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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!


Hive in Uganda. Nicholas Mbugua.
This is a large Langstroth hive set up in Uganda. © Nicholas Mbugua.
Hive in Uganda. Nicholas Mbugua.
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.

A checklist for wintertime hive prep

My wintertime checklist keeps evolving, and this year’s list is no exception. Based on the weird weather we’ve had all spring and summer, I expect we may have some strange weather through the winter as well. Here are some things to consider for wintertime preparation. Please note that many of the suggestions are alternatives—you may not be able to use all of the ideas.


Because I believe Varroa mites should be managed by the end of August, I don’t consider mite control as part of my winter preparations. Still, if you haven’t done anything, at least do a sugar roll test and see where you are. If you have a heavy mite load, it is my opinion that tending to them is the most important thing you can do for the coming winter.


Check each hive for a laying queen. Brood nests are smaller in the fall, but you should still see some brood in your colonies. If not, order a queen while there is still time.

Colony Size

  • If you have colonies that are extremely small, consider combining the smaller ones into one larger one.
  • If you want to keep colonies separate, consider stacking small colonies on top of larger ones with a double-screen board.

Honey Stores

  • I like to have around 80 pounds of honey in each double deep hive. We don’t have very cold winters here, but they are long. Rain can keep the bees from foraging right into April. Figure out how much honey you will need for your area, and if your hives are light, feed them.
  • Make sure the honey frames are in the right place. In a Langstroth, honey should be on both sides of the brood nest and above it. In a top-bar hive, the honey should be on one side of the cluster or the other, not both.
  • If honey stores remain questionable, consider making candyboards or candy cakes for winter.

Opportunistic Predators

  • Reduce hive entrances to keep out mice and other small creatures that might be looking for a warm place to spend the winter.
  • Remove weedy vegetation near the hives that small creatures can use as a ladder.
  • All ventilation ports should be screened, and all extra openings should be closed. Remember, the bees won’t leave their cluster to defend hive openings.
  • A mouse guard can be made from #4 hardware cloth.
  • A shrew guard can also be made from #4 hardware cloth. (Only use #4 when pollen is not being collected.)

Too Much Empty Space

Too much space in the hive increases draftiness and makes it harder for the bees to patrol for pests.

  • Consolidate frames into fewer boxes, if possible.
  • Remove extra boxes, especially those that are nearly empty.
  • Consider using follower boards to reduce empty space and increase insulation.


If moisture is coming in from the outside:

  • Make sure your lids fit well enough to keep out the rain.
  • Tip the hive slightly forward, so the water runs out the front, especially if you are using solid bottom boards.
  • In very rainy areas, consider a rain shelter.

If moisture from condensation is collecting inside your hives:

  • Consider using a moisture board in the lid.
  • Consider using a moisture quilt with ventilation ports. (Ports can be drilled at an angle so water drains out.)
  • Consider using a ventilated inner cover and/or a ventilated gabled roof.
  • Consider using a screened bottom board without a varroa tray all winter long.

Cold Temperatures

  • Consider using an inner cover for greater insulation
  • Consider using a slatted rack to add space between the bottom of the cluster and the drafty opening.
  • Consider wrapping your hives with insulation or tar paper, but don’t forget ventilation.
  • Consider using a skirt if your hives are off the ground.

High winds

  • Using a skirt can reduce drafts.
  • Secure lids with tie-downs or heavy objects
  • Shield upper ventilation ports from side winds.
  • Consider using a windbreak, such as bales of straw.


If flooding is a problem, don’t wait: move your hives now.


Notice Board . . .

In case you missed it: A Song of the Bees

How to recognize a nectar dearth

“How can I recognize a nectar death?” is a common newbee question and a hard one to answer. I think most experienced beekeepers know which plants are in flower in any season, which bloom follows another, and how long each lasts. They are attuned to variations in the weather from year to year, and they know if things are early or late.

Here in the coastal Pacific Northwest, we can expect the summer dearth to follow the blackberry bloom—an event that coincides with the beginning of the dry season. But if you dropped me in the middle of Texas, Alberta, or Kentucky tomorrow afternoon, I wouldn’t know the plants, the weather patterns, or the rhythm of the seasons. Read more

How much honey should I leave in my hive?

How much honey will your bees need for winter? Good question. But before I answer, here’s a question for you: How much heating fuel will my household use this winter?

Well, you say, that is complex. It depends on where you live, your local climate, and the size and geometry of your house. It depends on what type of furnace you have, how warm you like it, and how many people live there. It depends on how much insulation you have, and whether you have wind breaks, and what color it is. It depends on air leaks and ventilation and the materials it is made from. It depends on whether the seasons are early or late. And on and on.

Your bee colony has different issues, of course, but just as many. The climate and weather, the amount of ventilation, the structure of the hive, the number of bees, the kind of bees, the number of warmish days and the number of abnormally cold ones are some obvious examples. The fact is, you can’t predict exactly how much honey a colony will need, so it is better to estimate on the high side.

I checked dozens of sources this morning and found an amazing amount of agreement on general guidelines. Bees in the southern U.S. may thrive on as little as 40 pounds, bees in the middle states need about 60, and northern bees may require 80 or 90. Those are average numbers for average years and average hives. What’s average? Another good question.

In all but the warmest areas, I recommend that a beekeeper leave 80 to 90 pounds. In nearly all cases, this will assure a good supply of natural food for your bees, and it will save you messing around with syrups and sugars and supplements. In short, it is good for them and good for you.

The Mann Lake catalog used to have estimates for the weight of full boxes. According to them, a full ten-frame deep weighs 80-90 pounds, and a full ten-frame medium weighs 65-75 pounds. Discounting the weight of the structure and dividing by 10, a full deep frame holds about 8 pounds of honey and full medium holds about 6 pounds. (If you evenly space nine frames in a ten-frame box, a full frame will weigh a bit more.)

According to Caron and Conner (2013), the ideal fall colony will have brood in the center of the lowest box. This will be flanked with frames of honey and pollen, and the two outermost frames will be filled with just honey. The second deep will be filled to the brim with honey—all ten frames.

Applying the math to their ideal colony, you will have 12 deep frames completely full of honey which gives you (8 x 12) or 96 pounds, plus any additional that is stored on the pollen frames.

This setup should get you through any winter, but in the more temperate states, you could easily replace the second deep with a medium, which would give you (6 x 12) or 72 pounds of honey plus any additional on the pollen frames.

A common error that new beekeepers make is harvesting the honey supers without checking the brood boxes for honey. You cannot assume the deeps are full just because the honey supers are full. Often the bees use one or both brood boxes for brood and pollen during most of the season. Not until late in the year do they start moving the honey closer to the brood nest. If you take the supers without checking, you could be leaving your bees with almost nothing for the winter. So above all, remember to look before you take.


A full frame of honey. © Nancy McClure.