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Is the Langstroth outdated and impractical for Australian conditions?

I expect (and hope) that this post will attract attention because the Australian beekeeping community is based on use of Langstroth (LS). And I, a beekeeping noob (and you might rightly say an ‘upstart’) challenge the design. This challenge is on the domestic and novice beekeeping front. Commercial beekeeping being a completely different beast.

I’m new to beekeeping. I’ve taught myself to keep bees through books and videos. I’ve read through the different codes of conduct (I’m based in Victoria so the Apiary COD is the code that I must comply with). I’m not yet affiliated with any beekeeping associations. I have 6 hives all of different designs. I started with a 10 frame LS and soon became unimpressed with the design, it’s heavy on the back, it’s poorly insulated, the air flow doesn’t replicate a natural hive, commercial foundation can contain undesirable impurities etc, etc. So I decided to build different hives and modify frames and introduce bars to see which design works best. I’ve found the French and German’s to be the most mindful in their hive designs and I’ve adopted some of their principles.

I’m still experimenting and haven’t reached conclusion and perhaps I’ll not land on a single design but I wouldn’t go back to the LS, which is essentially 170 years old and designed for East Coast American conditions. The bees perform better and are happier in other hive designs. The appear to really like to build their own comb. The only thing I use my LS for now is capturing swarms. Moving away from the LS both my bees and I are much happier. I’ve made several design oversights within the designs and build process (gaps too big gaps too tight etc) but using the hives and studying how the bees use them and move around them enables me to improve the design.

Am I alone? Will the LS satisfy the changing health needs of bees as our environment becomes more globalised? Will is satisfy shifts in environmental conditions? Or do we need to start thinking about designing hives to cope with these changes?

Thanks for reading this post. Rus

Hi Rus, I fully understand where you’re coming from. I wouldn’t call you an upstart. I don’t think the Langstroth hive is outdated & impractical for Australian conditions. It’s a very convenient hive in many ways. I prefer just one full depth brood box with one full depth honey super above a QX. I don’t try to lift & carry a full super of honey, I’ll remove 3-4 frames first. Then I can manage it.

Like you say, you use the Langstroth hive for catching swarms. There’s no better hive for that purpose.

The Langstroth hive doesn’t have to be light on insulation. You can build the hives in whatever type & thickness material you like. You can be in control of whatever airflow you like. Some people like plenty of ventilation. Some prefer to let the bees manage their own via a limited size entrance.

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Go for it Rus.
However you have to be mindful of the economics. What is Ok for the backyarder with 1 to 5 or 6 hives may not be viable to the commercial beekeeper. The economies of scale is what keeps lang hive cheap. Mostly cheaper than you can buy the wood for them.

The Flow Hive is a good example where its system of honey extraction is convenient and easy for little operations but it’s cost is prohibitive to the beekeeper with 200 hives.
There are a huge number of bee hive designs (just search Youtube) which satisfy the builders needs but not others. Your design (any pics?) will have to satisfy the industry it is cheap, stackable, transportable in large numbers first, then have higher productivity, if it is to replace the Lang as the hive of choice… If not, unless it has mass appeal to the small operators, much the same as the FlowHive did it will not take off.

But hell, you build a great hive others will copy it if it appeals to them. I am always interested in new designs.
And who knows we might just ditch the Langs and replace them with the Rusty’s.

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Thanks Busso.

My hives are all purely for my interest and not simple to build. Your point about the commercialism of design is fair. LS hives are uncomplicated and therefore affordable and they meet AUS bio codes. Japanese pile box hives and Warre hives (both similar) are simpler again but they dont meet the codes unless modified to fit frames. I’ve uploaded pictures of 3 of my hives.

The log hive, which is not populated and which doesn’t meet bio codes but based on my research it meets Victorian requirements (unless they change). I had fun building this one but I’m sure a few people would disapprove if I use it.

The bienenkiste (white box) which is a German design although I’ve added a section for a few standard frames so I could put a split in there and I can fully inspect some comb. This box has hollow but insulated walls with a sliding divider for the super at the back with a ribbed roof in the main section (comb not removable). This hive has a removable insulated waterproof lid and an air vent slide at the bottom in the brood area. You tip the box onto it’s back and inspect the entire inner hive at a glance. It needs to go onto a longer stand in order for me to easily tip it upright. I’ll have to take a picture of the inside next time I open her up.

A horizontal LS made from recycled pine floorboards and a caravan panel for roofing. Again hollow but insulated walls and a V shaped floor which can be exposed to allow air and drop out detritus. I also use a wooden cross brace frames in the honey store end so that I can harvest wax from a few of the honey frames.

The insulated hives work really well on those crazy hot days and I don’t have to worry about winter.

At this point I’m just mucking about really, and wondering how many other people are doing the same sort of thing.

OK I can only provide one image at a time. Here is one of me transferring a standard LS hive into the horizontal LS.

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Thanks for your perspective Jeff.

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I found this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqjA6542I5c looking further into bienenkiste. Long but very interesting.

