HIVE: What is a “Smith Beehive”?

15 October 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

            The Smith beehive is extremely popular among Scottish beekeepers.  The B.S. Smith hive was invented by a Scottish beekeeper named Willie Smith.  (The “B. S.” aren’t the inventor’s initials, but stand for “British Standard.”)  I found very little information about Mr. Smith except that he lived in Innerleithen, Peebles.  But if the respect and admiration of one’s fellow beekeepers is any measure of ability, Willie Smith was an amazing man.

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But first, a word about beehives.  When you give hives names, you can give the impression that different types of hives are clearly established with clear distinctions.  In fact, hive designs are constantly changing.  Although, from time to time, someone may suddenly produce something completely new, this is the exception and not the rule.  Beehive design has evolved and continues to do so.  But there are different and distinct designs, which have proved particularly valuable to different groups of beekeepers.

Almost all commercial beekeepers use hives with drawers that are precisely measured and fitted to assure that the bees will build one honeycomb within each drawer.  Hives with this drawer design are often called Langstroth hives (after their inventor).  But the drawers are only one feature of a hive.  So, the “British Modified National,” the “Dadant” and “Smith” hives all have Langstroth-style drawers, but each hive is designed differently to suit the needs of different beekeepers.

The single-walled Smith hive is used throughout Scottland.  To me, it looks like a shorter version of the British National.  And its size is its most important feature.

Maybe one of the largest popular hives was designed by Charles Dadant for his bee yards in the Midwestern U. S.  What’s so great about a larger hive?  Well, a larger hive holds more bees.  And more bees mean more honey.  So, why not make beehives even bigger?

Climate.

Beehives are cooled in the summer and heated in the winter by the bees themselves.  These insects can spend a lot of energy keeping their hive at an even temperature.

Large hives work well in areas of U. S. with relatively moderate winters.  In the UK, winters can be more severe.  So, the British hives are a bit smaller.  This gives the bees less space to heat in the winter.

In Scotland, the winters can be severe.  Not only can bees freeze in excessively low temperatures, but the insects can exhaust themselves expending enough energy to keep an even moderate-sized hive warm.  The Smith hive’s compact size makes the bees’ task of warming the hive in the winter much easier.  This means healthier and better-rested bees in the spring.

The small size, also, has another advantage to Scottish beekeepers.  In Scotland, the bees are kept close to sources of nectar by moving the hives directly to the heather.  This movement keeps the bees’ travel distance low and the available supply of nearby nectar high.  A smaller hive is easy to move.

So, the Smith hive design minimizes the strain on the bees from low temperatures and, also, minimizes the strain on Scottish beekeeper’s backs by making the hives relatively easy to move.

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