News stories, particularly related to Colony Collapse Disorder, over the past four years have brought considerable interest in beekeeping. I am regularly approached by individuals who are interested in getting started keeping honey bees. They have questions about obtaining bees and ordering or building bee hives. I always encourage them to join their local beekeeping association and follow along with experienced beekeepers as they learn about honey bee biology and the craft of managing bees in hives. When Reverend L. L. Langstroth built the modern bee hive in 1851, he used the available lumber of the day. His hive box stood roughly nine inches tall. That same box is still in wide use today, and is commonly called a “deep” hive body. A typical bee hive uses two nine-inch hive bodies and has a volume of 84 liters. Honey is collected in supers of five or six inch heights. At Peace Bee Farm, we prefer to use a slightly different arrangement. We use three medium-depth boxes, often called “Illinois” hive bodies. With a depth of roughly six inches, the three medium boxes make a hive having the same 84 liter volume. Why would one use three boxes with 30 frames instead of two boxes with 20 frames? The medium-depth boxes provide many advantages. First, it is a convenience to the beekeeper to manage equipment of the same size. I find the greatest advantage of using the same size frames for hive bodies and honey supers in swarm suppression. Swarming is often initiated by brood nest crowding. Brood nest frames full of spring-time honey can be moved up into a super to immediately relieve brood nest crowding.
The transition from deep to medium equipment can be accomplished over the winter by allowing the bees to move upward into frames of drawn comb filled with honey. Once the queen is up in the medium boxes, I place a queen excluder under them to prevent her from returning to the deep box.--Richard