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A Langstroth like no other

A beekeeper in Kenya, Nicholas Mbugua, is looking for some advice on keeping bees in the extra-long Langstroth hives shown below. His objective is to have fewer hives that are more productive and well managed instead of many small hives that are difficult to manage. Nicholas writes:

I have been keeping bees since 2008 in Central Kenya and have been thinking of ways to increase honey production.

One way I came up with one year ago was to make my Langstroth bee hives 4 times as long. They also have multiple super boxes on top, of the same size as the brooding box below. These supers have screened vents for aeration but no access holes as shown in [your] article.

My intention was to increase the volume of bees in each hive that will in turn increase the volume of honey.

So far, I have not moved any bees into these extra large Langstroth bee hives as my dad informed me that what I was up to was suicidal [because] the number of bees would be too many and, in case of any mishap, the stings from such a number of bees would be lethal. Bees in Africa are more than often quite aggressive.

So far, I have not taken steps to have them occupied as the bee hives are in a forest that is just 500 meters from our home.

Hope to hear your views on my predicament. Kindly let me know the pros and cons of my idea.

Nicholas says he is a business manager by profession but deeply loves farming since he was brought up on a small family farm just 20 kilometers from Nairobi in Kenya. He is currently working in Kampala in Uganda. Although he doesn’t have a farm in Uganda, he offers advice to the local farmers, especially about beekeeping and how to set up Langstroth bee hives. He adds, “My beekeeping activities in Kenya do give our family, customers and friends raw honey that is truly nice.”

So what do you think about the large Langstroths? What would be the pros and cons? Nicolas is eagerly awaiting some input.

Thanks so much!

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Hive in Uganda. Nicholas Mbugua.
This is a large Langstroth hive set up in Uganda. © Nicholas Mbugua.
Hive in Uganda. Nicholas Mbugua. A Langstroth like no other.
Large Langstroth hive in Uganda. © Nicholas Mbugua.
Hive in Uganda. Nicholas Mbugua.
Side of the Langstroth in Uganda. © Nicholas Mbugua.
Hives in Kenya. Nicholas Mbugua
These two hives are near Nicholas’ home in Kenya. © Nicholas Mbugua.

Comments

RICHARD
Reply

I would think you could make it work as long as you have very good protection from your very aggressive bees. One can only guess the outcome. You are adventurous but be safe and take necessary precautions. I use a top bar hive and I have been told the bees will not go back laterally much beyond 48″. However who truly knows for sure. If you decide to install bees please keep me informed Such an idea is worth doing just to understand the bees nature. I applaud you. R.W. SCHAFER, IDAHO USA.

Tony
Reply

Hey Rusty,

Wow!! The holy grail of beehives!!! Lol

Hmmm, in theory, yes, however, good luck on the harvest!! Nicholas would have to be so on top of harvesting, eventually he will reach a plateau, congestion will still be a problem. However, the biggest concern would be the
natural/frequency of propagation of the African honey bee I would think, no?

Tonybees

cgrey8
Reply

Those are quite long. Longer than anything I’d want to lift by myself. But I suspect he will have help. I don’t see a single person lifting one of those boxes full of bees and honey. Based on the visuals, I think it would be a challenge for 2 guys lifting a 4x medium crammed full of honey (220-240lbs/100-109kg). But over time, would it be too much for the wood or those handles? I don’t know.

Since Kenya doesn’t really have “winters”, I feel like I don’t know their climate and honey flow characteristics to make any further intelligent comments. Google-searching suggests Kenya, being so close to the equator, basically has no winter (at least not weather anything like what we would think of as winter). My first assumption was that that their honey flow is fairly constant year round…or at least present. But other searches suggest that’s not likely the case. As long as there is some flow most of the year, the colonies shouldn’t reduce in size nearly as much as ours do in the Winter. But if they do have deep dearths, large colonies may collapse under their own weight if not well fed.

