Choosing the best type of beehive for a beginner can be daunting. But taking the time to understand the different types of hives available can help you make the right choice and avoid any headaches down the track.
There are many types of beehives, each with its advantages and disadvantages. However, the Langstroth, Warré, and Top-Bar beehives are the most commonly used hives. Recently, the flow hive has increased in popularity due to its easy-extraction feature.
Here’s an overview of these types of beehives with their most prominent advantages and disadvantages to help you choose the right one!
The Langstroth Beehive
The most commonly used beehive today is the Langstroth hive, named after its American inventor, Reverend Lorenzo Langstroth, who also came up with the concept of bee space after observing bees building burr comb on the frames of previous beehive designs.
The Langstroth is a modular beehive – its structure is composed of individual rectangular timber boxes stacked on each other. Each hive needs a lid and removable base as well.
The bottom of the stacked 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 allows the queen to lay eggs or brood the most room. The boxes above become the honey boxes or supers and can be full-depth or shallower.
The size you choose can depend on your age and your overall strength. A full honey super can be incredibly heavy – about 90lb (40kg). I use the WSP size, which stands for W.S. Pender, named after its Australian designer. So even when they are full of honey, they can be lifted and carried without back strain.
Inside each box are removable frames. The number of frames in each box will be eight or ten, depending on whether you opt for an eight-frame or ten-frame Langstroth hive. 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 beehive, if you’re only planning to keep a couple of beehives, I recommend staying with your initial choice and using the same size box for all of them for practical reasons. Doing this will allow you to use the boxes on the different beehives and move them around your backyard or apiary a lot easier.
If you intend to keep several hives, perhaps more than four, then you can use both ten-frame and eight-frame beehives as you’ll have enough of each to change the boxes as you wish.
Here is a table of the pros and cons of the Langstroth Beehive.
Pros And Cons Of Langstroth Hives
|The most commonly-used beehive, meaning measurements are standardized, and equipment and resources are more readily available than other options.||Each box can become quite heavy once filled with honey, making it difficult to lift.|
|The foundational frames allow for a more stable comb and are great for new beekeepers.||Removing the lid to inspect the hive is more intrusive to the bees, meaning you may need to use your smoker more often.|
|The most commonly-used beehive, meaning measurements are standardized, and equipment and resources are more readily available than other options.|
There are other common hives you can consider using apart from the Langstroth. These are the Warré, the Top-bar, and the flow hive. The Warré and the Top-bar promote a more natural approach to beekeeping. They use frames, but they may consist of only a top bar, or a top and sidebar.
The idea behind these frames is that bees can make comb more naturally and according to their needs without the restrictions of a bottom bar or sidebars on the frames.
The Warré Hive
The Warré hive was designed by the French inventor Emilé Warré. While it is also a modular design, the frames in the Warré hive differ from the Langstroth frames. Not only do they lack a bottom bar, but they also have a thin starter strip of foundation across the top, allowing the bees to build the comb in the size and shape they need for their colony.
The original design contains no sidebars either, but these can be added to prevent the comb from being attached to the sidewalls of the hive.
Another difference between the Warré is that it has an extra small box placed between the top super box and the lid, called a quilt. The purpose of this box is to absorb moisture and provide extra insulation for the colony.
It has a floor made of hessian or cloth and can be filled with insulating materials such as dry leaves, straw, or scrunched-up paper. The base on the quilt box prevents any of the material from falling into the hive.
The management of the Warré hive is also different from the Langstroth hive. When a new box is added, it is inserted at the bottom of the hive, instead of the top.
The bees build comb from top to bottom, meaning the upper boxes are the first to fill up with honey. To harvest, you simply remove the top box as it becomes full. Some Warré hives have viewing windows on each box, making it easy for you to see when they are ready to harvest without disturbing the hive.
Pros And Cons Of Warré Hives
|Requires less hands-on maintenance than a Langstroth, meaning less disruption for the bees.||Not as common, making it more difficult to find equipment or resources.|
|You can harvest entire boxes of honey at once.||Can become difficult to add boxes to the bottom of the hive, due to the weight.|
|The foundation-less frames allow for a more natural style of beekeeping.|
The Top-Bar Hive
The top-bar hive has two variants – 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, but they’re considered a more natural way to keep bees. Because the frames are foundation-less, they allow the bees to build the comb to the shape and size they need.
