Beekeeping Wiki

The Langstroth bee hive is the standard beehive used in many parts of the world for bee keeping.


In 1853, the Rev. L. L. Langstroth published a book called The Hive and the Honey Bee. This book describes the use and dimensions of the modern bee hive as we know it today. Prior to 1845, bees were mostly hived in skeps (conical straw baskets) or gums (hollowed out logs that approximated the natural dwellings of bees).

In the years 1845-1850 Dr Jan Dzierżon determined the correct distances needed for movable frames in beehives. The distance between combs had been described as 1 and ½ inches (38.1 mm) from the center of one top bar to the center of the next one. In this case, the distance between combs is 1/2 inch (12.7 mm), i.e. twice the minimal “bee space” of 1/4 an inch (6.35 mm).[1] (This setup had been established for the brood chamber, as for honey storage the comb distance can be different.)

In 1848 Jan Dzierzon introduced grooves into the hive’s side walls to replace the strips of wood that the top bars had earlier been hung from.[2] The grooves were 8 x 8 mm – exact average between 1/4 and 3/8 of an inch. (Currently, the range 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch (6.35 - 0.9525 mm) is named the “bee space”.)

In Europe, both Dzierzon and Berlepsch had been focused on side-opened hives. The land resources had been limited and traditionally the bee hives had been kept in beehouses. The so called “bee space” had been incorporated by Berlepsch, following Dzierzon’s discoveries, into his frame arrangement (Bienen-Zeitung, May 1852). It means the correct distance between side bar of the frame and hive wall was already there in Europe.

In America, L.L. Langstroth's patent (5 October 1852) adopted 3/8 of an inch (0.9525 mm) between the side bars of a frame and hive wall and also reserved rights to use the distance 1/2 inch (12.7 mm) between top bars and inner cover, which leaves too great a space to be appropriate.

The name "bee space” was invented later than 1852. In incorrect interpretations, the term mixes together the inter-comb space (1/2 inch (12.7 mm)), the distance from frame to hive wall (1/4-3/8 inch (6.35 - 0.9525 mm)), and even the distance from the frame to the hive bottom, which can be 1/4 to 3/4 inch or even 1 inch (6.35 - 19.05 mm or even 25.4 mm).

L. L. Langstroth knew all about Dzierzon’s discoveries. Before 1 Nov. 1851 he read the "Theorie und Praxis, ..." publicized by Jan Dzierzon in 1848. Samuel Wagner the founder of "American Bee Journal" translated the work in 1850 and made it available to Langstroth in the summer of 1851. [3] Moreover, Samuel Wagner visited Jan Dzierzon in his apiaries in Silesia (presently Poland). Also Wagner subscribed to "Bienen-Zeitung" the journal in which Dzierzon publicized his works. Wagner’s translation of Theorie und Praxis, ... was never published, instead Langstroth published his Langstroth on the Hive & Honey Bee.

It is characteristic that Langstroth expressed full estimation for Jan Dzierzon using strong expression:

No words can express the absorbing interest with which I devoured this work. I recognized at once its author as the Great Master of modern apiculture.[4]

Therefore Langstroth constructed his hives so that the frames in which the bees were to make their combs were mechanically separated from all adjacent parts of the hive -- the walls of the hive, the floor of the hive, the cover of the hive, and other frames -- by a quarter of an inch (6 mm). To extract a frame from such a hive the beekeeper will not need to cut any comb. Usually the maximum trouble a beekeeper encounters in removing a frame (apart from bees who may be cranky because the nectar is not abundant out in the field) is that the bees will generally use propolis to adhere the frames to the brackets they rest on. Being able to remove combs easily makes it possible for a beekeeper with many hives of bees to still be able to inspect all of his hives on a regular basis to check for disease, imminent swarming, an aging queen, etc.


The Langstroth bee hive is made up from top to bottom of:

  • Telescoping cover or migratory cover
  • Inner Cover
  • 1 or more hive body / hive bodies or honey supers made of wood, polystyrene, or plastic
    • (optional) queen excluder between brood box and honey supers
    • 8-10 Frames made of wood or plastic per hive body or honey super
      • Foundation made of wax and wires or plastic
  • Bottom Board with optional entrance reducer

Outer cover[]

This is a wooden or polystyrene cover that fits on the top of the hive. In the north, where the cover usually telescopes down around the inner cover and an inch or so down over the top super, it is called a telescoping cover. Many commercial beekeepers use what is called a migratory cover, which is a solid cover that does not extend beyond the sides of a hive body.

Inner cover[]

The inner cover provides a barrier between the telescoping cover and the bees. In the more temperate climates a plastic foil may be used as an inner cover. (It is not wise to winter bees under plastic foil, as the hive would become wet and bees can be lost easily). In areas with a hot summer a solid inner cover with a communication hole provides dead air space for insulation against heat and cold. It prevents the bees from gluing the top cover to the top bars of the super under it. With an inner cover, the top cover is easy to remove from the hive. When the frame of the solid inner cover and telescoping cover is notched it can serve as a top entrance for the bees. A communication hole in the middle allows bees to reach emergency food placed above by the beekeeper if it becomes required. Granulated sugar can be poured onto the inner cover near the hole and the bees will be able to get to it during even the coldest of days.

