The iconic Langstroth has remained the most popular type of beehive for over 150 years. Widely used by beekeepers around the world, its simple design is versatile, easy to use, and affordable.
If you’re looking to get started beekeeping, then understanding how they’re designed and the pros and cons are essential. This guide will take a close look at 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.
The three sections – quick overview
Although there are various parts to a Langstroth the design can be broken into 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 useful. It’s easy to expand the hive with additional boxes as the bee population increases.
2. Upper section
The upper section is designed to protect the colony from rain, snow, and a range of 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
Located at the bottom of the hive there is a base on which the boxes are placed. 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.
To add a further layer of security to the hive, the base may be housed on a stand to discourage pests like ants.
The main components of a Langstroth
The main components of a Langstroth hive are the bottom board, boxes, frames, inner cover, and top cover. There are optional parts beekeepers can add-on such as a hive stand, entrance reducer, cloak board, feeder, and queen excluder.
1. Bottom board
As the name suggests, the bottom board is located at the base of the hive. It supports the rest of the hive and includes the entrance for the bees to enter and exit easily.
Although bottom boards come in a range of designs, there are two common types used by beekeepers.
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 they’re released which assists communication.
However, solid boards don’t allow ventilation which isn’t ideal when the weather heats up.
Screened bottom boards are useful 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 that honey bees build their comb on. 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 is somewhat standardized in size, but you’ll find they have three heights: shallow, medium, and deep. Deeps or mediums are often placed at the base of the hive, on top of the bottom board. This is where the bees will 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.
The 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 in popularity, frames without foundations are being manufactured. This gives the bees freedom to build their own foundations like wild bees would do.
Beekeepers can decide whether to use bodies that house 8 or 10 frames. Although the distinction between these two sizes may not sound a big deal, it is once they’re fully laden. A 10 frame that’s full of honey could weigh around 80 pounds which is hard work to lift. Moving them around is especially challenging when you’re trying to make gradual, slow movements around the bees.
4. Inner Cover
An inner cover is positioned on top of the highest box. It allows fresh air to circulate through the hive and allows moisture to exit. The inner 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, aka outer cover, is placed atop the inner cover and is used to protect the interior of the hive from the elements. Its design overlaps the inner cover which stops water getting into any gaps.
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. Hot sunlight is reflected off and water runs off effortlessly.
To keep the cover in place and to deter predators, a heavy object like a rock or brick should be placed on top. This is essential during stormy or windy weather.
A telescoping cover is a good option in areas that get extra cold in winter. A wrap can be tucked inside the rim to assist with overwintering.
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 out and reduces the chance of damp. Beekeepers will also find it easier to work on hives that are off the ground.
Purpose-built stands are available to purchase, but cheaper options like cinder blocks are also quite effective.
Entrance extruders are often a simple piece of wood that reduce the size of the hive’s entrance.
They are useful for establishing a new colony, making it easier for young bees to defend against robber bees. A smaller hole is easier to guard when hive numbers are just getting established.
An entrance reducer is also worth adding during hive winterizing. It makes it harder for unwanted pests like vermin to gain access to 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. This allows beekeepers to easily split a hive without needing to lift any boxes off. This makes the job of splitting one thriving hive into two a little easier.
Feeders are useful 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 are attached to the entrance of the hive and have an inverted container feeder.
- Hive top feeders are positioned at the top of the hive and are often inverted containers that have small holes in the lid. Some hive top feeders are shaped like a hive body.
- Division board feeders are a similar shape to a Langstroth frame and hang inside one of the boxes.
A queen excluder is placed above the highest box that the beekeeper will allow the queen to venture. It is usually a grid of plastic or metal with holes that allow 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 end result could mean less honey production.
Why use a Langstroth hive?
Langstroths are a good choice for beekeepers looking for a popular hive with plenty of accessories. If scaling honey production is a high priority, then these hives are your best option. However, beekeepers who can’t lift awkward-sized boxes and those with limited mobility may find the Langstroth difficult to work with.
Advantages of using a Langstroth hive
- Quickly expand (or downsize) the hive by adding a super.
- Plenty of guides and resources makes 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 as you will have to remove all the boxes on top to get to the deeps at the bottom.
- The boxes can become quite cumbersome to move around when loaded up 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 so need storage space.
Who invented the Langstroth hive?
The Langstroth hive was invented by Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth back in 1851. 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 up 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 easily be removed as needed.
The Langstroth is a super-popular type of 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.