HIVE: What is a “Single Story Hive”?

18 December 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

When a hive is specially called a “single story” hive it is often composed of a signal box or super. In other words, it looks like just like a standard commercial beehive, Langstroth or B.S. hive, but reduced in height to only on box or super.

But in the most general sense, there are two types of single story hives. One is the familiar Long-Box Hive that is quite large and often described as shaped like a trunk. The oblong box is open on top and drawers with frames can be fitted to slide down from above for honey and brood combs. If bars are placed across the top of a long box, it becomes a Top-Bar hive.

But, again, the name “single story” is usually reserved for a type of hive that is extremely compact and accommodates a smaller colony size than the larger hives. The purpose has a lot to do with climate. As you travel farther north, hives sizes tend to get smaller. This has to do with the “wintering.”

Honeybees do not hibernate, but cannot survive freezing temperatures. During the winter, bees stay in the hive and vibrate or buzz to generate heat. Part of the purpose of their honey and pollen gathering during the summer months is to provide stores which they live on during the winter months.

Of course, the first thought is often, why not just keep bees indoors in a heated room? This seems, at first, like a perfect solution. But the bees will “winter” (stay in the hive and vibrate to generate heat) during the winter months regardless of whether they are in warmth or cold. Part of this may be instinctive, but there is no food for bees outside the hive in the winter – whether the hive is outdoors or in a warm room, the bees have no reason to leave.

In other words, a really warm habitat during the winter months will actually disturb the bee colony extremely. So, if a beekeeper wants to keep their bees indoors during the winter – and there are advantages to sheltering hives during the winter months — the temperature in the enclosure must still be kept cool.

Cold, fresh air must be admitted into the room so that the hive’s ventilation works at it normally would during the winter months. The wintering bees will follow the same routine in the hive whether or not they are “inside or outside.” So, the indoor environment, in terms of temperature may be more moderate than outdoors, but must still be wintery for the comfort of bees.

But extreme winters can be dangerous to bees. While large hives accommodate large and quite productive colonies in the summer months, empty areas left within a large hive during winter can result in freezing temperatures inside the hive . . . and bee deaths. A smaller hive tends to be densely populated. And a dense hive population ensures a warm hive in winter.

Hive designs tend to get smaller in northern climates. The Smith hive of Scotland, for example, is a good deal shorter (with fewer supers) than the British Standard hive popular among commercial beekeepers to the south Part of the reason for this smaller design is to allow the hives to be easily moved to different locations to take advantage of seasonal habitats. But part of the reason for the size is probably that bees in the colder parts of Scotland, winter better in a more compact hive.

You’ll find a good deal of attention and discussion about “single story” hives in the northern areas of Europe as well as Canada and Alaska in North America. Certainly, if you living in one of these areas and planning to begin beekeeping for the first time, some research and advice from local beekeepers may be extremely helpful before you actually choose your hive.

Honeybee colonies can do pretty well almost anywhere and are remarkably able to survive severe winters. But, in the extreme north, the bees often need help from the beekeeper in the form of a properly designed hive and a suitable preparation for wintering.


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