Anatomy of the hive


Hive natural layout tree

bee nest wild

A wasps nest in a tree (US)– not a honey bee


The honey bee would make its nest in a hollow tree.  Dissection of the hive demonstrates the relative position of the honey, pollen and brood-nest.  The queen cells are produced at the very bottom of the brood-nest where the wax is newest.  The nest is kept at a constant 36C.  The drone cells are on the edge of the brood-nest where it is cooler – at 35C.


The same pattern is seen in the typical “frame”

With honey stored at the top of the frame and the brood in the warm centre.  Between the honey  (1) and the brood (2) is a narrow band of pollen (3).  Note the cappings are uniform in colour and are convex (higher in the centre than at the edges).


Bee hive layout bridge

The frame with honey bridge

Bees shaken off revealing the various zones

Bee hive functions

Number of bees in a hive

In an active hive there will be around:

1 queen

300-500 drones

25,000 older forages

25,000 younger hive bees

20,000 capped brood

9,000 uncapped larvae

6,000 eggs

Thus around 80,000 bees in each hive.



Proplis is a resin material collected from trees – leaves and buds.  Bees use Proplis to seal holes and provide a disinfectant to the hive.  In the picture below Proplis can be seen sealing the wood –arrowed.



Man-made Bee Hives

Log hives

One of the simplest hives that can be constructed can be made out of log.  A tree is felled and cut into cylindrical logs which are split into halves.  The inside is carefully scooped out and the hive put back together.

When the honey is collected the hive is split open and honey combs removed.   The two halves can then be put back together for the start of the next honey crop

bee hives ug 8 log

Note protect the hive from predators.  These can be hung in trees


Basket hive

Sticks are woven into a cylindrical shape.  The outer wall is then smeared with wet soil or ideally cattle dung.  Seal the ends with banana fibres, grass or wood, leaving a few holes for the bees.  Have only one entry point.  These tend to be one way hives as the hive is destroyed to get to the honey.


bee hives ug 4

bee hives ug 3

Weaving the sticks together

Starting to apply the mud outer casing

bee hives ug 1

bee hives ug 2

The outer-casing can be made from grass or straw

bee hives ug 10

bee hives ug 12

Note the plastic cover (can be a metal plate) to protect from rain.  Entrance at one end with bee holes (left picture) other end sealed (right picture).

bee hive rw tree 2

bee hives ug  9 log

Hive suspended in a tree to protect from predators – termites in this case

Bees working the entrance


Improved Hives

Kenyan Top Bar Hive

This hive has great advantages as it allows the bee keeper to inspect the bees at any time without significantly disturbing the hive.  It also allows easy collection of honey, bees wax and other products as required.

The hive has to be carefully constructed with a sealed top to each top bar and the bee space below each top bar allows the bees to construct their hive hanging on the top bar.

bee hives ug 13

bee hives ug 30 not no bee space necessary

Top bar hive in use. Note entrance holes 8-10mm wide

The top bar hive with the roof removed

bee hives ug 25

bee hives ug 26

Note no bee space visible between top bars

Hive built in bee space (arrowed) hanging from the top bar


The Langstroth Hive

The major advantage of the Langstroth hive is that the bee can be excluded from the supers carrying the honey.   The reduction in traffic produces good clean honey and the honey can be easily extracted as there is little disturbance to the queen or the brood.

However, the hive is expensive and the honey is extracted from the frames using a centrifugal honey extractor.

Hive Langstroth label

Hive Langstroth 2



Supers under construction – note bee space

Frame with the foundation of bees wax



Hives in Australia

Startup hive in Uganda note no honey super

In cold climates two or brood supers are often used.  More honey supers can be added if there is a lot of food around.





 Each frame will collect about 2-3 kg of honey.


Where to place the hive


Bees need water, food, air (good ventilation) and good flooring (the hive).



It is essential to place the hive near a good water supply – ideally a pond or river.  In the summer months providing water in a basin may be very benefitial.  Place a leaf or brick in the water so the bees can land and drink.

In cool months bees require about 150g of water per day to survive.   In the hot months this increases to 1 kg water per day.

water source

bee hives ug water

Place the hives near a good water source

And/or support the hive in the hot summer months by additional water



The major food sources for bees are nectar and pollen.


Bees can become very agitated after repeated rains as it washed nectar out of the flowers and it takes time for the plants to replenish they nectar supplies.


Nectar is quite variable in quality but contains 5 to 80% sugars in water plus small amounts of proteins etc. The main sugars are fructose, glucose and sucrose. Nectar provides around 50x the energy expended in its collection.  A hive requires about 25kg of honey to overwinter.


The major source of protein to the colony is pollen.  A colony requires about 20-30kg of pollen per year.

Pollen also provides minerals, lipids and vitamins.   The protein content of pollen also varies, ideally bees require 20% protein content.  Maize (Zea mays) pollen is low in protein (15%) whereas White Clover (Trifolium repens) is good at 26%. A hive requires about 50-100g protein a day, thus about 250-500g of pollen per day.   Note if only poor protein content is available (<15%) this increases to 340-600g of pollen per day.

If supplimenting protein sources, it is important to know the ideal aminoacid concentration.  In bees the limiting protein is Leucine.


4.5%    Leucine

4%       Valine and Iso-leucine

3%       Threonine, Lysine and Arginine

2.5%    Phenylalanine

1.5%    Methinine and Histidine

1%       Tryptophan


Air (good ventilation)

The siting of the hive is important to both get the morning sun, but to avoid any exessive heat which can heat stress the hive.  The bees will maintain the hive around 36°C irrespective of the outside temperature.  They are able to survive -40°C for several weeks.

In the Southern hemisphere site the hive facing south with protection from the afternoon sun (in the north).

A wire mesh floor assists hive ventilation.  It will not allow cold air in – as cold air will fall not rise.

The hive is cold stressed below 20°C and heat stressed about 35°C.  At both tolerance levels the protein requirements increase to ensure hive survival.

hive placement


Hive placement in Australia to avoid overheating the bees in the hot afternoon sun

Ensure good distance between hives to stop cross over of flight paths and drifting.




The outer cover can be angled to provide additional ventilation especially in the hot summer months.

Watch the behaviour of the bees at the entrance




Bees on good flight paths with guard bees at entrance.  Good hive temperature

Bees crowding around entrance – indicating the hive may be too hot



Bees are robbed of their honey by a number of animals- including man.

Place the hive in a secure location.  The hive stand should be constructed to stop pests from entering the hive.  The hive stand should stand in oil without odours – which can get into the honey.

Ensure that vegitation is cleared around the hive stand.


bee hive rw tree 4

Hive situated with electric fence – solar powered- to enhance security from mammal pests

Bee hive in tree – good general security – but difficulty in access the hive for observation



Vegitation well cleared around hive stand.

But hive stand not in any protective oil well to reduce ants.

Vegitation well cleared around hive stand



Vegitation growing around the hive stand

Hive stand not providing any protection against athropod pest


Properties of honey



< 18 % (or fermentation starts)




Saccharase, Amalyse (Diastase),Glucose oxidase

Water insoluble solids

The lower content greater clarity

Osmotic pressure

2000 mOsmols/kg

Refractive index

1.55 at 13% water

1.49 at 18% water

Energy content

2.6 MJ/kg   (1380 cal/lb)