To give our honeybees the best chances to survive harsh Maine winters, we use insulated horizontal stationary Layens hives. The extra thick walls of our stationary long, deep horizontal Layens hives are insulated with 1.5'' of natural wool providing 6 times the insulation value (R6) of conventional hives -- ideal for bees' development and for surviving cold Maine winters.  

Layens Horizontal Hive

The Layens hive was developed in late 19th century by a famous French botanist/apicuturalist Georges de Layens.
Layens hive is a horizontal hive with deep frames.
In our Layens hives at ForestBeehive, the walls are additionally insulated with 1.5" of natural wool providing R6 insulation level -- great for wintering in Central Maine.
A Layens frame's area is 30% larger compared with the conventional Lanstroth deep frame.

Layens horizontal hive and its frame - outside and inside views

Compared to conventional Langstroth deep frames, Layens 16" deep frames are much better for wintering as there is less unheated space around the honeybee cluster in winter time than in the conventional deep Langstroth frames. The overwintering bees can stay in their bee cluster closer to their honey stores all winter and move upward more easily as a Layens hive has no break between the boxes like in a Langstroth hive.

In Central Maine's zone 5, there should be sufficient honey above the cluster so that the bees never have to move to a new frame during the winter.
Per Lazutin, the author of the most influential contemporary book on natural beekeeping 'Keeping Bees With a Smile', on average in his zone 5-equivalent area the bees while consuming honey stores in the winter move upwards approximately 1 mm up every 24 hours during overwintering on deep frames. This makes it easy for the beekeepers to estimate how much honey reserves to add for the winter: with about 4.5 months of winter in Zone 5 the bees would need around 5 inches of honey reserves on each frame above the overwintering bee cluster.
Note, in addition to winter reserves the bee colony will also need one full frame of capped honey in case of Spring dearth.

Because Layens frame tops touch and also because the bees don't travel between boxes in a single-box layens hive, there is much less disturbance to the bees during inspections than with the conventional Langstroth hives. Also Layens hive is much easier on the the beekeeper's back as no continuous heavy lifting of heavy boxes is needed as with supers of conventional Langstroth hives.
A fully built Layens frame with honey weighs about 10 lbs. Seven Layens frames is about 40 liters in volume -- it's what the bees naturally look for in a cavity when swarming. 40 liters volume, however, would only be sufficient for overwintering but not for beekeeper to harvest any extra honey. That's why Layens' original design recommended 14 frames. On average, our single 20-frame Layens hive gives around 25-35 lbs of honey.  

Winterizing a Layens Hive

In cold climates insulated Layens hives provide good ventilation for moisture with the minimal loss of heat.


Moisture Control in Layens Hives using food-grade silica gel packs

A moisture-control divider board for wintering in Layens hives - food-grade silica gel packs under a stapled metal mesh. ECO plywood and wood.

This is an auxiliary moisture control - the main moisture control is via a natural wool-filled pillow on top of the brood nest.

The metal mesh does not face the bees - faces the opposite side. Also, the bees cannot enter it because of the mesh. Six 100g silica gel packs per 1 divider board. 2 such divider boards for a 20-frame layens hive.

Late Fall Apiary Tasks

When closing up for winter (around mid-October in Zone 5), any honey outside of the brood nest can be considered surplus, so if there are any honeycombs, all of them except the last one can be taken: one should be left for Spring emergencies.

The divider board should have a 1/2" to 3/4" ventillation gap under it. The roof of the Layens hive has a 2" air pocket between the frames and the roof to accommodate the insulation. The roof also has screen openings on both ends to allow moisture to escape.
  • collect honey if any (leaving one full frame for Spring emergencies)
  • winterize the hive
    - leave only brood nest frames with one extra honey frame and separate with a divider board from the rest of the beehive
    - cover the frames with a 2" thick pillowcase containing natural wool for warmth and for absorbing the moisture
    - loosely stuff the empty part of the hive on the opposite side of the divider board with straw - good for absorbing moisture
    - set the open entrance (Entrance2 in the picture) to a 'mouse-guard' setting: as there are fewer bees to protect against various critters seeking warmth, reduce the entrance only to allow the bees to fly in and out.

