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  • Writer's pictureTrevor Bawden

Don’t Be a Hive Renegade, Use Langstroth Equipment

An important part of that process is getting a few years of success down before dashing towards a different hive design. It’s hard enough to learn beekeeping, let’s not pile on more stress.


Langstroth Beekeeping
Ten Frame single deep colonies in standard Langstroth equipment

We get questions from new or struggling beekeepers about equipment they see advertised on the web every season. Often this equipment gets advertised as being easier to use, more “friendly” to the bees/beekeeper, or keeps your bees “safer” during the winter. If you’re new or struggling to keep bees alive in Wisconsin, we recommend using Langstroth equipment, also known to us as “standard equipment”. The Langstroth format of hive design has been in place successfully for over 100 years now and used all over the world, for good reason. We have found that this equipment works just fine to keep our bees alive all season and doesn’t cause us any headaches—in fact, we believe it’s actually better for the bees in a few ways, which we’ll explain below. 

Interior view of a ten frame langstroth colony
Interior view of a ten frame langstroth colony

We want this post to emphasize how practical and universal standard equipment is. Beginning your beekeeping journey with equipment other than the standard Langstroth hive is like starting off on hard mode. If you find yourself at year 4 or 5 having consistent success with keeping Langstroth-housed bees alive, but curious about trying something different, go for it. You will learn a lot and we encourage that in beekeeping! But for now, read on to learn of a few reasons we like to share with beekeepers who are considering venturing away from the standard Langstroth style.




Beginning your beekeeping journey with equipment other than the standard Langstroth hive is like starting off on hard mode.

When You Buy a Nuc, It Fits Every Time


Whether you get your nuc from us or another bee supplier, 99% of the time it will be on traditional Langstroth frames. The only way this is going to work for you is if you have the correct equipment to fit these frames. This also comes in handy if you need to swap resources, brood or gear from a friend’s colony with yours.


Varroa Mite Treatments and Feeding


We get questions about treating and feeding colonies all the time. A big one for nontraditional hive owners is “How do I get this treatment or feeder to fit?”. Treatments and feeders are designed around the use of Langstroth equipment. Trying to use them in a different format is like trying to put a square peg in a round hole. The efficacy of the treatment is affected when the label instructions aren’t followed. As a result, your bees can be harmed in the process. That harm typically takes shape as either not reducing the varroa mite count (null effect) or the bees not being able to survive the treatment due to overexposure.


Since feeding is a critical role in colony build up, especially wax production, you really need to consider how you’re going to easily get gallons of feed into your colony over the course of the season. I have often heard of beekeepers using nonstandard equipment forgoing treatment and feeding all together due to the limitations of their hive design. This doesn’t end well for their bees and negatively impacts the beekeepers in the surrounding area. Negative impacts include robbing behavior and as a result varroa mites spread to heathy colonies.

Treatments and feeders are designed around the use of Langstroth equipment. Trying to use them in a different format is like trying to put a square peg in a round hole.

Splitting Your Colonies


local Wisconsin mite resistant VSH honey bee nucs
Making nucs with Langstroth equipment is as easy as 1, 2 , 3 or 100

There comes a time in every beekeeper’s career when a colony increase happens whether you want to or not. This can be by catching a swarm from your own colony, the necessity to divide your colony in the summer to go into winter with additional numbers or splitting an overwintered colony in the spring. Langstroth equipment allows you to easily divide the colony into many parts or combine them back together. You can’t do this with other equipment formats.


It’s Easier to Find a Mentor and Best Practices Are Done Using Standard Equipment


Most local bee clubs offer a mentoring service to new beekeepers for free or at a cost. This is a great opportunity to learn from someone more experienced than you and work bees before you take the plunge yourself. Most mentors will probably be using standard equipment. As a results, you aren’t going to gain much if you decide to be a hive renegade. If you take a beekeeping course in person or online, we can guarantee it will be conducted using standard equipment. If you aren’t using the same style, you won’t receive much of the knowledge you’re paying for.


Climate Dependent


honey bee coffin
Top bar hive AKA a bee coffin here in Wisconsin

Some styles of equipment just aren’t conducive to our climate here in WI. A good example of this is horizontal hives or top bar colonies. These formats might work great in climates warmer than Wisconsin, but here they just don’t cross the winter finish line typically. During the winter, it is more difficult for the cluster to move in a horizontal direction than a vertical direction since they need to transverse from one comb to another. The long horizontal shape of a horizontal/top bar provides a cavity too large for the bees to fill with their cluster, resulting in large volumes of dead air space if left unrestricted.


Think of a tree cavity, which is tall and narrow. This cavity allows the bees to work a long comb up and down during the winter and the cluster can fill the cavity size. Horizontal/top bar colonies literally are the opposite of that natural beekeeping structure in every way. Another thing to consider is the inability to be able to pack these horizontal/top bar colonies together for winter and the difficulty you will have attempting to insulate the hive structure. Wisconsin beekeepers have been advocating packing and insulating their bees for over 100 years now, I would trust their opinion.


Horizontal/top bar colonies literally are the opposite of that natural beekeeping structure in every way.

Purchasing used equipment


used beekeeping equipment
Cleansing used equipment with fire before using it in the bee yard at LSB

Are you looking to expand your colony numbers and love a good deal? If you have spent time perusing the resale sections online, you will notice that there are always beekeepers retiring from the hobby or business of beekeeping. Equipment found secondhand will typically be Langstroth and easily integrated with your existing setup. Your future beekeeper self will thank us down the road.





Researchers Uses Standard Equipment


honey bee researchers
Cool honey bee researchers like these folks all use Langstroth equipment

When you’re cruising the internet for some good bee knowledge, you will see that most researchers and beekeepers use traditional Langstroth equipment. This helps researchers compare results with one another and repeat experiments easily in the field. Equipment can play a role in achieving similar results to what you have read. Expecting similar results when comparing apples and oranges just doesn’t work.











We encourage our beekeeping students to learn how to walk before running when it comes to beekeeping. An important part of that process is getting a few years of success down before dashing towards a different hive design. It’s hard enough to learn beekeeping, let’s not pile on more stress. If you’re looking to fill your hives this spring, you can get a local Wisconsin mite resistant VSH nuc in our online shop.


Thanks for supporting local beekeeping!


Trevor Bawden

Lloyd St. Bees

114 views1 comment

1 Comment


rhall
Mar 27

I hope everyone paid attention to this comment, which may be the most important but least appreciated thing Trevor said in this post (CAPS emphasis is mine):


"I have often heard of beekeepers … forgoing treatment and feeding all together due to the limitations of their hive design. This doesn’t end well for their bees and NEGATIVELY IMPACTS THE BEEKEEPERS IN THE SURROUNDING AREA. Negative impacts include robbing behavior and AS A RESULT VARROA MITES SPREAD TO HEALTHY COLONIES."


In his Overwintering Class, which I recommend to every beekeeper, from beginner to experienced, Trevor puts it more plainly. I’m paraphrasing, but it goes something like this.


“If you are not going to aggressively test for and treat for Varroa mites,…


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