If this hive configuration were being attempted anywhere here in the US, short of Florida, I’d be concerned that in the winter, one hive body would simply be too large for the hive to maintain and defend, well alone supers stacked on top. You’d be down to a single hive body and managing it similar to a Top Bar Hive (TBH) or a Valhalla. From what I understand, TBHs are not “low maintenance” but some of that may not be applicable since the bees would never be “frozen” away from their food supply.

I also don’t have a feel for how “willing” African bees will fare in that much space. Would they welcome it? Or would they abscond looking for a home with the volume more to their suiting? Would the increase in population just produce colonies that like to swarm or would the added room suppress swarming? I couldn’t say.

The theory that large hives produce more honey seems to be true where 1 LARGE hive produces more honey than 2-3 avg or small hives…assuming you have a queen that is capable of producing enough brood to populate that monster hive. So that said, you may have to pinch the queen every year to ensure you are running a hive with a vibrant queen…not one that’s seen her better days.

AramF
Reply

I think a lot of space in these hives will be unused. The bees will simply build up and some to the side. Given a chance I believe they’ll just move the stores up and the bottom boxes will be empty.

These hives are long enough that maybe two colonies can be housed in each, with one super on top and a midway divider. Periodic removal of honey should make it unnecessary to place 4 supers on.

Kim
Reply

Just an observation from my two top bars here in Canada. For some reason the bees filled from north to south and built right up to the follower, leaving empty space at the north end the first two years. Just a FYI in case it applies.

Jake
Reply

Maybe I’m missing something, but is 4x the amount of bees really that much more dangerous? Seems like the 30,000+ bees you get in a normal-sized Langstroth would be more than enough to do the trick if they’re aggressive (are they Africanized, since we’re talking about Kenya?) and the beekeeper isn’t protected…

Rusty
Reply

Jake,

Just a minor issue, but the bees we refer to in the Americas as “Africanized” are a cross between the European honey bee and the African honey bee. In Africa, I’m pretty sure Nicholas is dealing with African honey bees, not “Africanized” European honey bees.

christina
Reply

Nicholas, I applaud your innovative spirit but think several smaller hives can be better managed with less danger to you as you care for them. For the queens health (how many eggs can she lay?), for monitoring health of hives and keeping a problem contained in a smaller area, reliance on minimum number of caretakers, ability to move hives around and security. I don’t know what critters might be interested in your hives where you are (I have bears, etc) and would prefer a loss to a small hive than a huge one. Best of luck to you & keep us informed. It is great to see what other people are doing! Thank you for sharing!

Bill Hesbach
Reply

I’m not revealing anything when I say the ability to produce honey is directly correlated with the queens ability to lay prolifically. We’ve known for generations that two queen systems will out produce a single queen by more than two times. If Nicholas can use a queen excluder in his long hive and configure a two queen system that shares foragers, that he can then super, he’ll make lots more honey in a single season. Of course he’s up against a migratory bee so who knows, but I’m guessing a two queen long hive in Kenya would do well. I run 48 inch TBHs, 11 inch frames in Dandant Jumbos and double deep colonies with18 inch frames and they are all outperformed, honey production wise, by a two queen systems in regular langstroth deeps. In the height of seasonal brood production two queens laying 3,000 eggs a day feeding foragers into a single nectar storage stack is hard to beat.

Mbalboa
Reply

With a hive of that size, i wonder if one queen could actually lay enough eggs at a pace fast enough to efficiently use all of that room. I also wonder about the dilution of queen pheremone in a hive of that size. I wonder if the bees in the part of the hive furthest from the queen/brood nest would think they were queenless.

Rich
Reply

Nicholas,

You should estimate the potential weight of the structure and make sure the supers and boxes cannot fail. For example, analyze the horizontal parts of your supers as beams and make sure they are strong, with a factor of safety of two. You’ll need to know the tensile strength of the species of wood and the moment of inertia of the section. The maximum stress is Mc/I, where M is the moment, c is half the height of a rectangular section, and I is the moment of inertia.

