Introduction to the British Standard National Beehive

Image credit: peak-hives.co.uk

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The very first beehive frames were invented by Petro Prokopovych in 1814. Nevertheless, he was unable to establish the right distance between combs, which we now know is essential in ensuring seamless operation between hives. Jan Dzierzon better described this calculation in 1845. He came up with grooves for a beehive’s sidewall, that replaced the wooden strips for moving top bars.

Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth, often referred to as the founder of American beekeeping, found out that honeybees build excess comb in a larger space, exceeding 3/8 inch. That can explain the reason why Langstroth hives have a 3/8 inch space that separate each frame from the other frames. Langstroth came up with a series of wooden frames within the rectangular hive box, then considering the ideal space between successive frames. This makes it possible for honeybees to build parallel honeycombs within the hive, without binding themselves to each other or the hive walls.

These frames can easily be separated from other parts of the hive such as walls, floor or covers. This design became what we now refer to as the modern-day Langstroth hive. Over on the other side of the world however, a different type of beehive is widely used – the British Standard National beehive. This type of beehive shares some similarities with the Langstroth design, but has its fair share of differences that allows it to stand on its own.

Modern vs Modern Hives

Traditional Hives

Traditional hives were quite simplistic in design and comprised merely enclosures for honeybees. They lack internal structures and are made of mud, clay, or tiles. These designs lack the benefits of modern hives. For instance, the beekeeper lost the bees during honey harvesting and extraction. This concept was therefore not so popular among beekeepers.

Modern Hives

The British Standard National beehive and the Langstroth hive are the two most popular modern hive designs. Modern hives generally consist of:

  • Hive stand – where upper hive components rest on. Acts as the landing board for the honey bees and also protect the bottom board from rot and cold transfer.
  • Bottom board – with its opening provides an entrance for bees to enter and leave the hive.
  • Brood chamber or brood box – is the box for the queen to lay her eggs.
  • Honey super – upper box for honey storage. It is shorter than the brood chamber.
  • Frames/foundation – these are mainly frames that have wax or plastic sheets that guide the honey bees when building honeycombs.
  • Inner Cover – creates a barrier from the outer cover that could be overly hot or cold and can also act as a shelf for feeding.
  • Outer Cover – protects the hive from the elements such as rain, direct sunlight, and others.

British Standard (BS)

Almost all nations with beekeeping industries have standardized their hives, and that includes the dimensions and measurements of beehives. The British beekeeping industry is no exception.

The British Standard BS 1300 was introduced for the first time in 1946. Its standards cover beehives, frames, and wax foundation. The British Beekeepers Association is the committee that came up with the BS hive. Its representations comprised British, Scottish, and Welsh Beekeeper Associations, Honey Producers Association, the Rothamsted Experimental Station (now Rothamsted Research) as well as the then Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. 

BS 1300 outlines the specifications that are essential for the inter-changeability of the British Standard hive parts. The standard recognizes only two types of hives as standard, that is, the National and the W.B.C hive. At its first stage the committee considered the Langstroth and Dadant designs as desirable standard. However, the Dadant designs are under the control of US, even though widely used in Britain. It was thus passed over.

British Standard National Beehive

British Standard National Beehive
Image credit: caddon-hives.co.uk

The British Standard National beehive is unmistakably the most popular beehive in the UK and Ireland. The hive features standard dimensions, square and includes grooves that serve as hand grips, and is indeed the most popular design within the United Kingdom (UK) presently.

The British Standard National beehive is believed to have been introduced around 1920. Its history however seems to be a bit vague. Initially it was referred to the “Simplicity” hive, but was later renamed the “National Hive”.

The original National comprised straight-sided boxes, in addition to handholds on the sides, just like other single-walled hives. The design was later altered to provide a single wall on its ends but increase the size of the handholds. The design became what is referred to the “Improved National Hive”. The change only affected the boxes, thus other parts of the hive remain compatible between the 2 types. This Improved National Beehive was in some way a Langstroth beehive design, but it doesn’t appear to have been considered in the British Standard. It was popular sometimes back but not favoured by most beekeepers.

