Lessons Learned Building Layens Hives
by Sherri Talbot When we first developed the idea of a small homestead, we wanted to become as self-sufficient as possible, slowly removing things from our diet that we could not raise ourselves or gain from local farmers. One of the most significant challenges would be removing white flour and sugars. Initially, we moved to stevia, but our goal is to sweeten entirely with maple syrup and honey.
To further this, we decided to raise bees. Like with everything here, however, we wanted to do it more naturally, easier on the bees, and easier on us. We can’t keep an entire field of bees, nor do we have the time to check on them, add boxes, or extract honey weekly. Therefore, we tried beekeeping with Layens hives.
Part of this was the expense. It’s challenging to know when we will need what boxes. Prices were high, and I was concerned about swarms and a sudden need for another hive. Layens hives, on the other hand, could be built by my fabulous husband. He was eager to play in the new woodshop, and he found plans online for free.
Due to our Maine winters, we decided on the insulated version of the Layens hives. It was slightly more expensive to build but hopefully will not require any extra care during the winter. The walls are lined with sheep wool that we could purchase from a nearby farm that raises sheep for meat. It contains 20 frames, and each frame is about twice the size of a Langstroth deep frame.
Another concern was that Langstroth boxes often have to be lifted off the top, and I have a bad shoulder. If my husband were unavailable, I could not disassemble the boxes when they needed care. Layens hives, like all horizontal hives, only need frames removed for checks and maintenance. Due to the hive size, they take much longer to fill up; therefore, splits and swarms take longer to be a concern. Therefore, if we cannot get to the hives for several weeks, there will be no significant loss.
This turned out to be a good decision since we ran into time issues before we even got to installing the bees! Two weeks before they were due, and we scrambled to make up for lost time — finishing two of the hives and making frames. Additionally, we were getting a nuc designed to fit a Langstroth hive, so we had to make adapters.
Then the call came a week early to pick up the bees.
We had the hives complete but unpainted and the adapters finished, but the frames weren’t wholly cut. This would mean letting them build into the box and then cutting the comb out later and attaching it to the frames. We had intentionally gotten more aggressive bees because we wanted bees who could defend themselves from invasion, even if it meant we had a more difficult time working around them. Now, we would be dealing with these little fighters up close and personal for an extended time.
The fun began when we loaded them into the car, drove the hour-plus back to our home, and opened the trunk. The seller had not packed the bees correctly or sealed the box. We had been riding in the car with most of our bees outside of the box! It was a rush to suit up, smoke them a bit, and then carefully carry them to their new homes. Additionally, we were unable to put them in the field as planned because we would never have kept them together for that long a walk! Instead, they sit out back, between the chicken pen and the woodshop. The fall flowers bloom more vigorously here, and bears are far more likely to raid hives far from the house (and barking dogs).
We still didn’t get the frames built. Literally, as of the writing of this article, it has been almost two months, and the bees are still frameless. The hives are incredibly active, and we’ve both already been stung! But they are building into an open hollow, just as if we had given them a giant tree trunk to build into.
I must regularly remind myself of this important detail. Our failure to build a “correct” structure will, eventually, be a terrible inconvenience to us. Extracting honey will be a nightmare, and changing the combs over gets more difficult for us every week we stall. It hasn’t harmed them at all. In fact, in just this short time, the hives are full of bees and honey. We were initially warned not to harvest this fall, yet the hive is so packed that there will be no place to put more when the fall flowers bloom!
Signs of intruders fended off are visible, and our guineas often take a trip out under the tables to see if the bees have tossed them any beetles, dead bees, or other tasty treats. We want to build a more resilient bee, so while I know many will disagree with us, we are adopting a “survival of the fittest” style and will intervene as little as possible in our bees’ lives.
In the long run, will this be a successful venture? Only time will tell. Certainly, by the book, we have done everything completely wrong. And yet the bees seem to be thriving. Winter will certainly be the test, and come spring, we will lift the lid and see how our tiny warrior women remain and how bad at beekeeping we are.
Originally published in the February/March 2022 issue of Backyard Beekeeping and regularly vetted for accuracy.