There are lots. Even a few on this forum. Long hives and Top Bar hives been adapted to take the Flowhive Super …a path I so nearly went down. Think too old and cranky to go there now. :slightly_smiling_face:
The bee is so complex I believe there is lots more to come in research, including better commercial breeding and hives.
What the Flow Hive did was to put thousands of beehives into the suburbs and cities (which would not be there now) because it freed the keepers the complexity of honey extraction. To the professional beekeeper where the investment and equipment makes light work of extracting 100’s of kilos of honey at a time, the average Joe Blow is either afraid or not willing to go down the tradition extraction methods.
Thanks you for talking on your project/projects.

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You have started an interesting discussion Rusty,
Many years ago as a semi commercial bee keeper the accepted 10 frame Langstroth was the standard with all the benefits that @busso has said. Now I have opted for 8 frame Langstroth hives plus 4 Flow Hives to get first hand knowledge about them but apart from the honey extraction they are basically a ‘tarted up’ Langstroth. I have ordered four Paradise 9 frame poly hives, which again in my thinking is just a Langstroth with much better insulation properties. @JeffH has also made very valid points and it is had to fault his thinking.
To my thinking there is a lot more in favor of the Langstroth concept than there is against it. I’m happy to fine tune my hives to suit my climate but the concept is good.
Cheers

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Thanks Busso. That’s a nice video. I have seen one of his talks before he’s an interesting guy.

I’ve forgotten I’m on a flow hive site. I must admit I’m skeptical of the flow hive especially how you avoid slicing through bees if they’re servicing a cell. How it deals with crystallised honey. If the parts last and how you inspect the frames to ensure honey is capped.

Are any of these downsides that you have to deal with?

Thanks Peter.

I think the poly hives would solve the insulation issues but do they sweat the inner walls of the hive? Wood draws in condensed water but it also harbors mold. As usual pros and cons.

Rus

From my research with bee keepers using the poly hives and specifically asking about moisture build up inside the hives all but one said it doesn’t happen, the guy who said it is ‘a bit of an issue’ lives in the Daintree Rain Forest north of Cairns but added that he is really happy that he bought a few poly hives to compare with his conventional Langstroth’s.
Internal moisture is one of the reasons I have decided to try the poly hives, I fit hive mats so that condensation doesn’t drip onto the frames from the roof. Probably the equal second reason is that they have almost 6 times the insulation against heat and that is a big bonus.
Cheers

Never had a problem as the bees fill each side of the cell from the inside out so billion to one chance it would be straddled across the divide which moves.

I personally haven’t had to deal with this but I believe others have used a hair dryer. Probably no more or less a problem than the drum extractors.

I used to inspect each frame multi times but now I just look at the outside frame/frames through the window and when the insides looked capped from the rear door I extract. Too easy but always check with a refractometer as would any one would/should extracting with conventional extractors (or crush and strain.

Thats very easy to do I’m sure. :upside_down_face: :wink:

Sounds like a good option. Thanks for the info Peter

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Thanks for the responses. It’s really helpful to hear about other’s experiences.

Hi Rus, I’m responding partly to your question about sweat on the inner walls. You asking that question shows that you don’t understand bee culture.

I know you have spent many hours researching, however there is one video on youtube you should watch at least a dozen times, or as many times as it takes for you to fully understand everything they’re teaching. The video is “City of Bees”. Once you understand basic “bee culture”, you will not ask that question.

In relation to a LS hive. What is a LS Hive? It’s a hive containing frames that mimic natural comb that sits on rebates. Top bar, Warre, Hex hives basically all follow those principles. Frames that mimic natural comb supported in some way.

The big bonus with “Langstroth frames” is wood all round. They are so much easier to maneuver than say comb supported by just a top bar. Bees don’t mind the wooden sides & bottom bars, so it seems from my observations.

What bees find hard to cope with is poorly insulated hives during extremes of temperature. A good litmus test of a hive in position would be to ask yourself “would scout bees looking for a new home choose this hive?”.

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Well pointed out Jeff, and I guess that is the major reason for the popularity of a Langstroth hive is that it can have the honey extracted with a minimum of fuss in an extractor. I don’t know of any commercial bee keeper who doesn’t use Langstroth hives and even as a small bee keeper in hive numbers I have found them the best option. So I’m far from thinking they might be outdated or impractical I have yet to see another ‘style’ other than a Flow Hive possibly as an alternative.
Sure I have had ‘blow outs’ of full wooden frames, as we all have had, but I can’t see a better option yet. When I say a ‘Langstroth hive’ I mean along that style of hive.
Cheers

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Thanks Jeff. I watched half of that video and although it’s interesting from a nostalgic point of view (which I’m personally interested in so lucky accident there) the content is as you say basic. I will never know all that there is to know about bees but I know enough to have 4 happy hives in different types of hives which I’ve built so I have an initial hands on basis for comparison.

I’m aware of climate controls practices that bees utilise to heat and cool their hive. But it’s reasonable to ask about the effect of synthetic material when compared with that of a natural material, especially given that wood and bee hives are synonymous globally throughout history. i.e. polystyrene seems like a macro shift. But then again scout bees will lead swarms to plastic compost bins (which I where I picked up my first swarm and which coincidentally is a poor insulation choice as the hive would no doubt discover over the winter period).

