One of the first big steps towards having your own honey bees is deciding which beehive to use. There are several popular styles available. Though different in shape and management strategies, each one provides a viable home for honey bees. There is no one kind of beehive that is best for everyone. Take some time to consider all the aspects of each style. Finding the best types of beehives for your beekeeping adventure can be a bit difficult.
Which are the Best Kinds of Beehives?
What is a Beehive?
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.
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The honey bee colony lives inside. Here they raise young (bee brood), store food and carry on the functions of bee life.
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. Straw skeps were used in Europe and are still in use in some regions today.
In parts of Africa, wild bees are kept in log hives created with sections of log suspended from tree limbs. Beekeepers in some regions have to use the raw materials they have on hand.
Though some types are more common, it is not usual to find a beekeeper who is experimenting with something new. This is especially common for experienced beekeepers who have managed basic beekeeping skills.
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.
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!
Most beekeepers use primarily 1 style for their apiary. This makes storing equipment and sharing resources among the colonies easier. But, some beekeepers enjoy trying several kinds of beehives before choosing a favorite.
Regardless of the style used in your apiary, educate yourself about the various parts and know how they function. This is important whether you build your own beehive or purchase one ready to use.
Most common hive designs in US
The Langstroth Beehive
The Langstroth hive is the industry standard and the most popular one in use. It was made popular in the mid 1800’s by Rev Lorenzo Langstroth.
Building on the research of others, he used the concept of “bee space”. The removable vertical hanging frame design 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.
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 – 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.
Pros for the Langstroth Beehive
- 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 for Langstroth Hive
- 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
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 Warre hives. The 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.
Under the roof of the top bar 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.
Pros for Top Bar Hives
- bees build their own comb
- easier on the beekeeper’s back
- less disturbance during inspections
Cons for Top Bar Hives
- 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
The Warre Hive was designed by a French monk Abbé Émile Warré. It is similar to the box style of the Langstroth.
Warre’s idea was to mimic the inside of a tree – the natural hive of wild honey bees. Warre boxes are a bit smaller than standard Langstroth hive boxes.
But the management technique for these types of beehives is rather different. On the Warre hive, new boxes are added to the bottom of the stack not the top!
This is based on Warres idea that bees naturally build down when housed in a hollow tree.
This type of hive management requires more lifting. The top boxes are raised to allow placement of a new box on the bottom of the stack. Warre beekeepers often devise types of lift systems to aid in colony management.
The Warre Hive uses no frames or foundation. Each box contains sturdy wooden slats, similar to top bars.
The top box of the Warre hive is called a quilt box. Shavings and other absorbent materials are added here to absorb excess moisture.
Pros for the Warre Hive
- Supposedly requires less inspection time (frames aren’t removed)
- Foundation-less – bees build own comb
- Supporters say it is more natural
Cons of the Warre Hive
- Illegal in some states
- Can’t easily inspect due to non-removable bars
- Less common System with limited local support
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 making 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. Also, the way in which the beekeeper cares for the colony is likely more important than the style of their home.
Honorable Mentions in Hive Styles
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 types of beehives deserve a quick mention due to their popularity in recent years.
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.
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. The special frames were designed to all beekeepers to harvest honey with the turn of a crank.
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.
However, some members of the Flow Hive community love their hives and are very good beekeepers.
Final Thoughts the Best Types of Beehives
As I am sure you have figured out, there is no clear winner. The question of which hive is best will continue to provide debate for beekeepers.
Whether you use Langstroth Hives, Top Bar Hives, Warre 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.