What Type of Hive Is For You?
Picking out what type of hive you want to go with is one of the first considerations you'll make as a beekeeper. Some beeks experiment with with, and have, several different types. It's really up to you and what you feel comfortable with. Do some research and ask other beeks the pros and cons of working with them.
The best advice we can give to new beekeepers is that you should have at least two hives, plus a nucleus box. That way you can have something to compare you colonies to. Plus, if they start to swarm, you have a nuc box to catch them with. Or if they need to be split, you can use the nuc box for that too.
By far the most popular hive design is the Langstroth. Historically, a "Langstroth hive" is the hive that was designed by Rev. L. L. Langstroth in 1852. The advantage of this hive is that the bees build honeycomb into standard size frames, which can be moved with ease. The frames are designed to prevent bees from attaching honeycomb where they would either connect adjacent frames, or connect frames to the walls of the hive. The movable frames allow the beekeeper to manage the bees in a way which was formerly impossible.
The Langstroth bee hive is made up from top to bottom of:
- telescoping cover or migratory cover
- inner cover
- one or more hive bodies or honey supers made of wood, polystyrene, or other plastic
- (optional) queen excluder between brood box and honey supers
- eight to ten frames, made of wood or plastic, per hive body or honey super
- (optional) foundation made of wax and wires or plastic
- bottom board, with optional entrance reducer
The Warre (pronounced: WAR-ray) hive is named after its inventor, French monk Abbé Émile Warré. His design focused on simplicity, ease of management, and mimicry of honeybees’ natural environment. This hive is a vertically stacking top bar hive that incorporates natural comb and the retention of nest scent and heat. This uses a vertical top bar hive that uses bars instead of frames, usually with a wooden wedge or guide from which the bees build their own comb.
The upper-most box uses a "quilt" of sawdust and/or wood chips to act as insulation and to wick moisture away from the bees. Empty boxes are placed on the bottom instead of the top like is common in the Langstroth hives. This type of hive uses a "hands off" approach on beekeeping.
These are easy to build and easy to maintain.
Top Bar hives
Top bar hives have likely been used for thousands of years. There is evidence they were once used in Greece in the form of a pot or basket with sticks laid across the top. They are one of the most basic methods of managing bees, as they are simple to build, and are simple to manage.
One of the interesting things about top bar hives is that there is no set design. There are my different guidelines for making them, but the concept is always the same. We like top bars because they don't require extra equipment. They do not require honey supers, extra frames, foundation, queen excluders, uncapping knifes, extractors or other expensive tools; they are almost fully self-contained beehives. With a horizontal top bar hive, you won't have to lift heavy boxes, purchase an expensive honey extractor, use foundation full of chemicals, or agitate the bees as much as box-style hives when managing the colony. Traditional honey supers and deeps can weigh upwards of 50 pounds each, which can eventually take its toll on the body. The heaviest comb you’ll need to lift with this style is a single 3-7 pound, honey-laden top bar.
Some advantages are: No heavy lifting, crouching or bending is required for hive inspections, combs are easy to remove, full length observation window to reduce the amount of times you have to lift the cover, easy honey harvest, the bees tend to produce wax faster, and the bees are more docile during inspections since you're only opening up a small portion of the hive at a time.
Whatever you decide to go with, spend some time working with them before moving on to a new type. Each hive has different management techniques you'll need to become familiar with. You want to learn as much about the bees themselves as you can. What's interesting though, is that if you do have multiple types of hives, you'll notice how the colonies have different "personalities" within each hive. Enjoy!