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Types of Beehives-Find the Best for Your Bees

Choose the kind of beehive to use for your apiary is a big decision. With several popular styles available, it is difficult to make a confident decision. Each hive provides a viable home for honey bees. Yet, some require different management styles. Take some time to consider all the aspects of each of the types of beehives before purchasing equipment for your bees.

Different Types of Beehives- Pros and Cons

The term “beehive” is most often used to describe a man-made box designed to hold a colony of honey bees. They are made of various materials but wood is the most common- with some plastic hives coming on the market.

Beekeeper removing frame from Langstroth type of beehive image.

This year round home for bees provides protection from the elements and storage space. Inside, bees raise young (bee brood), store food and carry on the functions of bee life.

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In modern beekeeping, this structure not only provides enough storage for the bee family – but also can expand to allow production of a honey crop for the beekeeper.

How Many Kinds of Beehives are There?

Many different styles of beehives have been used throughout history.  The iconic straw skeps were used in Europe and are still in use in some regions today.

In parts of Africa, wild bees are still kept in log hives. They are created with sections of log suspended from tree limbs. Beekeepers in some regions have to use the raw materials they have on hand.

Beekeepers are an inventive folk. It is not unusual to find them experimenting with something new. This is especially common for experienced beekeepers who have managed basic beekeeping skills. They may move on to try another style of hive.

Beyond the shape or “look” of the hive itself, the way in which bees are managed can vary among the different designs. You must consider – does this hive management style fit your schedule and goal in beekeeping.

If you want to produce a lot of honey, you may want a design that allows for easy harvest. Those only wanting bees for pollination are not so concerned with storage area.

Unique designed hive for honey bees in yard image.

Most Popular Types of Beehives

In the United States, the majority of beekeepers use one of 3 types of beehives. And, yes, some beekeepers choose to use more than 1 style in their apiary.

There are advantages of using only 1 type of hive: storing equipment and sharing resources among the colonies is easier. But, some beekeepers try several kinds before choosing a favorite.

Regardless of the style used in your apiary, educate yourself about the various parts of your equipment and know how they function.

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This is important whether you build your own beehive or purchase one ready to use. Here are 3 popular beehives in the US.

The Langstroth Beehive

Field with several Langstroth style hives of bees image.

The Langstroth hive is the industry standard and the most popular one in use. It was developed in the mid 1800’s by Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth.

He also wrote “The Hive and the Honeybee” a book considered by many to be “the” beekeeping book.

Building on the work of earlier bee researchers, Langstroth designed a new hive. Using the concept of “bee space”, he developed a removable vertical hanging frame design.

These removable frames revolutionized beekeeping. Making hive inspections possible without having to cut out and destroy honeycomb.

What is Bee Space?

Bee space is defined as a space of ¼” to 3/8”. Honey bees use this “gap size” to navigate within the hive.

Any space smaller than ¼” bees tend to fill with propolis. Any gaps larger than 3/8” -bees fill with bridge or burr comb.

Building your bee boxes with this special spacing in mind, cuts down on unwanted comb and makes it much easier to manipulate the colony.

Bees Boxes or Supers

Langstroth hives (Langs) consist of boxes stacked one on top of another. The hive begins as 1 or 2 boxes and more supers are added as the colony grows.

Wooden frames hang vertically inside the boxes and are usually filled with wax foundation (or plastic) to encourage bees to build comb inside the frames.

The most common size of Langstroth holds 10 frames. Though 8 frame Langs have become more popular in recent years due to ease of lifting.

In addition to a bottom board and top, the Langstroth hive has 3 different box sizes. All boxes are 19 7/8″ in length and 16 1/4″ wide with varying heights.

A deep super (hive body) measures 9 5/8″ in height, the medium super measures 6 5/8″ and a shallow super box is 5 11/16” tall. These 3 boxes are used in different configurations by beekeepers.

Some beekeepers like to use all medium boxes for their Langstroth hives. The advantage of this method is that all of your equipment is interchangeable.

But, using mediums for honey supers requires heavier lifting than with shallows. Shallow supers are used most often for honey production because honey gets HEAVY.

Some beekeepers use 2 deep boxes for the bees’ home.  And, some (like me) use 1 deep and 1 shallow that is always left for the bees.

Advantages:

  • most Langstroth parts are interchangeable even if from different manufacturers
  • the most common type in use
  • supplies easy to find
  • support from other like-minded beekeepers easily available

Cons:

  • Requires storage space for hive components not in use
  • Heavy lifting is required
  • Bees are building on foundation with larger cell size than wild bees
  • If you choose 8 frame Langs – they are not standard and a bit harder to find.

The Top-Bar Beehive

Top bar beehive for a bee colony image.

The Top-Bar Hive (also called the Kenyan Top Bar Hive) has a large following in the United States. Originating in parts of the world where they were cheaply made from materials on hand, they are not inexpensive to make in the US.

You will often see the abbreviation “TBH” referring to a top-bar hive. This type of beehive is very different from the other styles.

It consists of one long box instead of the stacked boxes of the Langstroth or Warré hives. The horizontal top -bar hive is often considered physically easier to manage.