    After the honey is extracted from the pulled frames, these frames are frozen for 48 hours and then they can be brought back to room temperature and after any condensation evaporates, they can be stored behind the divider board in the same hive.  

    Spring Apiary Tasks

    Two primary tasks for Spring:
  • Expanding the brood nest
  • Splitting the colony

    Expanding the colony
  • For our Zone 5, around the 2nd week of April when the danger of nightly frost is mostly over and when red maples start blooming, open the hive and expand the brood nest by 50% e.g. if the brood cluster overwintered on 6 frames, add 3 empty ones.
    Reasons not to expand the brood too much: with gradual expansion you can avoid chilled brood problem and avoid unnecessary feedings. Insert extra empty frames for brood closer to the entrance: that's where foragers drop nectar and also it will help with cycling out old brood frames.
  • Only for emergency spring feeding: the bees won't touch capped honey (sacred reserves for them), you can break uncapped honey above them with a fork AND lightly spritz water on uncapped honey to dilute. Then the bees will treat that uncapped honey as nectar.

    Splitting the colony
  • For strong colonies that started making drone brood: make splits ~2 weeks after expanding the brood [~May 1 in Zone 5] nest IF there's lots of capped brood. The presence of drone brood - good indicator for splitting time. Take 1/2 of brood frames and 1/2 honey frames and move to the back of the hive. Both sides should have eggs, larvae, capped brood. A solid divider is placed between the halves, seal the divider.
    Splitting the colony in the same hive allows the 2 resulting colonies to share warmth and conserve resources until Spring is well underway. After that you can move the split to its own hive.
    Around May 1 or 2 weeks after expanding the brood nest, check if you see a lot of capped brood.
    Another indicator of a good time to split is the presence of drone brood.
    To split:
  • Take every other brood frame and every other honey frame and move it to the opposite side of the hive. Both sides should have frames with eggs, larvae, and capped brood. 3-4 frames per each side of the split. Place a solid divider between the two halves so that the bees cannot travel between the sides. Seal any gaps in the divider board. Open respective end entrances.

    Two ways to split:
  • For maximizing honey production, make sure the queen is by the old entrance so that she gets the returning foragers
  • For a more equal splits, start your colony in the center of the hive and let them get used to using either entrance. Then split up by putting each split on either side of the hive. Returning foragers will use both entrances.
  • For a queenless side of the split (or both sides if queen's location is unknown) lower the wall of 3-4 worker brood cells with eggs. This opens up the cells so that they look more like queen cells.  

    Summer Apiary Tasks

  • Gradual expansion of frames every 2-3 weeks
  • Brood cycle interrution around Jul 1 in Zone 5. Two main reasons for early July date: (1) this is close to the end of main honey flow in zone 5 when statistically the varroa mite population is about to explode and overwhelm the bees toward late fall. (2) Upon the end of skipping a single brood cycle, the bees will still have time to produce all-important winter bees. Brood cycle interruption with trapping comb is an effective purely mechanical method of varroa mite management - now extensively practiced in Europe. Brood cycle interruption method mimics what naturally happens during swarming or absconding when for a while no brood is produced for mites to infect.

  • Jul 1-4 Limit the queen to a single empty trapping comb for egg laying for 20 days. Combs need to be the ones previously used for brood rearing - dark comb to be recycled later. May include drone cell combs.
  • Jul 20 Alternative1: release the queen and remove trapping comb. Either discard it or freeze it for 3 days before recycling. Remove any drone brood just once at that time.. Alternative2: cage the queen for additional 5 days while drone's 24 day cycle completes. Remove/freeze/recycle trapping comb as in Alternative1.