The external dimensions of the British Standard National beehive are similar to those of the Commercial Hive. Its standard feature is the bottom bee space. Beehive top and bottom are compatible with Commercial parts if the bee space is the same. Thus, it is common for beekeepers to use supers and brood boxes interchangeably for National and Commercial beehives.

The original specification and guide from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food outlines the detailed specification of the floor (now often superseded by the open-mesh floor), deeper standard brood boxes, a crown board stand, a section rack, shallower honey super boxes, and a roof. The hive’s floor design makes it easy to monitoring Varroa infestation – the disease causing organism affecting hives globally referred to as the Varroa mite.

Dimensions of the British Standard National Beehive

  • The main boxes are 18.5 inches (225 mm) tall.
  • Shallow super 5 7/8 inches or 150 mm tall.
  • The main walls are 3/4” (19 mm) thick.
  • The internal frames – two sides of the box supported with runners, and with a deep groove formed by the two-piece construction on its sides.

Since the hive boxes are square, it makes it possible to orient the frames to be parallel to the entrance block, called the “warm way”. Alternatively, you can orient the frames perpendicularly to it to be what we refer to as the “cold way”.

For the Standard, its floor offers greatest advantage. It is sloping and reversible making spring cleaning a breeze. All the beekeeper needs to do is turn the floor over. That way various creatures clean it.

The main standard features for the British Standard National Beehive is its bottom bee space that serves an essential role in beekeeping.

Frames

There are three common depths of frame manufactured and these are referred to as:

  • Shallow – 5.5 inches (140mm) for supers. Known as “shallow frames”.
  • Brood – 8.5 inches (215mm) for standard depth brood boxes. Also referred as “brood frames”. At times known erroneously as “deeps”
  • Deep – 12.0 inches (304mm) for deep brood boxes. Referred to “14 x 12” or “B.S. deeps”

The traditional hive parts are ideally made of wood, with the design and dimensions based on the concept of bee space. Therefore, you get one bee space vertically between the frames when two boxes are stacked on top of each other. A support set in the roof allows for a 1 ¼ inch space for ventilation, above the crown board rim. The 1.5 inch above the crown board surface, create ¼ inch bee space on both sides. A roof, usually made of galvanized steel sheets and covered with a waterproofing layer provides a shade from the elements.

Benefits of the British Standard National Beehive

British Standard National Beehive
Image credit: Grossman’s Hives

The British National Standard Hive has its unique features, making it popular among amateur and commercial beekeepers. Some of these include:

  • Standard brood box is the best for non – prolific bees. It provides over 63,000 cells, in addition to required space for the queens during summer. This makes it possible to rear brood and store enough food for winter. Thus, emergency feeding is not required. A single brood box can feed an entire colony all year.
  • In case you have prolific queens then you can use several options to make the brood area larger. Utilize the “14 x 12”, two brood box referred to as “double brood” or the super and brood box duped “brood and a half”. Most professional beekeepers are of the opinion that the brood box is quite small for modern-day queen bees strain. And therefore the box is thus either 12⅜” or 12½” tall. (Box that is not part of the original British Standard, and therefore has a variable height.)
  • Since this beehive design is popular, second-hand parts are easily available for purchase or sale.
  • The square design of the beehive makes it possible to use it as both warm and cold way.
  • This hive is economical to buy, more so, the second-hand. You can expect to spend typically 50% of the cost you would on a premium grade beehive. The second-hand designs may have some knots or imperfections. However, they are adequate and will serve the beekeeper for a lifetime when cared for.
  • It is lightweight and features large handholds. Thus easy to use and lift for one person.
  • Honey bees can easily be purchased on B.S. frames.
  • Its frames are compatible with WBC (named after William Broughton car, the inventor) hives.
  • A full honey super with its weight is still manageable by one person since the boxes come with secure handholds.

