Horizontal vs. Vertical Beehives

There are many different types of beehives available to beekeepers. However, all of them fall into two broad categories – horizontal or vertical beehives.

A horizontal beehive is a structure where frames of comb are side by side parallel to the ground. The term horizontal beehive is used because the extra space for the growth of the colony is obtained by placing the frames alongside one another horizontally.

A vertical beehive has frames in boxes (or supers) that are stacked vertically one on top of the other when extra space for growth is required.

To help illustrate the difference, I’ll use one vertical beehive (called a Langstroth), and one horizontal beehive (called a top-bar hive) as an example.

Each one has different advantages and disadvantages so it’s a good idea to learn more about both horizontal and vertical beehives before deciding to buy one. Which one is better for you depends on your needs and your situation.

An Example Of A Horizontal Beehive

The most well-known horizontal beehive is the top-bar hive. Top-bar hives are often called horizontal top-bar hives, because the frames are added or removed along the bar horizontally.

The top-bar hive has two types – the Kenyan top-bar hive and the Tanzanian top-bar hive. The difference between the two is the sides. The Kenyan top-bar hive has sides that slope towards the base, whereas the Tanzanian top-bar hive has vertical sides. Otherwise they are constructed the same way.

These hives are less well-known than the Langstroth. They’re considered to be a more natural way to keep bees because the frames are foundationless, allowing the bees to build the comb to the shape and size they need.

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Top-bar hives have some distinct advantages – they can be built so that the top is at waist height, making them easy to inspect without any lifting of heavy boxes. Frames can also be easily removed.

When the colony needs extra room, it’s simply a matter of adding extra frames horizontally. An internal partition, called a follower board, is used to give the colony the right amount of room, and is simply moved along when more space is needed.

The top-bar hive allows for side bars to be added to the frames if the beekeeper wishes to use them. This can be a good idea, as it prevents the bees from attaching the comb to the sides of the hive which then makes the frame difficult to remove.

Top-bar hives are generally inexpensive and easy to make if you have practical know-how, with instructions available in books or online. The hives can be made out of scrap wood or wood purchased inexpensively too. Commercially-made hives or those that come as a kit are more expensive.

Advantages Of A Horizontal Beehive

  • Great if you have physical limitations because you can place the hive at your desired height.
  • Easy to inspect without the need to lift heavy boxes.
  • Less invasive for bees, meaning you won’t have to use your smoker as frequently.
  • Can be a more economical option for those on a budget as it’s easy to build yourself.

Disadvantages Of A Horizontal Beehive

  • Not as common as the Langstroth (vertical hive), making it possibly more difficult to find equipment or resources.
  • Designs are not standardized, so measurements vary from hive to hive – this can make it difficult to find the correct size parts.
  • A horizontal beehive is not easily moved if you need or want to change its location.
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An Example Of A Vertical Beehive

Probably the most commonly used vertical beehive is the Langstroth beehive, named after its American inventor, Reverend Lorenzo Langstroth. This beehive differs from the top-bar beehive as boxes of frames are added or removed vertically.

The Langstroth is a modular beehive, made up of individual oblong timber boxes stacked vertically, one on top of another. Each hive needs a lid and removable base.

The bottom of these boxes is called the ‘brood box’ – because it houses the queen and the brood. All of the above boxes are referred to as ‘supers.’

The boxes come in different depths, ranging from ‘full depth’ to the shallower ‘ideal.’ Usually, the ‘full depth’ box is used as the brood box, because it has the most room for the queen to lay eggs or brood. The boxes above become the honey boxes (‘supers’) and can be full depth or shallower.

The size you choose can depend upon your age and the strength of your back. A full-sized honey super can be incredibly heavy (sometimes up to 40kg or 90lb).

Inside each box are removable frames. The number of frames in each box will either be eight or ten, depending on what you choose.

Each frame has fine taught wire across them to support the wax sheet, which is gently melted onto the wire to keep it in place.

Whether you choose an eight or ten-frame hive you should, for practical reasons, stay with your initial choice and use the same size box for all your future hives. By doing this you will find you can rearrange the boxes in your apiary (bee yard).

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Advantages Of A Vertical Beehive

  • It’s the most commonly-used beehive, meaning equipment and resources are more readily available than other options.
  • The foundational frames allow for more stable comb and are great for new beekeepers.
  • Adding extra supers to the top of the hive is relatively easy.
  • It’s more easily moved if you need to do so.

Disadvantages Of A Vertical Beehive

  • Each box can become quite heavy once filled with honey, making it difficult to lift.
  • Removing the lid to inspect the hive is more obtrusive to the bees, meaning you may need to use your smoker more often.
  • Undertaking a hive inspection can be time-consuming and disruptive for the colony as it involves removing and manipulating the boxes or ‘supers.’

Conclusion – Horizontal Vs. Vertical Beehives

Ultimately, whether you choose a horizontal beehive or a vertical beehive depends on your individual situation. Do your own research to make sure you are completely informed to make the best choice.

It’s a good idea to ask local beekeepers or beekeeping club what type of beehives are commonly used in your area. This will go a long way to ensuring you can find support when starting out.

Personally – I use the Langstroth vertical beehive. It is the most common where I live in Australia, and resources and equipment are widely available. This makes it easy to find solutions to any problems I encounter along the way.

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