I assume the legs are steel because their dimensions are small. Where I live, they could sink into the ground due to under-mining by moles. I have no idea whether you have that problem.

Look up Euler’s formula for the failure point of tall and slender columns. If your hive legs fail, that will be the mode. Also, realize that if four men are lifting a 200 pound super, and one gets stung, he may drop his corner, creating very angry bees and huge problems for the remaining help.

Clement Kent
Reply

Adding on to the comments already posted, I’d wonder what the predation situation is like in Nicholas Mbugua’s location in Uganda. There are enemies ranging from birds and wasps to moths and of course the ratel or honey badger. The traps on the legs in Nicholas’ pictures should help against ants, and perhaps the greater weight would help against honey badgers. I would be vigilant against in-hive pests such as wax moths until you know whether larger colonies are better or worse at combatting such pests. Only experience will tell. Nicholas is a brave man to be thinking about working on such large colonies of African bees – be careful, Nicholas!

Chris conrad
Reply

Bees don’t live like this. Before you get to the extraction question, I think you could refer back to nature’s normal design. Bees don’t live typically in super jumbo colonies like this, or, in colonies this fat or wide. They live vertically, as in trees. After they get a certain size, even if they gave space, they start throwing off swarms. That’s nature’s design to help ensure that the most bees survive. I remove bees from walls and barns etc. I see them get about 4′ wide by 4′ tall, or -8′ long vertically and 16″ inches wide, but never dimensions like this.
I say go long and vertical and smaller…

Chris

Philippa Burgess
Reply

Persobally, I don’t think it looks practical and agree with Mbalboa’s comments about diluted queen pheromone – I think swarming will be an issue but having said that, like all the best inventors in the world, the only way is to try it and see!
Good luck!

Colin Priestley
Reply

Just simple thoughts on what has been posted to date.

I see no benefit whatever in making a hive bigger than a queen can fill and keep full with offspring. A young active queen may be capable of laying 1500 eggs a day, and with the right conditions and work force they could all be raised. That said a deep 10 frame standard Langstroth brood box, has more spaces than would ever be filled assuming normal hatching times.

A big hive like yours Nicholas, while looking most impressive just goes against the whole idea of beekeeping, I fear most of the space will become unused.

Far better as another reader commented, if you intend to stay with a large hive, to have multiple sections and multiple colonies with their own queens, it would make every stage of the process from inspection to harvest just that bit easier.

I have 15 hives, 3, I call “feral”, with Africanised European bees, and find they are easily made aggressive, one simple trip or miss handling of a tool, or dropped lid or super, and it is on. Having received 128 stings in a five minute period of sheer bee panic after dropping a super only about an inch onto a waiting stand. Full on Africans would not be taking prisoners.

But that said these 3 hives are by far my most productive.

I must say I like the idea but to be truthful think, too heavy, too difficult to work with, possibly not strong enough to hold the weight if full and simply too big for one colony to ever use.

I would rather you go back to the traditional African “bee house” where 6 or 8 more ‘normal’ hives are placed together in the house or hut. Offering protection from extremes of weather and wildlife, and still maintaining the close concentration of hives that will make production quantities and times reduced.

Good luck if you go ahead but personally, I would not.

Colin P.

WesternWilson
Reply

I would suggest Nicholas check out the Slovenian hive design. I would think it would be easier to work, and the minimal disturbance that is part of that design might be very helpful in dealing with the more aggressive bees he has to keep.

I would also agree with other posters that smaller hives ie. typical Langstroths, well managed, will give him better honey yields with fewer logistical issues.

If the local bees are inclined to swarm easily, the use of Pseudo Queen sticks may give him the ability to keep honey hives larger and more productive.

Oliver
Reply

Only those who know african/killer/scutellata bees can respond this question. They are totally different from Europeans. I would use queen excluders and a standard LS hive, so you can rob everything they store before they swarm (ok they do the whole year) or migrate. Large hive will give large brood area and this will produce swarms, not honey.

Oliver
Reply

There aren´t africanized bees! Scuts are biologically and genetically DOMINANT. An “F5” is is nearly 100% a scutellata. Africanized bee is a big fary tale. They even never understand that scutellata has different strains, they differ in color, size and agressive behaviour. Nearly all informations of south american “beekeepers” and “professors” you can discard as novels. [Sentence deleted-ed.] But if you dig a little bit you find value informations about scutellata. P.e. a genetic analize of bees on the brazilian(scuts)/argentinien(european) frontiere. Bees are nearly 100% scuts! You can have europeanized bees if there are european bees close to scuts. But never africanized bees, and never a fixed new race, cause scute genetics defends himself for mixing.

Rusty
Reply

Oliver,

I appreciate your interest in honey bee genetics, but there is no need for derogatory remarks.

Oliver
Reply

Of my point of view, these hives are too big. I saw hundreds of wild colonies in every site you can imagine never they get that big. And if, this hive stands will go down on the knees, cause hundreds of kilos on this kind of terrain.

Morris
Reply

Interesting idea. I think the queen’s laying capacity is going to be the limiting factor on population size. An over sized hive capacity would not translate into above normal egg laying.

Since African bees tend to have smaller colonies I doubt that they would fill a hive this large.

This should be great to follow up on. Please keep your readers informed.

Morris

dgrc
Reply

I’m a beginner at beekeeping but in general this looks like too many eggs, not enough baskets. Any failure from any source would be catastrophic and the options for preventing such failures very limited.

Lynda Swink
Reply

Speaking only from an engineering standpoint I find two flaws in this build.

1. The handles need to be a one piece construction that is securely attached along the whole length of the hive. Those short handles will not bear the weight when the box becomes full.
2. The base construction will fail long before all the hive is in full production. It needs to be a lot more sturdy and have more upright support to distribute the weight along the length.

Jeffrey Rosas
Reply

I’m skeptical about increasing the volume of bees in a hive. A queen can only lay so many eggs in a day, and in her lifetime. Bees only live so long and have to be replaced. I think the answer to more honey is more queens.

Jim
Reply

It took me forever to find the queen in my hive recently. The thought of trying to find a queen in that setup would surely be a nightmare. Especially with my aging eyes : )

Nancy
Reply

Given the size of some colonies that a member of our local club has extracted from structures, I don’t think a colony that size would be so farfetched. There are also stories locally about hives with two queens, which is a caution against the phrase, “Bees never…..”
I would certainly like to hear more about this project.
Nan
Corinth, Kentucky

Nicholas Mbugua
Reply

Thank you Rusty for the post.

Looking forward to learn more from other bee farmers.

Rusty
Reply

Nicholas,

As you can see from the comments, many folks want to know how it turns out. Please let us know.

Wayne
Reply

This hive is very similar to the hive spoken of in the book “Bee Keeping With A Smile” by Fedor Lazutin. There he prefers longer and deeper hives. He reasons that there is a limit to the length, about twenty-five Langstroth frames, (if I remember correctly). He felt a colony won’t be able to build more comb in a season. Of course he was in Russia and had winter to deal with. His hives were set up so one person could work the hive, something I would change on the Kenya hive.

Wil
Reply

Looks impressive from the outside but so does the testosterone driven tall stacks of langstroths with much more empty space inside than they would like to admit. Some beekeepers seem more interested in impressing other beekeepers than considering the laying and storing capacity of one queen and her workers.

Phillip Grigg
Reply

Hi everyone, would like to know what has happened since this report was written. My idea here in Uganda is to try a smaller 7 frame hive because African bees here seem to struggle with large hives. Just getting underway now with 23 hives. Will be interesting to compare the results…….

Rusty
Reply

Phillip,

I haven’t heard anything from him since the post was published.

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