The iconic Langstroth has remained the most popular type of beehive for over 150 years. Widely used by beekeepers worldwide, its simple design is versatile, easy to use, and affordable.
If you want to start beekeeping, understanding how they’re designed, and the pros and cons is essential. This guide closely examines the Langstroth hive so that you know if it’s right for you.
What’s a Langstroth beehive?
The Langstroth is a vertical hive consisting of modular boxes that can be added to as the colony expands. Each box contains frames on which bees build comb to store brood, honey, and other food supplies.
Additional features of the Langstroth include a small front entrance, bottom board, inner cover, and top cover.
Langstroth hive video explainer
The three sections – quick overview
Although a Langstroth has various parts, the design consists of three main zones.
The boxes are the engine rooms of the hive, used by honey bees to store brood, honey, nectar, pollen, and propolis. It is also where the bees live when they aren’t out foraging.
The modular box design is part of what makes a Langstroth so valuable. Expanding the hive with additional boxes is easy as the bee population increases.
2. Upper section
The upper section protects the colony from rain, snow, and nefarious threats.
A removable inner cover sits on top of the highest box. The top cover adds a second layer of protection that seals off the bees from the outside world.
3. Lower section
There is a base on which the boxes are placed at the bottom of the hive. A bottom board includes a small entrance that is big enough for bees to pass through but often too small for predators like vermin to enter.
Placing the base on a stand will add a further layer of security, deterring pests like ants and mice.
The main components of a Langstroth
The primary components of a Langstroth hive are the bottom board, boxes, frames, inner cover, and top cover. Beekeepers can add optional parts such as a hive stand, entrance reducer, cloak board, feeder, and queen excluder.
1. Bottom board
At the hive’s base is a bottom board, which supports the rest of the hive. It includes the entrance for the bees to enter and exit. Although bottom boards come in a range of designs, beekeepers commonly use two common types.
Solid bottom boards are great for keeping the hive warm in winter and may encourage earlier brood rearing. They also allow pheromones to stay in the hive once released, which assists communication.
However, solid boards don’t allow ventilation which isn’t ideal when the weather heats up.
Screened bottom boards are helpful for monitoring and preventing pests like the varroa mite. They also help ventilate the hive and stop condensation buildup.
In cold climates, screened bottoms will make the colony work overtime to keep itself warm.
2. Hive boxes
Bodies and supers make up the bulk of the Langstroth hive. They are rectangular boxes that house frames on which honey bees build their comb. Their uniform sizing makes it easy for beekeepers to add additional boxes as the colony expands.
Although the internal dimensions of these boxes are standardized, there may be some variance between different brands and countries. Check out our guide to Langstroth hive dimensions for more information.
The outside dimensions of Langstroth boxes will vary depending on the materials used. For example, those constructed of wood will be smaller than the ones made from polystyrene foam.
The Langstroth hive has standardized box dimensions in three heights: shallow, medium, and deep. Deeps or mediums are often placed at the hive’s base, on the bottom board. Bees often use lower boxes to rear their brood.
Medium and shallow boxes are best for honey stores. Once filled with honeycomb, the deeps become difficult for beekeepers to lift.
Worth a read: Do polyurethane honey bee hives provide better winter insulation than wooden hives. Check out the research here.
Frames are placed within each box, and these may include a wax-coated foundation for the bees to build comb on. As interest in natural beekeeping grows, the production of foundationless frames also increases. They give bees the freedom to develop their comb, like wild bees.
Beekeepers can decide whether to use bodies that house 8 or 10 frames. The size difference may sound insignificant, but it’s noticeable during honey harvest.
A 10-frame full of honey could weigh around 80 pounds which is hard work to lift. Moving them around is challenging when making gradual, slow movements around the colony.
4. Inner Cover
An inner cover gets placed on top of the highest box. It allows fresh air to circulate while moisture can freely exit. This internal cover also prevents bees from coating the outer cover with propolis.
If feeding the colony is necessary, the inner cover often has a small hole for placing a feeder.
A gap in the cover gives the colony a secondary entry and exit point when the outer cover isn’t in place.
5. Top Cover
The top cover is placed atop the inner one, offering protection from the elements. It stops water from getting into any gaps, keeping everything dry.
