types of beehives

Types Of Beehive - A Complete Guide

Deciding to start your own apiary is a huge commitment; it will eventually become a lifestyle. There are many decisions to make, including size and beehive type. Many people don’t realize that you can actually choose between several types of beehives.

If you’re considering getting a beehive, we can help. We’ll share some of our inside knowledge so you can make the best decision.

What Is the Main Definition of a Beehive?

A beehive is a structure created by humans. It’s a man-made place where bees live, reproduce, and produce honey and other resources.

What Are Beehives Made Of?

Man-made beehives are usually made out of wood, but wild honeybees will often build their own. These will usually resemble bird nests, however, these are simply called hives, or nests. A common place to find a wild hive is within a hollow tree.

natural bee hive

Honeybees are eusocial, which means they live in large colonies. Honeybees will often choose a location high above the ground, to be far away from honey hunters. They also tend to prefer a south-facing and downward-pointing entrance.

Wild honeybees are cavity dwellers; this characteristic also makes them easily domesticated. In the wild, scout bees will seek out a fairly big enclosed space. It has to be able to hold large amounts of honey, comb, and brood.

When building their hive, honeybees will remove outer layers of bark in order to smooth the walls. They will then coat and seal the hive using bee-glue, also known as propolis. Propolis is made of plant and tree resins, they use it to build and secure wax honeycombs.

Inside the beehive, you will find densely packed hexagon-shaped cells. These are made of beeswax which worker bees produce out of special glands in their abdomen. The cells are also known as honeycomb since it’s here where the bees store the honey.

Considerations When Choosing a Beehive

There are a few things to consider when choosing the right beehive. Being a new beekeeper can be time-consuming, and you want to make sure you’re up for the task.

Consider Why You Want a Beehive

One of the main things to think about is the reason why you want a beehive, what will it be used for?

Pollination

Many farmers or gardeners will get a beehive for the simple purpose of pollinating. Bees are some of the most important members of our ecosystem. Worker bees will usually visit over a hundred flowers or so when they go foraging, resulting in lots of pollination.

bee covered in pollen
A bee covered in pollen – CC Image courtesy of forestwander-nature-pictures

If a more lush garden is what you’re after, getting a small hive will be more than enough. A nuc hive resembles a small box, these can easily be tucked into a corner of your yard.

Educational Purposes

Bees are fascinating creatures. Although we already know much about them, there is still more to learn. Maybe you want to study bees but don’t have time to harvest honey. Don’t worry, a small beehive doesn’t require much maintenance.

beehive

You will get to study the bees up close and personal. You could even consider getting a portable hive if you need to bring it to nature centers or school.

A portable hive should be easy to assemble and disassemble. It should also be easy to carry. Some beehives even provide the facility to exchange one side for plexiglass, so you can study the bees without disturbing them.

Honey Harvest

Getting to harvest your own liquid gold is a dream come true for most beekeepers. It isn’t the easiest job, and it does require a whole list of equipment, but it’s worth it.

Unfiltered honey flows from the extractor. Honey and wax is poured on a strainer.

If you want to produce great amounts of honey, you will need larger beehives. The beehive has to be big enough for the bees to be able to produce enough honey for themselves and you.

honey on hive board

Many first-time beekeepers choose beehives where they can add more honey supers later on as the bees are filling it up. It will also make your job a lot easier if the hive allows the use of regular equipment.

Consider the Location

Location of the beehive is everything. Even though bees are highly adaptive to their environment, you want to make sure you do everything you can to help them thrive.

Bees can’t fly in cool temperatures, since their flying muscles aren’t warm enough. Placing the hive in a location that gets the early morning sun could give your bees a great start to their day.

However, the beehive shouldn’t be in direct sunlight throughout the day, as this could make the hive overheat quickly. Aiming for a spot with morning sun and afternoon shade is the perfect combination.

Consider your environment. If you live in a warm climate, your bees will need more afternoon shade. Living in a colder climate, the bees could use some more sun exposure.