Hive body and hive super[]

Hive bodies and hive supers are four-sided boxes with standardized inside dimensions. There are generally four different sizes. Outside box dimensions vary depending on the type of material used. Polystyrene boxes have much larger outside dimensions than boxes made out of wood. Deep and medium hive bodies are provided to serve as the brood chamber, the part of the hive where the queen lays eggs and the bees care for the larvae. Medium, shallow and comb honey supers are used for honey stores and to harvest the honey. The inside width is 14 11/16 inches (373 mm) and the inside length is 18 5/16 inches (465 mm). The frames rest on a rabbeted side along both ends of each box.

The deep hive body is normally used only for brood as it becomes too heavy to manually handle if it is filled with honey. Commercial operations usually use one or two deep hive bodies for brood and additional shallow hive components for honey supers. Most hobbyists prefer to standardize on all mediums. Shallow supers are not ideal for the brood chamber of the hive because the bees need to form a single compact sphere during the cold winter months -- a sphere that can expand and contract without being divided by a horizontal plane in the middle caused by the gaps between combs in multiple hive bodies.

Type Depth Frame length Frame depth Frame width
Deep body 9 9/16 inches (243 mm) 19 inches (483 mm) 9 1/8 inches (232 mm) 1 1/8 inches (29 mm)
Medium (Illinois) super 6 5/8 inches (168 mm) 19 inches (483 mm) 6 1/4 inches (159 mm) 1 1/8 inches (29 mm)
Shallow super 5 3/4 inches (146 mm) 19 inches (483 mm) 5 3/8 inches (137 mm) 1 1/8 inches (29 mm)
Comb super 4 3/4 inches (121 mm) 19 inches (483 mm) 4 1/8 inches (105 mm) 1 1/8 inches (29 mm)

The hive body or hive super holds 8-10 frames that are standardized in length. The frames hold the foundation and the honeycomb that is built on it.

Bottom board[]

The bottom board supports the hive. It must be strong to hold the weight of a hive that is filled with honey. The hive weight may exceed 300 pounds (140 kg). The bottom board is the floor of the hive with a 3/4 inch (2 cm) rim around three sides to allow the bees to enter the hive on one side. It also extends 2 inches (5 cm) in front of the boxes to provide a landing board for the bees. Because it is close to moisture in the soil, it is the first to show any sign of decay or rot and it is advisable to use bottom boards constructed of cedar wood. When the hive body sits on the bottom board the provided opening is 14 11/16 by 3/4 inches (37.3 by 1.9 cm). This opening may be suitable for a strong bee hive during the summer but it also may be reduced with a hive entrance reducer when necessary. A reduced opening allows a weaker hive to defend itself and prevents mice and cold winds from entering the hive.

Many bee keepers have screened bottom boards instead of solid bottom boards to aid in hive hygiene, air circulation and to screen for diseases of the honey bee. Some beekeepers add a slatted rack between the bottom board and the hive body. A slatted rack helps the queen in establishing brood comb closer to the entrance of the hive.

Specialty parts[]

Cloake board[]

The cloake board, also known as the bottom-without-a-bottom, is a specialty piece of hive equipment that is installed between two hive bodies of the brood nest. It allows the beekeeper to insert a sliding metal or wood panel to split the hive into two parts without having to lift the hive boxes, the object being to split a single hive into two independent hives.

Queen excluder[]

The queen excluder is a mesh grid, usually made of wire or plastic, sized such that worker bees can pass through but queens generally can not. When used, it is generally placed between the hive body and the honey supers. It is intended to keep the queen from laying eggs in the honey supers (which can lead to darker honey and can complicate extraction). Many beekeepers reject the use of queen excluders, claiming that they create a barrier for workers and result in lower honey collection and storage.


Feeders are mostly used to feed sugar syrup at times of the year when no or not enough nectar flow is available. There are various styles. Division board feeders have a similar shape as a frame and hang inside the hive body the same way as a frame. Entrance feeders are wedged into the hive entrance on the bottom board with an inverted container of feed. Hive top feeders have the same foot print as a hive body and are put on top of the hive but underneath the telescoping cover. Other hive top feeders consist of an inverted container with small holes in the lid, which are placed either on top of the frames or on top of the hole in the inner cover.

Escape boards[]

An escape board is placed between the brood boxes and the supers to clear the supers of most of the bees. The escape board lets bees out of the supers inside the hive but makes it difficult for the bees to come back up. There are several different designs.


  1. Bienen-Zeitung, November 1845 & January 1847, Frauendorfer Blätter (11) 1846)
  2. (Bienen-Zeitung, January 1850)
  3. American’s Master of Bee Culture. The Life of L.L. Langstroth. by Florence Naile, pp. 84 and 85
  4. Reminiscences Gleanings in Bee Culture XXI, 116-118


  • USPatent|9300 -- L.L. Langstroth's patent for a Bee hive from Oct. 5, 1852
  • USPatent|RE1484 -- L.L. Langstroth's patent for a Bee hive Reissued from May 26, 1863