An Essential Guide To The Layens Hive

A Layens hive and a beekeeper holding frames

In the United States, vertical hives like the Langstroth get a lot of attention. But horizontal hives offer useful advantages that a beekeeper should consider. Whether you’re new to beekeeping or looking at alternative types of beehive designs, you’ll do well to consider a Layens hive.

To help with your decision-making, we’ve created an essential guide to the Layens horizontal hive. You’re about to discover how this hive works along with its strengths and weaknesses.

What is a Layens hive?

The Layens is a horizontal hive that consists of one rectangular box housing somewhere between 12-30 extra-deep frames. It’s a big hive with big frames, providing the colony with plenty of space to expand.

A Layens hive allows the colony to build a strong population that can produce a lot of honey. In theory, the space provided by this hive will allow rapid buildup in spring while reducing swarming.

Although less popular in the United States, the Layens is very popular in Europe. France has many avid users, and it is estimated that Spain has over one million in operation.

Beekeeper working on an entrance to a Layens hive.
Beekeeper working on an entrance to a Layens hive.

The main parts of a Layens

The Layens design is simple, consisting of one rectangular box filled with frames and a division board. It also has a roof, screened bottom board, and legs. 

1. Box

The horizontal box houses the frames and it is built to withstand cold winters and hot summers. Although models vary by manufacturer, they are often double-walled with a layer of insulation between the two. Overwintering is less of a challenge for the bees as the walls of the box are thick and contain deep frames that mimic a tree trunk.

The entrance usually consists of two ½” high horizontal slits near the bottom of the box. These can be reduced as needed using an entrance reducer and mouse excluder.

In most cases, the box sits on legs to offer some protection from threats like small hive beetle and ants. Keeping the hive off the ground also helps keep moisture out.

2. Frames

The extra-deep frames of a Layens are 13” long by 16” deep. That’s twice the depth of a Langstroth deep.

Finding a honey extractor that is compatible with these large frames will be difficult. To overcome this, beekeepers often bracket two frames together, making it easier during honey production.

Beekeepers usually add foundations to the frames. This helps give the colony a headstart building out the hive.

3. Division board

Division boards, or follower boards, are a useful component of the Layens hive. Weak or small colonies will benefit from a smaller space to work in. The division board also comes into play when combining colonies and overwintering.

4. Roof

The roof, or lid, of a Layens can be flat or peaked depending on who designs it. A pitched roof offers extra room for insulation during winter and also helps any snow to slide off. 

A group of Layens hives in the snow
The Layens hive has excellent insulation.

How to harvest honey

Honey is harvested by removing frames from the edges of the hive. The honey is then extracted using special machinery such as a honey extractor. The frames containing foundations can be returned to the hive at the end of the process, meaning the hive doesn’t have to completely rebuild the comb again.

Some experienced beekeepers recommend only harvesting once a year in fall, a few weeks after the last brood emerges. This gives the colony time to rearrange their stores, placing the less nutritionally valuable honey to the edges. Leaving the best honey for the hive will give them a better fighting chance of making it through winter.

“Layens hives are wonderfully suited for remote out yards. In the yards that I visit only once per year, I always find the bees in excellent shape with the hives full of honey, harvesting which becomes my sole task.”

Jean Hurpin, Founder of L’Abeille

Commonly asked questions

Layens vs. top bar hive – What’s the difference?

The Layens and top bar hive are both horizontal hives that don’t require any lifting of heavy boxes. The main difference is that a Layens contains frames with foundations, allowing the honey to be extracted, then returned to the hive. Top bar hives only use top bars, so during production, the honeycomb is cut from the bar, meaning the colony must rebuild the comb from scratch.

Langstroth vs Layens – what’s the difference?

The Langstroth is a vertical modular hive that is made up of multiple brood boxes and supers. A Layens is a horizontal hive that has only one box containing all the brood and honeycomb. You can check out our complete comparison of the Layens and Langstroth here.

Who invented the Layens hive?

The Layens hive was invented by French beekeeper George de Layens in the 19th century.

How much honey does a Layens frame hold?

A Layens frame holds around 8-12 pounds of honey which is easy to lift for most beekeepers.

Strengths of a Layens hive

  • Effective insulation helps keep the bees warm so they consume less honey.
  • Easy to inspect and minimal lifting and bending required.
  • Cheaper to get started than a Langstroth.
  • Inspecting frames is less invasive than moving whole boxes.
  • Excellent design for overwintering as it stays warm easier.
  • Queen excluders aren’t needed.
  • Division boards make expanding and decreasing the hive easy and less disruptive than vertical hives.
  • Wide entrances mean the beekeeper can create entrances where they are needed and makes splits easier.
  • Weak colonies can easily be strengthened by combining with a second hive.

Weaknesses of a Layens hive

  • Fewer learning materials and mentors compared to a Langstroth.
  • Difficult to move the hive, especially when full of honey.
  • Most extractors aren’t suitable for the extra deep frames.
  • Frames that are attached as a pair have to be separated before honey can be extracted.
  • Can’t add additional space like you can with vertical hives.

Summing up

The Layens hive is a popular choice of hive throughout Europe for good reason. They’re well insulated, making them ideal for cold European winters. Their deep frames also provide plenty of room for the colony to expand rapidly.

If you need a hive that deals well with extreme climates you may also want to consider the Apimaye hive. It is a modernized style of hive that uses a special plastic to help moderate the hive’s internal temperature.

Outside of Europe, newcomers to beekeeping may prefer investing in a vertical Langstroth. You’ll get greater local help and learning resources compared to any other hive. It’s also cheap, easy to scale up, and standardized parts are readily available.   

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