Beginner’s FAQ: What Size Kit Should I Use?

One of the main pros of going on a beekeeping course is that you are able to handle fully pulled frames with brood, pollen and or honey. This gives you a better idea of the weight of the frames and how easily you can manipulate them during a hive inspection. We’re not covering all of the possible frames out there, but the most widely used options for beginners, each of the frame sizes have pros and cons which will go through below.

British National Standard 

This is the most widely available and popular size kit on the UK market. Very easy to handle with reasonably long lugs making it easier to hold when going through your hive. A full frame of honey on a national deep frame would be the lightest in comparison to the other sizes, so it is suitable for beekeepers of various strength capabilities.

The National is the smallest size out of all the available kit and this can cause some issues in relation to how prolific your queen is, as she has considerably less space to lay. This issue can be alleviated by working on a double brooded hive (A colony that has two brood boxes to lay in instead of one) but this does mean another brood box of frames to check through. Therefore you must keep in mind how often you are free to do your hive inspections, if you’re on the ball with your swarm control then using the national kit may not be an issue for you.

A national frame full of brood and ivy pollen

Commercial

Commercial kit is compatible with National floors, roofs, crownboards and queen excluders, the length of the top bar is identical to the British National Standard, however the lugs are shorter and the side bars longer to give a lot more cell space for your queen to lay. You can also get commercial supers, allowing for more honey to be collected.

With shorter lugs it can be harder to handle the frames for some, especially those who need to wear thick gloves. As you become more proficient handling bees, the length of the lugs may be inconsequential, but sometimes it is difficult moving from the comfort of National frames to Commercial!

14 x 12

This is a dramatically deeper version of the British National Standard, the top bars are the same length and the same size lugs as the National. Some beekeepers find handling the brood frames harder due to their size and a full brood box will be too heavy for some. However you will get a lot more total cell space in comparison and often there is not much need for strict swarm control.

When the bees are pulling these frames you may find it necessary to feed syrup. 14 x 12 in particular can sometimes cause the bees a little trouble as they may not draw the frames out completely (see below on the left side). Although this can happen with any frame size, it is the sheer size of the frame that causes issues as a top/middle heavy brood space can often topple and tear if you’re not careful when handling.

The 14 x 12 don’t have their own version of supers, instead they are interchangeable with the rest of the National kit, for example their floors, roofs and queen excluders.

14 x 12, note how the bees had chewed away the foundation on the left side and in the end did not draw it out completely.

Langstroth

Langstroth is the most popular hive in a lot of the world and it is becoming ever more popular in the UK with the spread of the famous Flow Hive.  The Langstroth hive is rectangular in shape rather than square like the national and commercial and its frames are longer in length  but the boxes hold less of them.  The frames have a shorter lug similar to the commercial. 

A plastic langstroth frame with an amazing distribution of honey, pollen and brood

In Summary

There are two main considerations when deciding on what size kit that you eventually will want to run with. Firstly, it will be your physical capabilities and secondly how often you are able to check your colony for any potential swarming activity.

If you react badly to stings and wear thicker leather gloves then you may want the comfort of the longer lugs of the National or 14 x 12. If you worry about the weight of a full brood/super box then opting for the lightest kit, the National is also preferable.

Most beekeepers will know how often they will check their colony throughout the season, if you’re a little more restricted in your time then it is best to buy kit with a greater total cell space as you can normally rest assured that your colony is unlikely to swarm. Please note though, that if you have a particularly swarm prone colony then they will probably swarm no matter if you’re on National or Langstroth.

If you want a bigger cell space but not the weight that comes with the supers then as said before the National, 14 x 12 and Commercial kit is interchangeable. So you can enjoy the cell space of the Commercial or 14 x 12 for your brood box and then top that with the lighter National supers. We often think that this is in fact the best option for most, a brood box of greater cell space combined with National supers. All in all getting a feel for all of the different frames is pretty important before investing your money in the equipment, but if you have a colony with a low swarming tendency then the size of the kit may not matter in the long run.

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