Doubtless at some point we have all seen bee hives, they might have been in a field somewhere or in an apiary - but depending on where you were in the world you would have seen something different (different design) – although the function is identical.
Here in Switzerland there are two main types of hive, the Dadant and the Burki.
The Dadant is the more popular type of hive for honey production in Vaud whereas the Swiss german portion of the country leans toward the burki design (and if we were in England/USA we'd have the Langstroth design).
So, given that all of the hives do the same job what's the difference and why?
Lets start by having a look at a Dadant hive, this one is down in my office at the moment and is now just waiting for the good weather in order to go into the forest.
As you can see it’s basically a wooden box with an entrance and a metal grill in the floor (which you'll see in a minute).
This is the portion of the hive where the bees actually live (as apposed to the honey layer which is where they work but don’t rear young) and is referred to as the 'body'.
If you have a look at the article about renewing the wax you’ll see what the frames look like for this section of the hive – but for now lets carry on with the tour.
In the next image you'll notice that there are giudes in the top of the hive and the bottom (metal plate at the top, pins at the bottom), these are here to ensure that I leave enough space between the frames and it also makes it harder for me to have 'accidents'.
So lets consider a couple of the more important points about this section.
As you can see the floor is effectively a metal grill, this design works well here in central/southern Europe for a couple of reasons, firstly because it allows for better ventilation and secondly because anything that the bees don’t want can drop out of the hive (take for example any pests/bugs that the bees discover, they can either carry them out of the front door or knock them down – if they drop down it’s very hard for them to get back up with this design).
If we were to look at other hive designs we’d find that some of them have solid floors or solid floors with the occasional hole (purely for ventilation).
The point about ventilation might seem unimportant but one of the constants across all bee keeping environments is condensation – during the late spring and summer months the bees generate a lot of condensation – if the hive doesn’t have a method of evacuation then this water soon builds up – and bees are not very good at dealing with water.
Something you’ll see at the base of the hive is the inspection panel, this is effectively a drawer in the bottom the hive which typically has a piece of white plastic in it. Its purpose is to catch whatever the bees are ‘dropping’, this then allows me to see what’s been happening in the hive – for example if they’ve found a wax moth or Varroa then it will end up in the draw so I’ll know about it, alternatively there could be lots of pollen or even dead bees (depending on their maturity this will tell me something about the availability of food and water near the hive).
Another noteworthy point is the front door, it’s noteworthy because we can close it or narrow the opening in order to restrict traffic – again this may not seem like a big deal but at key points in the year when there is a shortage of food naturally available then bees from one colony will try and rob other colonies.
So by restricting the doorway aperture we make it easier for a weaker colony to defend itself (by ensuring that less of the attacking forces can get through the door at once).
Moving on, the next thing we see is a plastic grill which is placed across the hive body – this might seem a little strange but the thing that you can not tell from the picture – and wouldn’t actually be able to tell without a ruler – is that the holes in the grill are large enough for both the drone and worker bees to move through but not quite big enough for the queen to move through.
This then ensures that the queen is unable to lay eggs in the upper section of the bee hive (thus ensuring that when I harvest honey there are no eggs in it).
This in essence is just one of the ways which are used to control the behavior and movement of the queen – if I don’t have this grill in place the queen will lay eggs where ever there is space. It should also be noted that this piece of the hive comes in plastic or metal, I chose plastic as it’s easier to handle and clean.
With a honey layer in place this is what it looks like:
The next thing in the hive is the top board/insulation and then the roof. (the roof is on the first picture, the top board is a square of woord - plain - and the insulation is just a square board that looks a little furry so I didn't make a picture of it).
The top board acts as a barrier stopping the bees going up into the roof section of the hive (I don’t want them building in there); You’ll note that the board also contains a closable hole. This is so that when I need to feed the colony I can put the food in the roof space, this then ensures that only the colony gets to eat what I put out and that the surrounding ‘nature’ can’t get it instead (although ants do pose a problem).
The insulation boards are primarily of use during the cold weather and are comparable to insulating your roof space at home – it’s just a way of trying to stop some of the heat escaping.
If we now look at the roof you’ll notice that it is covered in tin, this is primarily to protect it against the weather and debris. There’s also a hole at each end of the roof just under the apex. This hole has a metal grill over it (inside) as it’s function is purely to allow the hive to breath (more important in hot weather), the metal grill stops small animals such as mice entering the hive via the roof.