Top bars or similar designed frame structures are simpler and cheaper to make than LS frames (3 pieces vs 14 pieces excluding nails and staples) and if sized appropriately and handled properly they are fine to maneuver plus their design more naturally prevents heat loss at the top of the hive, it isn’t dependent on foundation sheets which can contain undesirable impurities and which also gives the bees choice about cell size. Although LS frames are handy for us beekeepers I wonder which style the bees would select if they had the choice (it’s good to think about the bees too right)?

I also think that if there are hundreds of hive designs used around the world (domestically and also commercially) and if national standards in other countries differ from ours then can we be confident that we have the best design and is that design (170 year old) future proof? Clearly if polystyrene products are gaining in interest because they resolve common insulation problems then perhaps my questions have some purpose.

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You only watched half of the video?!!! The video does teach the basics, however the basics is where a lot of beekeepers fall short. If you understand the basics of bee culture, you wouldn’t be concerned about sweating inside a well insulated hive.

You talk about the Langstroth hive being outdated because they’ve been around for 170 years. The basic principles of removable frames that mimic natural comb that are supported on a ledge will probably be with us for another 170 years.

In relation to your compost bin that a swarm moved into. It was probably the best option the scouts could find at the time. I have no doubt it was in a shaded position. Scouts find, then all agree on some funny places for their colony to move into at times. However ideally they want somewhere with ideal internal dimensions, shaded & difficult for predators to access.

Edit:- PS lets do some maths on wooden Langstroth frames. I’m still using frames I bought 30 years ago & they’re still going strong. Let’s say each frame gets filled 3 times per year @ 2.5kg each time. That’s 7.5 kilos per year, times 30 = 225kg total honey for an outlay of $1.35 on today’s money. I don’t buy foundation, I trade wax for it.

Wax Foundation: What undesirable impurities would you expect to find in locally produced wax foundation? Furthermore what do bees do with it? They don’t eat it, they add to it. The foundation gets buried under layers of leftover cocoons.

Sometimes I’ll find fresh foundation fully drawn after just 12-24 hours. The bees don’t seem to mind the cell size from my observations.

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It is a big challenge to understand or even to imagine what could be “natural” for completely different species. We need to throw away anthropomorphic ideas about almost everything, which is pretty much impossible. Plastic, not plastic, horizontal, vertical…
All we can do is to observe and see if bees do thrive in a chamber of some description or not.
To me this hive from neighbouring thread looks very much “natural” :wink:

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Well stated ABB and I guess inexperienced/experienced beekeepers need to start somewhere. I’ve come to the conclusion that virtually all imperical descriptions of bee beehavior are challenged sooner or later…

Of all the statements the OP has made above, there is one that has merit for me…regarding ventilation requirements and frame design…we really can’t predict what honeybees will do. In the photos below, 6 supers of bees have been reduced to one (for wintering)…and the bulk bees just hang from the bottoms of the frames of a Langstroth broodbox. If they are supplemented with feed or if a late honeyflow occurs, they build out comb protruding from the frames above. But it sure doesn’t follow the template provided by the frames above.

In the video, the bees are gently smoked off the new comb during the first inspection after a long confined winter.

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Jeff I didnt intend this thread to be a ‘which is better’ LS vs other design. You favour LS and I favour top bar. They’re both good. But when top bar is challenged I’ll mention it’s positives. Diversity of ideas is good. I use both types. Neither is perfect. Perfection rarely exists.

I did watch the whole video in the end and I enjoyed it but I I’ll be honest that I didn’t learn anything that I didn’t already know. I absorbed as much information as I could for about 9 months before initiating myself into beekeeping and I’m self taught, because I’ve found that the Australian beekeeping community is a touch exclusive and somewhat patronising of newbys (not everyone). I get enough politics at work, I avoid it on my own hours.

My point about impurities is about wax that may not be locally produced and which may not be clean or organic. The influence that the Chinese have on Australian retail, and the beekeeping industry is no exception, well it’s big and growing and there is little control & regulation in place. Wax can harbour pathogens but I’d assume that most pathogens would perish at wax melting temperature so that may not be a risk. Just something worth a thought. You’d refresh your old comb for this reason.

I got into beekeeping for pollination purposes not for honey. I’m happy for the bees to manage themselves and so I’m setting up this style of beekeeping on my property and struggling with the code in some area.

Cell size is also something that I’m interested in and I’d prefer to let the bees set their own cell size based on their needs rather than be manipulated into a cell size determined by the foundation sheet. Natural worker comb is smaller than standard wax foundation (you can get small cell foundation but probably not in AUS). Bees from wax foundation are bigger and research has highlighted the disadvantages that larger bee size has when it comes to natural Varroa defense (not our issue thanks to tight bio security, hopefully never will be). There are other disadvantages also.

So this is my point overall. The more humans depart the design of the beehive from it’s natural state. The more issues we create and discover sometime down the path, which are then sometimes corrected back to the original state (nature is perfect). Now this point may piss off everyone who reads this thread. So be it. I’m happy to have impassioned conversation. I told you I was an upstart and you should have trusted me on that :wink: