Hive Choices

Article by Debra Langley-Boyer, Member of OBA and President of Belfair & Beyond Beekeepers.

Debra presented the following information at the February 2023 General Meeting.

Which hive is best for you?

Honeybee’s can use a great variety of places for their hive.  Beekeepers provide hives for the bees as a convenience to the beekeeper.  Different style hives are used successfully all over the world.  The challenge is deciding what type of hive(s) will you use.  Many places have laws, such as in the United States we need to have some sort of removable frame (comb).  Beekeepers need to be able to examine hive for disease.  This article is just a quick look at some possibilities.  It explores a few of the pros and cons of some hives.  As well as questions the beekeeper needs to ask themselves when choosing a hive style.  

A beekeeper that has been around should be able to help you with general bee care.  Not all beekeepers will know exactly how every hive style works.  They can help you check brood or disease by looking at comb.  They do know if a hive needs space for brood or honey.  They may not know that a particular hive differences from Langstroth such as moving frames not adding boxes.  Details of how to work each hive is not universal. 

I cannot recommend that new beekeepers use any hive that has not been around for many years (50 to 100).   Learn about bees first in a tried-and-true hive style.  Then experiment.  Some of the experiments do not work in the end.  Bees will always behave like bees.  The hive style is about the beekeeper accessing the bees. 

Many hive styles can work for a new beekeeper.   Choose a hive style for you not another beekeeper.  Most hive types have potential adjustments to make it work for you.  All styles have beekeepers that love that one type of hive.  I recommend different hives for different people.   Think about the items below before choosing a hive.

Bees wants and needs:Engineering drawing

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  • Nice size cavity to build comb, lay brood, and store honey for winter.
  • Protection from weather and predators.  
  • Food source.

Beekeeper wants and needs: Some questions to ask and think about.

  • Why honeybees?  Products -Honey, pollination, wax or just love bees?  
  • Food – what will your bees eat?  Look at local plants.
  • Location -What protection do you need for weather (rain, snow, sun, wind)  or predators (bear)?  Where will hives be located?
  • Finances – Beekeeping is expensive.  Some hives initially cost more than others.  A picture containing old

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  • Physical (your capabilities) – What shape are you in for lifting heavy hives? Or alternative method.
  • Purchase equipment – Some equipment is easy to find others not. Build?
  • Assistance needed /available – mentor and classes?
  • Aesthetics (looks) – What do you like?
  • How to keep bees (time/treatment)– natural? Spend lots/little time working bees? Inspection – how often can you do it?  
  • Mobile – Do you plan on moving hives often?
  • Space  –number of hives, place to put hives 

Hives:  -very general information.  Many more hive styles to choose from. History shows us hives have been around for hundreds of years.  People have been using and inventing the whole time.  
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New styles, designs and decorations continue to develop.  Hives are generally vertical or horizonal, stacking or one size, frames or bars, foundation support or not and a variety of extras (feeders, insulation …)

  • Langstroth – (frames and vertical boxes)
    • Size of frames and boxes (deep, medium shallow – 5, 8 or 10 frame). Can add boxes to top for more space.  No protection (can add shelter, lids, covers).  Heavy lifting or moving one frame at a time per box.  Easy to get parts.  Common hive in U.S.  Mobile with lifting and truck.  
    • Long Langstroth – single long horizontal box. Limited space. Lift one frame at a time. Not so mobile. 

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  • AZ (Slovenian or American)  (frames and vertical chambers)
    • In bee house, opens like cabinet to work bees, frames slid in and out like books on shelf,
    • Has great protection (bee house).  Cost more -last longer. No lifting -only frame.  Few use AZ hive in U.S.  Travel – trailer.  Cannot add extra chambers.
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  • Top Bar (Kenya)(bars in one long horizontal chamber )
    • Limited space. No protection (can add shelter, lids, covers).  No lifting –one bar at a time.  Comb on bars, no support.  Few use. Harder to move.  Good natural wax when crushing for honey. Viewing window.
    • Notes from Tina who has top bar.  They offer a Zen feel with beekeeping.  Hive must be kept level.  A picture containing tree, person