The telescoping top cover is a popular option that most experienced beekeepers recommend. It is usually built from wood and has a thin metal cover on the top. Water and snow run off instead of accumulating.
Using straps or placing a brick or rock on top will help keep the cover in place. This added weight is essential during stormy, windy weather.
Optional Langstroth add-ons
Hive stands often aren’t included as part of the core equipment, but the additional expense is well worth it. An elevated hive helps keep pests, disease, and dampness at a distance. Beekeepers will also find it easier to work on hives off the ground.
Purpose-built stands are available, but cheaper options like cinder blocks are also effective.
Entrance extruders are often simple pieces of wood that reduce the size of the hive’s entrance.
They help establish a new colony, making it easier for young bees to defend against robbers. A smaller hole is easier to guard when hive numbers are low.
An entrance reducer is also worth adding during hive winterizing. It makes it harder for unwanted pests like vermin to access the hive.
The disadvantage of a reducer is that the entrance can get overcrowded, especially when set to its most restrictive setting.
Cloake board (bottom-without-a-bottom)
A cloake board can be installed between two brood nest boxes. It allows beekeepers to easily split a hive without lifting any boxes off. This feature makes the job of splitting hives easier.
Feeders are helpful during times of nectar dearth when food sources are low. Beekeepers usually fill them with sugar syrup or granulated sugar to stop the colony from starving.
There is a range of different styles of feeders.
- Entrance feeders have an inverted container feeder attached to the hive’s opening.
- Hive top feeders are positioned at the top of the hive and are often inverted containers with small holes in the lid. Some hive top feeders are shaped like a hive body.
- Division board feeders are similar in shape to a Langstroth frame and hang inside one of the boxes.
A queen excluder is placed above the highest box the beekeeper will allow the queen to venture into. It is usually a plastic or metal grid with holes enabling worker bees to pass through, but not the queen or drones.
The queen excluder stops the queen bee from laying eggs in the honey supers. When this happens, the honey is harder to harvest, and fall management becomes a bigger challenge.
Some beekeepers prefer not to use a queen excluder as it slows down the progress of the worker bees. The result could mean less honey production.
Why use a Langstroth hive?
Langstroths are a good choice for beekeepers looking for a popular hive with many accessories.
If scaling honey production is a high priority, these hives are your best option. However, beekeepers who can’t lift awkward-sized boxes and those with limited mobility may find the Langstroth challenging.
Advantages of using a Langstroth hive
- Quickly expand (or downsize) the hive by adding a super.
- Plenty of guides and resources make learning easy.
- Most popular hive in the United States, Australia, the U.K., and many other countries.
- Easily mix ‘n match equipment and parts from different product manufacturers.
- A stable hive thanks to its four-sided design.
- Cheaper than other popular types of hive.
- Easy transfer of brood and food stores between hives.
Disadvantages of using a Langstroth hive
- Some find the aesthetics of the design too simple and boxy.
- Inspections are more of a challenge, removing all the boxes on top to get to the deeps at the bottom.
- The boxes become cumbersome to move around when loaded with honey. Check out our reviews of the Flow Hive or Apimaye hive if this is a problem for you.
- Require storage for equipment when not in use.
Who invented the Langstroth hive?
The Langstroth hive was invented by Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth in 1851. He received a patent for its design in 1852.
It was unique at the time for having frames that could be moved. It superseded the skep, which had been the main type of hive for many years. Be sure to check out our article on what is a skep to learn more.
Another innovation of his hive was the space between the top bars and the hive cover. A 1cm gap meant the bees wouldn’t fill it with propolis or burr comb. Instead, they used it as a space for walking around. This theory was applied to all the boxes, allowing the frames to be removed as needed.
The Langstroth is a super-popular hive that will tick all the boxes for most beekeepers. They’re affordable, readily available, and you’ll get plenty of honey if your bees are well-managed.
New beekeepers will do well to invest in a Langstroth; with so many other users of this hive, support, and information will never be far away.
The most important question a new beekeeper should ask is whether they can manage potentially heavy boxes. Anyone with a bad back or any impediment that makes it hard to lift should consider other options.
Langstroths take a fair bit of work, and moving boxes during inspections is a prerequisite.