Bee-friendly beekeeping - putting the bees first!
Insulated Horizontal Hives give our honeybees the best chances to survive harsh Maine winters!

We use insulated horizontal stationary Layens-style 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. In addition to insulation, natural wool absorbs the moisture.

Double-walled wool-insulated horizontal hive - outside
Layens horizontal hives were designed to imitate how the feral bee colonies live in natural tree hollows.

Layens horizontal hives with deep 16″ frames have been in continuous use since the 19th century, as they are easy to manage with minimal disturbances to the bees.  These hives are very popular in Spain & France and are now gaining popularity in the US especially in areas with cold winters.

Feral Hive in a Natural Tree Hollow

Layens Horizontal Hives allow beekeeping with minimum disturbances to the bees

Because the bees in Layens hive don’t have to travel up/down between vertically arranged boxes,  Layens hive’s frame were designed to have no cracks in-between. This makes it possible to manage the bees in Layens hives with significantly fewer  disturbances during inspections than with the conventional Langstroth vertical hives. 

So when we open the Layens hive’s lid during inspections, no light penetrates the closed combs and we almost never see disturbed bees flying around as with 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.
Double-walled wool-insulated horizontal hive - inside

At the heart of a Layens hive is its frame ~16”deep.

This frame was designed to imitate the size of comb found in natural tree hollow beehives.

An individual movable frame is a beekeeper’s equivalent of a single honeycomb.  Frames make it easy to inspect & manage the beehives without dealing with a tangled-up mess.
Compared to conventional Langstroth 9″ deep frames, Layens 16″ deep frames are much better for wintering: see Math for Overwintering and Working with Layens Hives.

With Layens frames, the overwintering bees stay in a perfectly shaped spherical cluster closer to their honey stores all winter and move upward easier within a single-box horizontal Layens hive as there are no gaps between multiple boxes like in a conventional vertical Langstroth hive.

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.

Layens Frame dimensions

A mid-Summer schematic view of a 20-Frame Layens horizontal hive 

At the height of summer horizontal Layens hive is fully filled with frames. 

The bees choose frames next to the open entrance to raise brood (darker frames) and frames father from the open entrance they use as honey stores like the bees do in natural tree hollows.

Layens hive is fully filled in mid-Summer

Late Fall-to-early Spring schematic view of a 20-Frame Layens horizontal hive

Between late Fall and early Spring, only about a 1/3 of the space is used and flanked by a divider board – a smaller beehive size like in a natural tree hollow benefits overwintering – it’s cosier and warmer in a smaller space.

Just like in natural tree hollow, 16” deep frames in a horizontal hive represent contiguous honeycombs with no gaps in between.

Layens hive view in late Fall - early Spring

Winterizing a Layens Hive

In cold climates insulated Layens hives provide good ventilation and moisture control with the minimal loss of heat. The bees propolize the top frames (that touch in Layens hives) and the divider boards up to the top frames – just where the bees deem it appropriate. We do not interfere with their propolis seal!


For wintering, insulated Layens-style horizontal beehive can provide a delicate balance between insulation, ventilation and moisture control that is appropriate for winters in cold climates. See our Fall Apiary Tasks below.

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

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.

Schedule of Apiary Tasks

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.

As far as which brood frames to leave (and, more importantly, which frames not to leave) for overwintering in horizontal hives, we follow a calculation provided by F. Lazutin in “Keeping Bees with a Smile”:  during cold winters the bees on average move upwards on the same frame by 1mm every 24 hours consuming the honey.  

With the duration of our average Zone 5 Maine winters, 1mm per 24 hours roughly corresponds to frames with honey band of greater than 5 inches. 

So we will not leave in the beehive any frame that has less than 5 in of honey band on both sides because the bees can starve on that frame, reaching its top in cold winters while unable to move to a different frame!

In addition to brood frames with > 5 in honey band, for Springtime emergencies we are also leaving a full honey frame.

So any frames with less than 5 in honey bands on top in my zone 5 are only great for …harvesting.   This is our harvesting video.

Spring Apiary Tasks

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

1. Expanding the colony     2. Splitting 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. 2 weeks later, add more brood frames.  Instead of adding all of the frames to the full capacity of the beehive, we only expand gradually. This is especially important in cold climates where Spring weather fluctuations can be quite substantial.  Instead of  expanding the brood too much at once, with gradual expansion we can avoid chilled brood problem and avoid unnecessary supplemental 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.



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 14 days. Combs need to be the ones previously used for brood rearing – dark comb to be recycled later.
  • Jul 14-18 Release the queen and remove trapping comb. Either discard it or freeze it for 3 days before recycling. Optional: Remove any drone brood just once at that time.