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  • Warre’ (bars and vertical boxes)
    • Can expand for more space.  Add new box to bottom. No protection (can add shelter, lids, covers).   Lifting.  Small boxes (about 8 bars).  Comb on bars, no support.  Can get tall.  Few use.  Mobile with lifting and truck.  Natural growth for bees (top honey bottom brood).  Viewing window. Good natural wax when crushing for honey.
    • Notes from Shaari who has Warre’ hives.  Hive builds down.  Hard for chemical mite treatment and inspection.  Hive must be kept level.  Correct comb as soon as you see it.  
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  • Cathedral (notes from Angela Baker -Women in Beekeeping ’21)
    • Smaller hive – space limited – tend to swarm
    • Materials hard to find – splits hard
    • Bars fiddly to get started (empty tend to sip down into hive)
    • Comb more stable in warm weather than top bar because of 3 sides.
  • Layens  (horizontal- long frames)

  • Apimaye (horizontal stacking, insulation, plastic)
  • Flow  (stacking, honey flow box,)

Quick look at these hives.       1 = poor   5=great

HiveCavity sizeProtection CostProduct findLiftingEquipmentMentorTravel
Top Bar33-4435432

Book Review – The Orchard Mason Bee

The Orchard Mason Bee; The Life History, Biology, Propagation, and Use of a North American Native Bee (Osmia lignaria propinqua Cresson)

by Brian L. Griffin and Illustrated by Sharon Smith and the Author

3rd printing 2011  Knox Cellars Publishing, Bellingham, WA

Here is a great resource for “How To” capture and raise these mild mannered pollinators in your own backyard. The lifestyle and habitat for the Orchard Mason Bee fits our native area, and can assure that you have pollination when apples, pears and other crops need it, even in the most fickle spring weather.

This short book is well referenced. It gives understandable explanations for the “bee science” as they develop and adapt to your yard. Presented with perfect science projects for young children, too. All the dimensions for making “Bee Boxes” of your own are given, or you can find ready made options for habitation.. 

But the Orchard Mason Bee does not make honey. These bees live as neighbors in a common area, but are not “social” or in need of leadership. They are not a hive, but a significant pollination crew. The Mason Bee will integrate into your garden without displacing your current pollinators. Not bad when we are looking at significant climate change stressing all of our crop cycles. 

Northern Giant Hornets (AKA Murder Hornets)

We had the pleasure of hosting, Cassie Cichorz from Washington Department of Agriculture, Plant Protection-Pest Program for an update on the Northern (Asian) Giant Hornet. 

Recently given the common name “Northern Giant Hornet”, they are currently only reported in Northern Washington State, however could theoretically hitch hike to our area.

For more information visit the WSDA web site. You will find reporting tools, identification photos, instructions on what to do if you find one (don’t kill it, they capture and track them using a radio antenna).

PNW Survey of Bee Health & Beekeeping Practices

Survivorship Survey – by Dewey M. Caron

Last year, 271 OR/WA backyarder beekeepers returned April surveys on overwintering colony losses/survivorship, and management such as colony feeding, sanitation and Varroa control efforts. The results for WA beekeepers are posted on the website:

There were 52 WA respondents included in the WA report
Colony loss levels from all WA respondents were 40% for 8-frame and 59% for 10-frame Langstroth hive beekeepers, 100% for 5-frame nucs and 97% for top bar hives. For 5 Pierce Co respondents, overall losses were 75%, and 47% for 25 Lewis Co beekeepers; from the 52 total Washington beekeeper respondents, the loss level was 60%. With only 52 total responses I DO NOT think it is representative of the survivorship of Washington beekeepers.
The electronic survey will be open March 28th and continue through end of April. It should take no more than 5-7 minutes to complete. Information requested will be very similar so I can compare last year with the current one, but I have trimmed the survey so it is shorter with fewer questions. If you would like to review the inquiries in preparation for the survey, please locate the “2016 PNWals-prep” pdf download available on the website blog page or by simple Google search.
While the main emphasis of the survey revolves around reporting how many colonies you had last fall compared to this spring, which we assess through hive location, hive types and originations (meaning were they overwintered colonies, nucs or packages purchased, swarms or splits), other survey questions sometimes open up more questions than provide answers. Last year, for example, beekeepers doing several wintering preparations improved survival, but feeding or use of the sanitation alternatives we listed did not result in better survivorship, at least not directly. Those beekeepers using sugar shake or mite drop boards to monitor mite buildup had fewer overwintering losses, while beekeepers using other sampling methods did not. Non-chemical treatments did not, directly, improve survivorship, at least for our survey respondents; use of Apivar, essential oil or formic acid significantly improved survivorship
The BeeInformed survey is also conducted in April each year. I ask that you continue to participate in this national survey as well. Although funding is now in the last year of this effort, we are hoping to continue what is now a 10-year record of overwinter loss/survivorship. Our BIP report from last year is posted on the pnwhoneybeesurvey site and I include comparisons to losses in Canada and Europe. Access the BIP survey at: (it is available in April only)
THANK YOU FOR SHARING THIS PAST SEASON. Please consider completing a survey for the 2016-2017 season this April. I am hopeful that there might be a larger County beekeeper response so I can provide additional Association reports.

