Welcome to the world of honey bees – where we will discuss the different types of beehives used by beekeepers. A beehive is much more than just a box. It is the home of a busy colony struggling to survive. Choosing the best type of beehive for your bees is important for your success. Pay close attention to the characteristics, pros and cons of each.
Impact of Beehive Types on Beekeeping Success
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. It provides protection from the elements and predators.
Inside, bees raise young (bee brood), store food and carry on the daily functions of bee life. 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. Beekeepers in remote regions have to use the raw materials they have on hand.
In modern beekeeping, the beehive type you choose may depend in part on your goals. While honey bees all share similar characteristics, people keep colonies for different reasons.
If you want to produce a lot of honey, you may want a design that allows for easy harvest. You should choose a hive style that allows for expansion to give the colony plenty of room.
If pollination of a garden or orchard is your main beekeeping goal, you will not need a beehive with the largest capacity. In fact, some beekeepers do not want to harvest honey at all.
Hive Management Considerations
Beyond the style and size of the hive, you should consider it’s management needs. Some require more attention than others – if you hope to meet those beekeeping goals.
Regardless of the style used in your apiary, educate yourself about the various parts of your equipment and know how they function.
Then, consider trying a different type of beehive if you want. Keep in mind, there are advantages of using only style.
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.
Building on the work of earlier researchers, Langstroth designed a new hive. Using the concept of “bee space”, he developed removable vertical hanging frames.
These frames revolutionized beekeeping. They made hive inspections possible without having to cut out and destroy honeycomb.
- most Langstroth parts are interchangeable even if from different manufacturers
- the most common type in use
- a favorite for honey production
- supplies easy to find
- support from other like-minded beekeepers easily available
- 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.
Langstroth hives (also called “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.
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.
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 design is very different from the other styles.
- bees build their own comb
- easier on the beekeeper’s back
- less disturbance during inspections
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.
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. Inside, the bees build their own honeycomb down from each bar. Top-Bar Hives often having viewing windows so beekeepers can peak inside.
The Warré Hive was designed by a French monk-Abbé Émile Warré. It is similar to the box style of the Langstroth design.
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 boxes.
- Supposedly requires less inspection time (frames aren’t removed)
- Foundation-less – bees build own natural comb
- Supporters say it is more natural
- Illegal in some states
- Can’t easily inspect due to non-removable bars
- Less common system with limited local support
On the Warré hive, new boxes are added to the bottom of the super 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.
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 you can harvest honey with the turn of a crank.
What could be easier than that? This approach really appeals to beginners and they can avoid the expense of purchasing honey 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 caring for them. 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. Some members of the Flow Hive community love their hives and are very good beekeepers.
We beekeepers are an adventurous lot. In some aspects, we resist change and hold on to our traditional tools.
But, sometimes we go all out in trying new things. A few other hive designs deserve a quick mention due to their popularity.
The Apimaye Hive 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.
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 some beekeepers. This is especially beneficial to those unable to life heavy boxes.
WBC Hive “Classic Hive”
A popular hive style used in the UK is the WBC Classic Hive developed by William Broughton Carr. It is a double-walled structure that provides extra insulation for the cold climates and damp conditions.
The outside wall surrounds separate loose boxes. This makes it difficult to move when full of bees. However, it is a beautiful hive and you will often see it depicted in old paintings and illustrations.
What is the Best Beehive for Beginners?
Most experts agree that a 10 frame Langstroth hive is best suited for beginner beekeepers and hobbyists. This is due to the fact that the popularity of this kind of hive makes it easy to acquire components.
Of course, that is not saying that you can not begin beekeeping and be successful with other types of beehives – because you certainly can.
Best for the Bees
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 beehive 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.
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. Regardless of the one you chose to use, you still must practice good beekeeping management.
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.
And if you really want a special experience, you may even decide to buy or build an observation hive and take your bees on the road someday!