Understanding Beehives: What Are All Those Parts?

| 3/11/2014 12:26:00 PM

Tags: beekeeping, beehives, Illinois, Julia Miller,

When I first started thinking about beekeeping, my knowledge of bee hives went something like this: stack some white boxes against a fence or tree line and bees will make honey. Ok, maybe I wasn't quite that far off base but I had no understanding of how to begin. Most of the hives I saw appeared to lean precariously, ready to fall over in the slightest breeze. I did not know these boxes had names or why they looked so haphazard.

There is a learning curve with any new hobby. My mission is to help new beekeepers by describing some of these basic facts so you can avoid some of the early frustration I experienced. This post will walk you through setting up a hive that honeybees will want to live in.


The most common hive style in use is the Langstroth design. Patented by Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth in 1852, the hive consists of stackable boxes with movable frames. The boxes have no top or bottom. This structure provides shelter for honeybees plus a system that allows the beekeeper to monitor the activity and health of the colony.

The Hive Stand

A hive can not sit directly on the ground. Ground moisture will seep through the wood and into the floor of the hive. Wet basements are not good for bees. Your base does not need to be fancy. A wooden pallet or concrete blocks will do. Some beekeepers will nail together a small wooden pad to support the hive. There are stands available for order that are made specifically for this purpose if you are inclined to go that route. As long as the hive is raised off the ground and not in direct contact with the soil, any type of stand is acceptable. Understand that if using wood you will need to replace it every few years as the wood deteriorates. The height of the stand is personal preference. Since I am on the rather short side of stature, an old pallet works for me.Screened Bottom Board

Bottom Board

The floor of the hive may be solid wood or a screened board. Either are referred to as the bottom board. With the increase in varroa mite infestations, many beekeepers are using a screened bottom board as part of their mite control system. The bottom board has a ledge around three sides that supports the box above it. The open side is the entrance to the hive. A block of wood called an entrance reducer is used during cold weather and when establishing a new hive to close down part of the entrance.

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