Exploring the Different Types of Beehives
Choosing the best type of beehives for your beekeeping adventure is very important. This is the first big step toward your dream of having your own bees. In fact, the actual hives are the main beekeeping supplies that will affect how you manage your bees!
If you are a beekeeper, your honey bees need somewhere to live. A major decision for each beekeeper involves choosing a beehive type for your apiary.
In the United States, the majority of beekeepers use one of 3 types of beehives. And, some beekeepers choose to use more than 1 style!
Let’s consider the different types of beehives and why people like them.
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. Hives are made of various materials but wood is the most common.
The honey bee colony lives inside the hive. Here they raise young (brood), store food and carry on the functions of bee life. Beehives come in various shapes and sizes.
How Many Types of Beehives are There?
Many different styles or types of beehives have been used throughout history. And some are still in use today. In modern beekeeping, we commonly see 3 different types of beehives.
These are: the Langstroth Hive, the Top Bar Hive and the Warre Hive. Most beekeepers use primarily 1 style for their bees.
Popular Types of Beehives
· Langstroth Hive
· Top Bar Hive
· Warre Hive
Which Are the Most Bee Friendly Types of 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 type of hive.
Instead of declaring one as the very best, let’s look at the pros and cons of each. Like everything else in beekeeping, there is no simple answer.
The Langstroth Hive
The Langstroth hive was made popular in the mid 1800’s by Rev Lorenzo Langstroth. His use of removable frames revolutionized beekeeping.
This made hive inspection possible without having to cut out comb. Building on the research of others, he based his hive design on the concept of “bee space”.
What is bee space? Bee space is defined as the space of ¼” to 3/8”. Any space smaller than ¼” bees tend to fill with propolis. Any gaps larger than 3/8” -bees fill with comb.
The Langstroth hive design was built with bee space in mind. The dimensions of the hive boxes and vertical hanging frames allow for easier inspections.
While leaving the bees room to maneuver inside the hive. This is why it is so important for those of you wanting to build your own hive to – follow the directions!
Langstroth hives (Langs) are boxes that stack one on top of another. Wooden frames located inside the hive (thank’s Lorenzo) are easy to remove and inspect.
The most common size of Langstroth hive holds 10 frames. Though 8 frame Langs have become more popular in recent years due to ease of lifting.
Hive Measurements Matter in Beekeeping
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 Hive
- most Langstroth Hive parts are interchangeable from different manufacturers
- the most common type of hive 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
- If you choose 8 frame Langs – they are not standard and a bit harder to find.
The Top Bar Hive
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 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. That’s okay but I’m not sure we should? Perhaps the bees want to be left alone?
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
The Warre Hive was design by a French monk Abbé Émile Warré. It is similar to the box style of the Langstroth hive.
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 hive 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 moisture inside the hive.
Pros for the Warre Hive
- Supposedly requires less inspection time (frames aren’t removed)
- Foundation-less – bees build own comb
- Supporters say size and style of hive 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
We beekeepers are an adventurous lot. In some aspects, we resist change. But, sometimes we go all out in trying new things. Two different 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. You have to admit that it looks very different from your typical beehive.
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. No matter what type of beehive you choose, you still have to practice good bee management.
As I am sure you have figured out, there is no clear winner. The category of best types of beehives 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, unless they have good local support for another hive type.