In colder areas, you might also want to consider getting a metal top for the hive. The metal top will help to keep the beehive at a comfortable temperature during cold nights. These are usually lightweight, so you might have to weigh it down a little if it’s windy.

It’s crucial that the beehive you choose provides your bees with the right temperature and aeration.

What Are the Main Types of Beehive?

There are three main types of beehives: the Langstroth hive, Warré hive, and Top-bar hive. All of these are great for beekeeping, and it can be difficult to choose. The most commonly used one is the Langstroth hive, but that doesn’t mean the others aren’t good.

Langstroth Hive

The Langstroth hive was designed by Dr. L.L. Langstroth in 1851. Dr. Langstroth was a minister in Massachusetts, but beekeeping was his hobby. The Langstroth hive was the first beehive to contain removable frames.

langstroth hive board

The removable frames allow for easier access for the beekeepers when they need to inspect the hive. It has quickly become a favored feature among apiarists. The Langstroth hive consists of one or two honey supers, an outer and inner cover, and frames.

One of the best things about the Langstroth is that it’s incredibly customizable, and is great for beginners starting out with their first beehive. The supers come in different sizes, so you can stack them as you like. You can choose between deep, medium, and shallow.

There are also two choices when it comes to the width. You can either go for the larger 10-frame or the smaller 8-frame beehive.

Which ones you should choose depends on your preference for maneuverability and modularity. Deep boxes are quite heavy, weighing around 80 pounds, medium boxes, on the other hand, weigh around 60 pounds.

For new beekeepers, we recommend getting either two deep boxes or three medium boxes. This will provide you with enough room for bees, honey, and all the other wonderful things they produce. One of its downsides, though, is the weight, it won’t be suitable for people who need a mobile hive.

The shallow boxes are generally used to keep feeders and accessories, not so much to expand the hive.

The Langstroth hive is by far one of the best for honey production, as it allows easy access. It’s also one of the most popular hives in North America, which makes it even more easy to find needed parts and accessories.

In addition, this type of beehive is relatively inexpensive. It makes it easier to expand your apiary to multiple large beehives.

The Langstroth hive is most famous for its removable frames. The Langstroth hive was also the first type of beehive that actually allowed the bees to build their own comb.

beekeeper with beehive board

The Langstroth beehive allows you to expand it to accommodate your growing hive, using one of two methods. The first is called supering, where you add boxes to the top of the hive. The second is called nadiring, whereby you add boxes to the bottom of the hive.

Benefits

  • You get to choose between depths and widths, making it customizable.
  • Inexpensive, you can easily expand your apiary.
  • Many resources and accessories available.
  • The hives are built to a standard specification, so it’s easy to find components and mix and match as you like.
  • The frames have four sides which makes them very stable.
  • You can easily expand the beehive as your colony is growing.
  • Easy access for honey harvesting.
  • Can be disassembled when needed.
  • Great ventilation.

Cons

  • Boxes are heavy.
  • The rectangle frames aren’t natural for the bees. Honeybees actually prefer tall and rounded structures.

Warré Hive

The Warré hive (pronounced war-ray) was invented in the early 1900s by a French pastor named Emile Warré. He spent his life studying various types of beehives before finally inventing this construction.

The Warré hive is quickly gaining popularity in the US; it hasn’t beaten the Langstroth just yet though. The design is very simple and it focuses on making the beehive as natural for the bees as possible.

It sort of looks like a mini-Langstroth; however, instead of frames, the Warré hive has vertical bars. It incorporates natural comb and it will retain the scent and heat of the nest.

The vertical bars usually have a wedge, or some sort of guide, to help the bees build their comb just as they do in nature. Similar to the Langstroth, the Warré hive consists of several boxes. However, the boxes are square, not rectangular.

Whenever you need to expand the hive for your growing colony, you will have to add a box to the bottom. Many beekeepers like the Warré hive because it’s very low maintenance and low cost. It also doesn’t require frequent inspections.

