Why I Use 8 Frame Beehives
Frame Geometry and Perpendicular Movement
The geometry of a beehive is such that bees – especially an overwintering cluster – can easily move parallel to the frames (up/down, front/back) but have a difficult time moving perpendicular (side to side) between them.
Imagine a bee walking along the face of a frame of drawn out comb. The bee can effortlessly walk front and back or up and down along the two-dimensional surface accessing resources; but if the bee wants to move from one side of the frame to another, it has to first walk to the edge of the frame, around the perimeter, and cross over to the to the other side.
This geometry is especially relevant for overwintering bees. As the temperature decreases in the fall, the bees cluster together at the base of the hive to conserve heat. The cluster is a loose sphere of bees – roughly six to eight frames wide – with a tighter outer mantle that moves as a unit to conserve heat. The critical thing to realize is that the frames run through the cluster so, like individual bees, the cluster can move parallel (front/back, up/down) but not perpendicular (side to side). A perpendicular moving cluster has to disassemble, walk around the outside of the frames, and regroup – losing heat in the process.
Simply put, a narrower hive reduces the need for the cluster to move laterally.
Access to Honey
In his book, Honeybee Democracy, bee researcher Thomas D. Seeley describes natural hives as being tall and narrow. Narrower makes sense considering that side to side movement is difficult for winter clusters but the second benefit is that honey that would have been stored beside the cluster is now stacked above it.
During cold winter months, breaking the cluster isn’t an option so the result is that the bees can’t easily access honey stored beside them. This reluctance to move laterally explains why many beekeepers report starvation despite there being a frame or two of honey (always the outermost frames) mear inches from the starved cluster. By placing more honey above the bees, the resources in an eight frame hive are more accessible.
Increase Winter Survival Rates With 8 Frame Beehives
So why eight frames? Simply put, the overwintering cluster of bees is roughly eight frames in diameter. By sizing the hive to the wintering cluster, we’ve mostly eliminated the need for them to move perpendicular. In an eight frame hive, the cluster can concentrate on keeping warm and move up as a group to access honey stored above them which is more accessible than honey stored beside them.