British Standard Commercial Beehive

The British Standard Commercial beehive is also referred to the “16 x 10”, since it has 16” x 10” frames in its brood box. It also has 16” x 6” frames in the supers, and both of these have short handles. The hive was initially developed by Samuel Simmins in about 1884 and was regarded as “The National Major” Hive.

The British Standard Commercial beehive takes a simple cuboid design, providing a top and bottom bee space. However, the hive allows its boxes to be used with National hives, since both have matching external dimensions. The only difference is the Brood Box, Super and respective frames differ. All other components are compatible with the “National”.

The frames are larger and handles or lugs shorter for the British Standard Commercial beehive. Its brood box has small handles attached to the external wall of the hive. These are used for picking it up. It is thus not too difficult to hold the supers when full of honey. That can explain why it is not uncommon for National supers to be utilized in the place of the Commercial 16” x 6”. Since these supers are made from scrap or used timber, they are cost-effective.

Consequently, the beekeeper has the benefit of an expansive brood area and lighter supers. The addition of a “Hamilton converter’ to the “National brood box” makes it possible to use ten 16” x 10” Commercial brood frames placed at 90 degrees, making it practical for those with both frame types and for altering sizes. Nevertheless, this interchange-ability is not suitable for non-prolific bees.

Non-Standard British Hives

Examples of non-standard British hives include the “Rose” and “Rational”. These designs are a deviation from the Nationals but are still compatible. The long lug is viewed as a huge bonus, since it makes it possible to utilize castellated spacers within the brood box. This is a favourite way of spacing brood frames.

Non-standard hives such as the WBC and Top Bar hives may be a favourite to amateurs. However, WBC hives are avoided by some beekeepers due to its double-walled design. The hive however provides an extra level of insulation to the honeybees since it is inconvenient to remove its extra layer prior to hive inspection.

The Top Bar hive is preferred by some beekeepers due to its lower cost, yet it can function as a standard Langstroth hive. Unfortunately it only has a top bar, lacking side and bottom bars, hence its name. Furthermore, it does not provide a foundation, thus honeybees build the combs on top bar hanging downwards. It is thus not possible to extract honey by centrifuging when you use a top bar hive.

Custom-built beehives are rare among commercial beekeepers since it is difficult to get replacement parts. These need to be hand-made, making it time-consuming and costly.

Concept of Bee Space

Bee space is a term that describes the gaps inside the beehive that honeybees do not fill with propolis or wax. It can also be described as a “neutral” zone where honeybees move freely, and will never build comb or fill it up with wax.

The bee space allows beekeepers to work on frames during inspection or honey extraction. The space helps avoid harming the bees or damaging the combs. Additionally, it protects the brood, that is, eggs, larvae and pupae within the cells. The understanding of the importance of the bee space has forced designers to come up with hives that incorporate it in modern hives, including the Flow hive.

The British Standard National Hive is specially designed to hold frames within the “bee space” standard. The original British Standard National Hive provides a 3/8 inches (9mm) bottom bee space. That means the upper surface of the frame bar is flush with the top of the box and the lower surface of the frame is one bee space above the bottom of the box. Therefore, one bee space between the frames is attained when two boxes are stacked on top of one another. Presently, both top and bottom bee space designs are utilized.

For the Commercial, it can use top or bottom. In case the bee space is the same, then Commercial parts will be compatible with National hives. As a matter of fact, it is common to have a mix of Commercial and National components. For instance, National supers on Commercial brood boxes (common in England). Or you can find Commercial supers on National brood boxes common in Ireland).

A Final Word

More than ever before, keeping honey bees is much easier and more successful than it was prior to Langstroth’s discovery. This is attributable to the fact that the entire hive can now be inspected and manipulated easily.

When it comes to beekeeping, as can be seen, the most important choice is the type of beehive to use. The choice is dependent on investment as well as in learning the techniques of that particular method of beekeeping. The most likely choice (depending on where you live) will be the Langstroth hive or the British Standard National beehive. Whichever choice, it is better to start small so that if it’s decided to have a shift in methods, that not much money or effort will be wasted.

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