When Emile Warré designed his beehive, he wanted to create something easy for beekeepers. You can simply add new boxes to the bottom and remove the top ones to harvest honey. What Warré used to do was add empty boxes in the spring and harvest the top boxes in the fall.

Warré found it much better to harvest the honey, box by box, a couple of times a year. This compared favorably to harvesting comb by comb every couple of weeks, which disturbs the colony and distracts them from their jobs.

The bees start building their comb and honey supply inside the top boxes. As they fill up, the bees move down, just as they do in nature. It also doesn’t require any chemical treatments, since the combs aren’t reused.

A downside to the Warré hive is that it’s much smaller compared to the Langstroth and the Top-bar hives. Many beekeepers, nonetheless, choose to overlook this tiny problem, due to the convenience that this type of beehive offers.

Benefits

  • Provides the bees with a natural way to build their comb.
  • It’s low maintenance, all you have to do is remove the top boxes and add new ones at the bottom.
  • Great choice for “hands-off” beekeepers.
  • You can manage the whole box instead of comb by comb.
  • Lightweight.
  • Keeps the hive at a good temperature.
  • It’s very nice looking and goes great in any garden or yard.
  • You can easily build one on your own.

Cons

  • Warré hives are a bit more expensive than Langstroth.
  • Components are more difficult to get your hands on.
  • Adding supers often requires another set of hands.
  • Doesn’t have a front-feeder, making it difficult to feed your bees when needed.
  • Harvesting honey isn’t as easy, since most tools are designed for frames, not bars.

Top-Bar Hive

The top-bar beehive design has been around for thousands of years. Researchers believe that beekeepers in ancient Greece used the same concept, using pots and baskets, with sticks laid across the top.

Top-bar beehives are all about simplicity. It’s kind of like the Warré hive, but here the bars are horizontal. Wooden bars with a small number of wax strips are attached to the underside of the hive to encourage comb-building. The bees will build their comb over the hive cavity, and the wax strip or wedge will help to keep it straight.

It allows the bees to build the comb in a natural way, downward. There is no need for any four-sided frames or foundation.

Top-bar beehives provide a very basic way to keep bees. The hives are easy to build and manage, they also make it easy to remove the comb when needed.

Some beekeepers choose to add a plexiglass panel to one of the sides. Then they can observe the colony while hard at work. This also makes this type of beehive great for educational purposes.

A top-bar hive does require quite a bit of monitoring, mostly to ensure the colony has enough space. The inspections, however, aren’t time-consuming, and it’s even easier if there’s a full-length window.

When your colony grows and honey production is in full swing, you will need to add more bars. You do this by moving the divider board down the cavity of the hive then adding empty bars.

To ensure your bees can stay warm during the cold months, shrink the hive cavity after the last honey harvest. There will then be less space for your bees to heat up.

Honeybees living in a top-bar hive will sometimes attach their comb to the walls of the cavity. When they do this, you will have to detach the comb from the hive before you can remove the bars.

Harvesting honey is quite simple, you don’t even need an extractor. All you have to do is collect the comb, crush it and then strain it. You could even make your own strainer system using food-grade buckets.

Benefits

  • The bars provide a natural way for bees to build their comb.
  • Easy honey harvest, doesn’t require a honey extractor.
  • Combs are fairly easy to remove.
  • Inspections are quick.
  • Bees stay calmer during inspections since you’re only opening a small portion of the hive.
  • Inexpensive, you could even build your own.
  • No need to store supers as they aren’t needed.

Cons

  • Due to the wide space, it can be difficult for the bees to regulate the temperature.
  • Requires frequent monitoring.
  • Bees tend to attach the comb to the walls, which will require more work from you.
  • Raising queens can be difficult.

Summary

Choosing a type of beehive ultimately comes down to personal preference. If you want to produce large amounts of honey and even expand your apiary, the Langstroth is your best option. If you would like to create a more natural place for your pollinating friends to live, a Top-bar or Warré hive will do the job.

Leave a Comment