minimal equipment such as crush and strain or cut comb.

Box Height: Medium vs Deep

Differences in box sizes will result in how heavy the boxes will eventually be. A medium filled with honeycomb might weight 40-60 lbs, while a deep filled with honeycomb might weigh 60-80 lbs. If you don’t have a buddy to help when harvesting or moving boxes, mediums can be a better choice for your back. You can also mix and use both deeps and mediums. Many beekeepers start their colonies in deeps (brood boxes) and add mediums on top as honey supers. Others use all mediums or all deeps to fully-standardize their apiary. Deeps open up the most options for starting a colony, as they can accept a nucleus, package, or a swarm. Mediums generally only work for packages or swarms.

Box Width: 8 Frame vs 10 Frame

The frames refer to how many frames fit side by side in a box and how many frames you will be managing in each box. To this end, an 8 frame medium box is going to weigh substantially less than a 10 frame deep box. As stated before, some beekeepers use a mix of box sizes, depending on how they like to work their hives. Using larger boxes also determines how often you will need to monitor the box.

Windows

Windows are a very useful feature for beekeepers new and old to monitor their bees without causing the major disturbance of lifting off the roof and inner cover. A quick check in the window can tell you whether they are still there, how much comb has been produced or whether they’ve stored any honey. Windows are only available in deep boxes, not mediums.

SHOPPING LIST

DEEP LANGSTROTH STARTER KIT

MEDIUM LANGSTROTH STARTER KIT

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RECOMMENDED READING & TOOLS

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BEE FEEDERS

BEE FEEDERS

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History

Lorenzo Langstroth designed the first “Langstroth” hive in 1852, but today’s version is by far a more basic version from the original of his name. The key features remain, being:

  • Moveable frames that hang vertically in the boxes
  • Stacked boxes of various sizes, with the bottom boxes for the bees and their brood
  • An inner cover board
  • A bottom board and entrance

The most important feature to this hive was the movable frames.

While others had figured out bee space and movable bars and frames, Langstroth’s design was the first to make it practical to mass produce and eliminated a lot of the issues with previous designs. It’s a little known fact that Langstroth kept his bees without foundation in the same way we do in all three hive designs we use and sell.

HOW TO LANGSTROTH

Langstroth hives yield the most honey, need a moderate amount of management, and require heavy lifting.

People that want to stick with the standard tried-and-true design with the most resources and teachers available tend to choose the Langstroth hive.

If a strong colony has overwintered and resides in a Langstroth hive, it can produce a lot of honey in a good season. Generally, Langstroth hives can yield the most honey of the three hive types we offer. Keep in mind bees need enough honey to make it through winter (40-60 lbs at least where we are in the Pacific Northwest, but that might be more or less depending on your location) and we always recommend taking no honey from them in the first year. After all, their whole purpose in life is to build up enough honey stores to thrive through the cold months. Taking it all from them only sets them up to fail!

Langstroth hives are generally expanded and increased by adding empty boxes on top of the hive. This is called supering.Adding boxes to the bottom is called nadiring.

This allows the bees to build upwards to store more honey. In your first year you will likely use at least two boxes, but most likely three and possibly four total. Note that you can add boxes under the hive (nadir) exactly like a Warre hive and allow the bees to move downward like they would in a natural cavity. This is much easier when using all boxes of the same size.

Choosing medium sized boxes means the boxes are shallower than deep Langstroth boxes. This makes lifting lighter and the profile of the hive slimmer. Similarly, you will be choosing eight frame or ten frame boxes (meaning the boxes fit eight or ten frames across). The difference between these choices means how much you are maximizing the bees’ honey yield and how much you want to lift. 8-frame medium boxes full of honey weigh approximately 40-60 lbs. 10-frame deeps can weigh approximately 60-80 lbs. Additionally, you can use a combination of deeps and mediums depending on your needs.

How much care does a hive need? Less than a dog, more than a goldfish.

For one, during the cold months, you won’t be doing anything to your hive aside from make sure they are staying dry and their entrance is clear so they can come and go to the bathroom. In the winter, a skeleton crew of bees balls up at the center of the hive, moving as a group and eating the honey and pollen stores they’d worked so hard to gather during the season. As they won’t fly below about 45 degrees, the bees will stay in the hive until the weather warms up, when they will start taking cleansing flights and the queen will start rebuilding the population in anticipation of forage season.

Once spring begins and the weather is consistently over 50 degrees, beekeeping season is on. You will want to check your hive’s health.

In the height of the season, plan to check on your Langstroth hive about every 3 weeks depending on the strength and size of the colony. In comparison, you would be checking on a Top Bar Hive via the window at least every week to week and a half and a Warre hive about every month. 

FRAMES, BOXES, AND WINDOWS

Langstroth’s original design used foundationless frames.

This means the four-sided frames are empty in the middle without plastic or wax foundation, and the bees build their own natural combs within. Foundationless frames require more careful management early on, especially when starting with brand new equipment. Once established, however, it’s quite simple to add frames in a foundationless hive. As you gain experience and your apiary grows, you’ll begin to accumulate valuable frames with drawn comb inside. This can be used when starting new colonies or expanding your current ones. A trick experienced foundationless beekeepers use to ensure straight comb construction is to stagger empty frames with frames that contain drawn combs, alternating foundationless/ drawn/foundationless/drawn. The bees will be forced to build straight combs in the foundationless frames.

The most critical thing to ensure straight comb production is the use of comb guides. We include these for the top and bottom of our frames. A stick, a strip of foundation, or a wedge all work well to encourage the bees to build straight combs from the start. It’s not 100% successful, but without comb guides you can be sure you’ll have crooked combs and an inaccessible mess of wax in each of your boxes.

We use and encourage the use of foundationless frames and bars in all of our hives because it lets the bees build their own natural combs to the sizes they prefer, doesn’t introduce plastic or contaminated wax from unknown sources, and lets the beekeeper harvest with minimal equipment such as crush and strain or cut comb.

Box Height: Medium vs Deep

Differences in box sizes will result in how heavy the boxes will eventually be. A medium filled with honeycomb might weight 40-60 lbs, while a deep filled with honeycomb might weigh 60-80 lbs. If you don’t have a buddy to help when harvesting or moving boxes, mediums can be a great choice for your back. You can mix deeps and mediums. Many beekeepers start their colonies in deeps (brood boxes) and add mediums on top as honey supers. Others use all mediums or all deeps to fully-standardize their apiary. Deeps open up the most options for starting a colony, as they can accept a nucleus, package, or a swarm. Mediums generally only work for packages or swarms.

Box Width: 8 Frame vs 10 Frame

The frames refer to how many frames fit side by side in a box and how many frames you will be managing in each box. To this end, an 8 frame medium box is going to weigh substantially less than a 10 frame deep box. Some beekeepers use a mix of box sizes, depending on how they like to work their hives. Using larger boxes also determines how often you will need to monitor the box.

Windows

Windows are a very useful feature for beekeepers new and old to monitor their bees without causing the major disturbance of lifting off the roof and inner cover. A quick check in the window can tell you whether they are still there, how much comb has been produced, or whether they’ve stored any honey. Windows are only available in deep boxes, not mediums. 

Deciding which wood to choose for your hive?
Take a look at this chart comparing the differences!

SHOPPING LIST

DEEP LANGSTROTH WITH DEEP FRAMES

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MEDIUM LANGSTROTH WITH MEDIUM FRAMES

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Sold out

RECOMMENDED READING & TOOLS

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Sold out
Sold out
Sold out

BEE FEEDERS

Sold out
Sold out
Sold out