Thinking about beekeeping? Once you decide to be a beekeeper (woohoo!), you get to decide what kind of hive you want to run. The only thing the bees want is a dark cavity, about 40 liters/10 gallons in size, that stays dry and has a small entrance they can defend. We as beekeepers want a little more.
We want something easy to work with, that we can expand in size, that generates maximum honey production or is portable for pollination services or is “natural” for the bees or is inexpensive or is easy to manage or is light, or all of the above. We humans have a lot of wants.
Make sure you’re familiar with what your state and local municipality want too since inspectable frames are usually required in the US. And while you’re going through this decision phase, if you aren’t already, find some local beekeeping meetings and a mentor(s)! It’s good to do a lot of research before you make your decision. And start slow so you don’t invest a lot of money buying hives you don’t like. Here are some beehive styles that you can choose from when deciding how you want to keep bees.
Frame hives: Langstroth hive
These are the most common hives in the United States. If you drive by a field with white boxes stacked upon each other and bees flying in and out, they are most likely Langstroth hives. Reading material, equipment and mentors are easy to come by for these hives because they are so common. There are two different sizes available: 8 frame and 10 frame hives.
The 10 frame size has been traditional, but more and more new beekeepers are running with 8 frame hives which are lighter. They were originally designed by LL Langstroth in 1852 in the US after he discovered “bee space” and today we use Hoffman frames. These are the hives commercial beekeepers almost always work with and are known for being the most convenient to move around and great for honey production.
Horizontal top bar hives: Kenyan and Tanzanian top bar hives (KTBHs and TTBHs)
These hives originally were first designed in ancient Greece but have been used in East Africa because they are simple and inexpensive to build. They are a horizontal cavity in which the bees attach their comb straight onto the “roof” which is made up of top bars or strips of wood. Above the top bars is a cover to keep out the weather. Their horizontal design makes it convenient for African beekeepers to open the back of the hive, smoke the bees to move them up to the front, and collect honey from the relatively aggressive African bees.
These hives are gaining in popularity in the US because they are inexpensive to build and require little lifting: you only have to be able to lift a top bar with the attached comb. The Kenyan hives have sloped sides and the Tanzanian hives have straight sides. The sloped sides may (or may not!) encourage less comb attachment to the wall that the beekeeper has to cut through to work the hive. There is less reading material available on these hives and finding a mentor may be harder than for a Langstroth.
Vertical top bar hive: Warré:
The Warré hive is another beehive style gaining in popularity in the US. It was designed in the 1940s by Abbé Émile Warré in France after years of experimenting with different hives designs. The hive is supposed to mimic a tree, allowing the bees to attach their comb to the top bars in each box and extend them towards the ground.
As the hives fill up with a comb, new boxes are added underneath the stack (which is the opposite of how Langstroth hives are expanded with new hive bodies added to the top). This hive is the most hands-off of the three mentioned so far and has the fewest available mentors for it, unless you’re lucky and live somewhere like Portland, OR. There is also less available reading material. You can either buy a hive or build one yourself as plans are freely available online. Warré’s idea was that this hive would be inexpensive, have lighter boxes than the Langstroth hive and be available to everyone. “The People’s Hive” he called it.
Even more beehive styles…
And then you can geek out on alternative hive styles, of which only a FEW of what is available worldwide are listed here:
Skep – the classic “Winnie the Pooh” style hive of days gone by seen below, it had to be destroyed to collect honey, also killing the colony of bees
Sun hive – a top bar hive variant of a skep with a bottom entrance, info on building them is available on the amazing interwebs and there’s a book on them by Guenther Mancke
Rose hive – an Irish variant of the British national hive that uses only one size hive body (the British national hive is a frame hive much like the Langstroth), new hive bodies are added to the middle of the stack (remember? with Langstroths you add new boxes to top and Warrés you add to the bottom?). Tim Rowe invented this design and authored a book
Golden mean hive or Golden hive – this is a top bar hive with “golden mean” proportions which is reputed to make the bees more productive – some are Kenyan style with slanted sides or some have straight sides like the one pictured below
Caternary hive – a horizontal top bar hive with a curved bottom that mimics the curve bees use to finish their comb naturally, it was designed by Bill Bielby in 1968
Log hive – the closest thing to a natural bee tree, these don’t usually don’t contain any frames and so on are not legal in most areas of the US, but bees like ’em (a fancy one pictured below).
Horizontal frame hive– uses medium or deep sized Hoffman frames in a horizontal hive body and Langstroth supers (hive bodies) can be applied to it
And there are so many more if you look around on the internet – walls of beehives with a little room behind them to work the bees, round tall Asian hives with straw tops, European carts of bees, etc etc etc.
What I did:
In my first year, I bought two 8-frame medium Langstroths so I could get support from local beekeepers. I also installed an unexpected swarm into a Kenyan top bar. I plan in my second year to buy a couple of double nucs (Langstroth style, medium-sized), build two more Kenyan top bar hives with different dimensions from my first, and build two Warré hives. That should keep me busy and help me discover which hives I really like best. And I’ll share my opinions here.
Beekeepers, what styles of hives are you keeping and what do you like and dislike about them? Comment below and help us noobs out.
Future beekeepers, what is important to you as you consider what kind of beehive styles would work for you? Please comment below. You’ll help others by sharing your thoughts.
Enjoy exploring the different beehive styles. Happy Beekeeping!!!