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Domesticated bees are kept in beehives. There are three basic styles of beehive: skeps, Langstroth hives and Top-bar hives.

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Skeps Skeps are cone-shaped enclosures traditionally woven from grass or straw. In the simplest form, there is a single entrance at the bottom of the skep. There is no internal structure except what the bees build themselves. A skep replicates the open empty space that bees might commonly inhabit in a hollow tree.

Because there is no internal structure provided for the bees to start from, the bees fill the space in the hive with comb. The comb is often cross-attached and can not be moved without destroying it. This is sometimes called a 'fixed-frame' hive to differentiate it from the 'movable-frame' hives that will be described below.

The term skep is sometimes used generically to mean any open-cavity beehive such as a log gum (a hollow log set on end with a lid to keep rain out) and box hives (an empty wooden box).

Honey from a fixed-frame hive was typically extracted by pressing - crushing the wax honeycomb to squeeze out the honey. When the honey is harvested from a skep hive, any bees or brood still in the comb will be killed.

Skeps and other fixed-frame hives are no longer in wide use (and are illegal in many countries) because the bees and the comb can not be inspected for disease or parasites.

Langstroth hives Named for their inventor, Lorenzo Langstroth[?], these hives are typified by removable frames which allow the apiarist to inspect for diseases and parasites.

Langstroth hives make use of the discovery of bee space, a characteristic of European honeybees which says that bees prefer to have 1/4 to 3/8 inch of space between the faces of comb.

If the beehive has empty space greater than 3/8", the bees will fill it with comb for either honey storage or for brood rearing. If the beehive has empty space of less than 1/4", the bees will tend to seal up the space with propolis.

Langstroth hives make use of standardized sizes of hive bodies and frames to ensure that parts are interchangable and that the frames will remain relatively easy to remove and inspect without killing too many of the bees. Langstroth hive bodies are rectangular wooden or styrofoam boxes that can be stacked to expand the usable space for the bees. Langstroth frames are thin rectangular structures made of wood or plastic and which have a wax or plastic foundation on which the bees draw out the comb. Ten frames side-to-side will fill the hive body and leave exactly the right amount of bee space between each frame and between the end frames and the hive body.

Langstroth frames make it possible to extract honey in centrifuges which spin the honey out of the frames. The empty frames can then be returned to the beehive for use next season. Since bees are estimated to use as much food to make one pound of beeswax as they would to make eight pounds of honey, the ability to reuse comb can significantly increase honey production.

Langstroth hives are the most common hives in use.

Top-Bar Hives These hives were developed as a lower-cost alternative to the standard Langstroth hives and equipment. Top-bar hives also have movable frames and make use of the concept of bee-space.

The top-bar hive gets its name because the frames of the hive only have a top bar, not sides or a bottom bar. The beekeeper does not provide a foundation (or only provides a fractional foundation) for the bees to build from. The bees build the comb so it hangs down from the top bar.

Unlike the Langstroth hive, the honey can not be extracted by centrifuging because a top-bar frame does not have reinforced foundation or a full frame. Because the bees have to rebuild the comb after each harvest, a top-bar hive will yield more beeswax but less honey. However, like the Langstroth hive, the bees can be induced to store the honey separately from the areas where they are raising the brood so that far fewer bees are killed when harvesting from a top-bar hive than when harvesting from a skep.

See also: honeybees, diseases of the honeybee

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