This is the 1st part of the series. The 2nd part is here: Vertical Beehives and The Lord of the Rings
Let’s see which beehives are more natural – conventional vertical hives (aka Langstroth hives) or European-style horizontal hives (such as the widely used Layens hives)?
It would seem that the vertical hives follow the natural vertical shape of a tree where the wild bees build their nest. But appearances can be deceiving…
Whether the bee trees are fully vertical, slanted or horizontal, the wild bee colonies living in their natural tree hollows almost always expand and grow from the top of the hollow downwards as in the picture.
The so-called North European dark honeybees were originally introduced to North America by settlers in 1700s. In America these bees prospered, quickly spread and became feral.
In horizontally-positioned fallen trees with wide hollows, the wild North European dark bees tend to make deep honeycombs (up to 16 inches deep) hanging from the top of the hollow.
Having made a single such comb, the bees then gradually build more honeycombs on the sides of the first comb until they have filled the entire volume of the tree hollow.
The natural deep ( up to 16 inches) honeycombs hanging from the top of the tree hollow and especially a horizontal expansion of the natural bee nest to the sides have a 1:1 correspondence to the double-walled insulated horizontal Layens hives that were built to mimic how the wild bees live in their natural habitat.
These insulated Layens hives have 16-inch deep frames that imitate how the North European wild bees build their nests in nature for successful overwintering.
In a Vertical conventional Langstroth beehive, its boxes stack up vertically in the shape of a natural tree but appearances can be deceiving.
In contrast, to the horizontal hives, when the bee colony gets expanded in the conventional vertical beehives (Langstroth hives) such expansion proceeds upwards by adding extra boxes and supers on top of the existing structure.
To expand the vertical hive upwards by adding an extra box, a beekeeper keeps switching the top boxes as the numbers on the picture indicate. Vertical hives may have up to 6 stacked up boxes – the numbers show their original positioning from the bottom.
Why is it that constant box switching is necessary for vertical beehives?
Since in nature the bees exclusively draw comb from the top down, to grow the nest upwards, the beekeeper needs to deceive the bees by separating the 2 halves of the vertical hive in order to insert a box in-between.
The bees then will be compelled to fill the empty non-contiguous space that suddenly appeared in their nest structure.
In the words of Lazutin, the world-renowned guru of natural beekeeping, the system of management of conventional vertical Langstroth hives “is based on a periodic [often bi-weekly] destruction of the bees home and relies on the bees’ instinct to restore integrity in their nest.”
Imagine that you have a small house with your kitchen right next to your living room but … every 2 weeks your crazy landlord keeps rearranging your house such that a new empty space keeps appearing between your kitchen and your living room. You keep re-connecting the living room and the kitchen but every 2 weeks like clockwork the crazy landlord strikes again & your living room is again disconnected from your kitchen & you have to rebuild…
Wouldn’t you be super-stressed with this living arrangement & want to get out of there asap?
Apparently the same often happens to the bees in conventional vertical Langstroth hives – they are stressed from constant re-arranging of their nest and other interventions and they are far more likely to swarm i.e. to leave than the bees kept in horizontal hives.
But the beekeepers managing the conventional vertical hives have another trick that they use to prevent the bees from leaving – jailing the queen bee behind a so-called Queen Excluder and creating a kind of a hostage situation.
This is completely contrary no nature and that’s why as a natural beekeeper I only use horizontal hives.