There are no heavy boxes to move during inspection. The long box is set at a good height reducing back strain when inspecting the individual frames.

Beekeeper inspecting frame of comb from a top bar hive design image.

Under the roof of this hive, you do not see frames or foundation. Instead, simple top bars of wood (sometimes with a bit of beeswax starter strip) are laid across the box.

The most common number of top bars inside is 24. In here, the bees build their own honeycomb down from each bar.

In theory, you can remove each top bar of comb to inspect. Top-Bar Hives often having viewing windows so beekeepers can peak inside.

Advantages:

Cons:

  • natural comb is soft and prone to break during inspection
  • feeding colonies can be more difficult
  • not as much local support
  • can be challenging for new beekeepers
  • bees may abscond more frequently

Warré Beehive

Warre style beehives in field image.

The Warré Hive was designed by a French monk-Abbé Émile Warré. It is similar to the box style of the Langstroth type of beehive.

Warré’s idea was to mimic the inside of a tree – the natural hive of wild honey bees. The boxes are a bit smaller than standard Langstroth hive boxes.

But the management technique for these types of beehives is rather different. On the Warré hive, new boxes are added to the bottom of the stack not the top!

This is based on Warré’s idea that bees naturally build down when housed in a hollow tree.

This type of hive management requires more lifting. The top honey boxes are raised to allow placement of a new box on the bottom of the stack. Warré beekeepers often devise types of lift systems to aid in colony management.

Like the regular top-bar, a Warré Hive uses no frames or foundation. Each box contains sturdy wooden slats from which bees build comb. 

The top box of this hive is called a quilt box. Shavings and other absorbent materials are added here to absorb excess moisture. You can also build a quilt box for your Langstroth Hive. This aids in important hive ventilation.

Advantages:

  • Supposedly requires less inspection time (frames aren’t removed)
  • Foundation-less – bees build own natural comb
  • Supporters say it is more natural

Cons:

  • Illegal in some states
  • Can’t easily inspect due to non-removable bars
  • Less common system with limited local support

Newer Styles of Beehives

We beekeepers are an adventurous lot.  In some aspects, we resist change.  But, sometimes we go all out in trying new things.  A few other hive designs deserve a quick mention due to their popularity in recent years.

Apimaye Hive

The Apimaye Hive deserves a mention in this article. It is gaining in popularity in the United States.  Made from food-grade, UV resistant plastic, this insulated Langstroth style beehive is designed for bees living in extreme climates.

The hive does not absorb moisture and helps colonies survive bitter cold. If you live in a region with very cold Winters, you may consider giving the Apimaye Hive a try.

Flow Hive

The Flow Hive. Well, this hive style certainly caused an uproar in the beekeeping community. It sure got people talking about bees – so I guess that is a good thing.

The selling point of the Flow Hive is the easy honey harvest method. These hives have special frames of plastic comb. There are designed so that beekeepers harvest honey with the turn of a crank.

What could be easier than that? This approach sounds easy to beginners and they can avoid the expense of purchasing extracting equipment.

Unfortunately, the early promos for the Flow Hive made beekeeping seem just a bit too easy. Experienced beekeepers were up in arms over the lack of realism in the advertisements.

They felt that this type of beehive would result in people getting bees who were not serious about beekeeping. And, this did happen.

In recent years, the company has done a good job of helping people understand that proper hive management is necessary for a good crop too. Some members of the Flow Hive community love their hives and are very good beekeepers.

Horizontal Beehives

While the top bar or (Kenyan Top Bar) hive is horizontal, there are others that have gained some attention. A long horizontal Langstroth hive is favored by many beekeepers. This is especially beneficial to those unable to life heavy boxes.

Another slightly different type of horizontal hive is the Layens Hive. It works on the same idea but has larger frames than a long Lang.

Best Beehive for Beginners

Most experts agree that a 10 frame Langstroth hive is best suited for beginner beekeepers. This is due to the fact that the popularity of this kind of hive makes it easy to acquire components.

You will also find an abundance of bee managment information online for Langstroth Hive beginners.

Of course, that is not saying that you can not begin beekeeping and be successful with other types of beehives – because you certainly can.

Which Are the Most Bee Friendly Hives?

Oh boy, this is a hot topic. Dare I go there? Yes, I will but gently. Proponents for each type of hive will readily tell you why their chosen style is the best.

Unfortunately, we cannot ask the bees – who seem to equally prosper and sometimes die in each style. Like everything else in beekeeping, there is no simple answer.

Choosing the Best Hive

Whether you use Langstroth Hives, Top-Bar Hives, Warré Hive, Long Langstroth Hives, Flow Hives or others, you still must practice good beekeeping management.

In general, beekeepers who only want bees for pollination tend to favor Top-Bar Hives. Beekeepers interested in honey production tend to choose the Langstroth Hive.

I encourage beginning beekeepers to start with a Langstroth Hive for the first few years at least. I think these are the best types of beehives for newbies who have so much basic beekeeping to learn.

Also, the way in which the beekeeper cares for the colony is likely more important than the style of their home. You can be a good or horrible beekeeping with regardless of the hive style.

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