Top-bar hives are often called horizontal hives because the extra space for the colony’s growth is obtained by placing the frames along the bar horizontally.
This differs from the Langstroth and Warré hives, where the colony is expanded vertically by adding boxes. Bees build their comb downwards in the top bar from the tops of each frame.
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 lifting heavy boxes. Frames can also be easily removed.
When the colony needs extra room, it’s simply 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 sidebars to be added to the frames if you wish to use them. This can be a good idea, as it prevents the bees from attaching the comb to the hive’s sides, making removing the frame difficult.
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 inexpensive wood. Commercially-made hives or those that come as a kit are more expensive.
Top-bar hives are not as common as Langstroth hives, so individual parts may be difficult to find. However, as more people become interested in beekeeping, particularly natural beekeeping, horizontal top-bar hives are likely to gain more popularity.
Pros And Cons Of Top-Bar Hives
|Great if you have physical limitations because you can place the hive at your desired height.||Not as common, making it more difficult to find equipment or resources.|
|Easy to inspect without the need to lift heavy boxes.||Designs are not standardized, so measurements vary from hive to hive, making it difficult to find parts in the correct size.|
|Less invasive for bees, meaning you won’t have to use your smoker as frequently.||Not as user-friendly for new beekeepers, as frames are foundation-less.|
|Can be a more economical option for those on a budget.|
The Flow hive
The Flow hive has gained popularity recently due to its innovative frame design. Aiming to make honey extraction a less stressful process for both bees and beekeepers, the creators of this autoflow beehive came up with a design that allows honey to flow out of the hive without the need to open, smoke, and disturb the bees.
The Flow hive consists of frames with artificial foundation where the cells are almost completely formed. Once these cells are filled with honey and capped by the bees, a mechanism handled from the outside of the hive with a special key, splits the honey cells creating channels that allow the honey to flow through a tube like a water tap.
While this means, you won’t have to open the hive every time you want to extract honey, you will still have to conduct regular inspections to check on your bees’ health and determine whether the honey cells are capped and ready for extraction.
Many beekeepers consider extraction exhausting as it requires lifting frames and supers full of honey. The first few extractions can be quite messy as you get the hang of things. The Flow hive offers an easier way to approach this beekeeping task while you get more confident in your new-found hobby.
However, as the popularity of the Flow hive increases, some beekeepers have raised concerns about its extraction mechanism and whether it’s detrimental to bees. For example, because the cells are mostly plastic, there are concerns about the temperature inside the beehive and how bees manage temperature changes.
Additionally, as new people take on beekeeping as a hobby thanks to this easier design, there seems to be a misguided idea that there is no need to conduct regular inspections or open the hive.
|It’s a less messy process of honey extraction||It can be more expensive than other types of beehives|
|There’s no need to lift heavy supers full of honey||It may be harder to access in certain regions of the world as it’s still a fairly new design|
|Bees are left undisturbed during the honey extraction process||I’ve found bees are more reluctant to use the plastic foundation in the Flow hive so it might take them a while before they are used to it.|
|The design includes observation windows that create a more interactive experience. This feature can be useful and engaging while teaching other people about bees and beekeeping, particularly kids.||There is debate in the beekeeping community about whether the Flow hive can be harmful to bees or not.|
The Flow hive was designed to be the same size and shape as a Langstroth hive. However, the experience of using a Langstroth vs a Flow hive will be different due to its different approach to honey extraction.
The Langstroth, Warré, Top-Bar, and Flow hives are all good beehives for beginners. Ultimately, the one to choose is up to you.
Keep your unique circumstances in mind when choosing a beehive to start your beekeeping hobby. For example, knowing which hives are most popular and accessible in your area and other factors like your physical limitations can help you find the best beehive for you.
If you feel stuck making this decision, it is always a good idea to ask local beekeepers or beekeeping clubs which hives are commonly used in your area. This will ensure you can find support when starting out.