Fortified Sugar Block Recipe

Lauri Miller Fortified Sugar Block Recipe

  • 25# cane sugar
  • one scant quart cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp of electrolytes
  • 1-2 Tbs citric acid (found in your canning dept)
  • Splash of Pro Health or other scented essential oil of choice

Mix together about 1/3 of the sugar and vinegar at a time in a five gallon bucket with a large drill and paint paddle mixer. If you try to mix it all at once, you will get uneven moisture distribution. Mixture will feel very soft, but not wet or sticky. I use a shallow aluminum baking sheet that fits right into my Cabelas food dehydrator. You can use any size pan you want, but be sure your bricks are no taller than your feeding shim under the lid.

Roll out and lightly compress in the pan. NOW sprinkle with BeePro or other dry protein mix if desired. I don’t want to force them to eat protein , especially if they can’t get out for cleansing flights regularly. If you live in a climate where regular cleansing flights are far and few between (a month or more) I might leave off the BeePro. You would need to experiment a bit to see what is the right mix for your hive’s conditions.

Be SURE to cut the sugar into block size as soon as you make them. You’ll NEVER do it after it’s hard. The blocks will usually set up and harden in 1-2 days in the food dehydrator at about 130 degrees. It can take between 1 week and 3 weeks to dry and harden out in the open air. It depends on your room temp and humidity level.

Be sure NOT to cook this recipe or it will turn out differently, possibly a gooey mess.

Cheap insurance on hives with questionable stores, crucial for hives that have run out of stores.
This is what I am doing this year for hives that had eaten some of their stores, due to our warmer than normal fall and are now a bit on the light side. (I fed syrup earlier this fall until they no longer took it up). We are well into November and it is too late to feed syrup. Time to prepare for a dryer sugar mixture winter feed. They probably will not be needed for a few months, but I want to have them ready to install on a day the weather is decent and not raining. Note: do not feed sugar until they are winter clustered and actually are close to needing the extra feed. If they have much honey left they will haul the sugar out as trash.
Make sure you have an upper entrance and good air circulation.

Notes by Jim Rieck:

Because my operation is much smaller than that of Lauri Miller, I only make up this recipe using a ten pound bag of sugar with the following proportions:

  • 10# cane sugar (I use C&H or First Street – found at Cash & Carry or wherever)
  • 7 oz. apple cider vinegar (I use Four Monks found at Cash & Carry)
  • ¼ tsp. of electrolytes (Vitamins & Electrolytes “Plus” from or Del’s Farm Supply)
  • 1 tsp. of citric acid (Rocky Top Home Brew Supplies)
  • 1 tsp. of Honey B Healthy

After mixing well, I put it in similar aluminum sheet pans to those that Lauri uses, only they measure 13” X 9 ½” X ¾”. I picked mine up at Cash and Carry. What doesn’t fit into those I put in rectangular paper soup bowls that I found at Winco. They measure 8” X 8” X ¾”. I roll the mixture with a rolling pin and take a putty knife to chamfer the edges. For the aluminum sheets, I measure 6 ½” and bisect the sheet with a straight edge making two bricks per sheet. They fit nicely in my food dehydrator and are just the right size to put one or even two on the top bars right over the cluster. I don’t use the BeePro or any other protein powder like Lauri does. I probably overdry the blocks just to make sure I am not introducing any moisture into the hive. To prevent moisture absorption in storage keep each one in a Zip Lock. I normally don’t put the blocks on until late November. A fairly large healthy hive may only need one block to get through the winter. In warmer winters some of the hives have needed a second block. When the weather warms in March or early April, I will switch over to 1:1 syrup to stimulate brood rearing in preparation for the bigleaf maple and fruit tree honey flow.