If you’re interested in beekeeping, it can be very easy to feel overwhelmed by the different choices of equipment, clothing and tools. However, one of the most crucial decisions you’ll make is your choice of beehive. Once you start to investigate beekeeping, you may be surprised at the different types of beehives. So, here we’ll explore the different kinds of beehives to help you decide which one is best for you.
When most people think about beehives, the Langstroth design is what comes to mind. Essentially, this type of beehive looks like a chest of drawers and this design has been in use for over 100 years, since it was invented by Reverend LL Langstroth.
The Langstroth beehive has the ideal balance of space and functionality. The bees have sufficient space to build honey storage without needing to seal off areas with propolis. Since this design is vertical, the expansion can occur up or down. The lower chambers tend to be larger, so they are often used for the brood or colony nursery.
Pros of the Langstroth:
Reasonably priced: Langstroth beehives are one of the most readily available of the different types of beehives and they are reasonably priced.
Parts are interchangeable: The main components of this hive are interchangeable, so you’re not limited to one particular manufacturer.
Available Assembled: If you’re not particularly handy with your DIY skills, this could be one of the best of the different kinds of beehives, since many manufacturers offer the Langstroth fully assembled.
Cons of the Langstroth:
Does require heavy lifting: since the hive grows vertically, when you want to inspect the hive, you will need to lift the upper boxes. When it comes to harvesting, this could mean you need to lift up to 50 pounds, which is not an easy task.
It’s not a “natural” method: This is debated by beekeeping experts, but since the foundation removes the natural freedom for the bee to build a comb suited to the colony, the Langstrom is not considered a “natural” method of beekeeping.
The Warre was designed by French Abbot Emile Warre to mimic a hollow tree. This was as a solution to bee keep with minimal interference in the bee’s day to day activities.
The boxes on the Warre hives are square, but the bees have the freedom to build their comb, since there are only top bars. This allows the bees to build downward, but you can add more boxes below the existing brood boxes or above as needed. You can even include a quilt box, which provides great ventilation and allows improved regulation of the humidity and temperature.
Pros of the Warre:
Minimal maintenance: Since you only need to open the hive to add boxes or remove honey, you only need to take action once or twice per year.
Natural format: Since the bees build their comb, building downwards, the Warre creates a natural format. When you harvest, you remove the comb previously containing the brood, So, the queen continually lays eggs in fresh wax and any contaminants are removed each year.
Affordable: Due to the simple structure, this is one of the most affordable of the different types of beehives.
Cons of the Warre.
Heavy to lift: While you only need to lift once or twice per year, it is heavy lifting. If you add boxes below, you will need to lift the others, and as the bees build from one top bar, it is impossible to separate the boxes.
Difficult to inspect: Due to the freedom for the bees to construct the hive, if you suspect there is a problem, it is difficult to inspect as you could cause a lot of damage to the fragile comb.
Sometimes referred to as the Kenyan Top Bar, the Top Bar hive is almost like a hybrid between Warre and Langstroth. Like the Warre, it mimics the natural comb shape, with its trapezoid shape, yet it is horizontal like the Langstroth.
As its name suggests, there is just a top bar with no frames, so the bees can naturally construct their combs.
Pros of the Top Bar:
No heavy lifting: It is easy to harvest honey without needing to lift heavy boxes. Just chop the comb under the bar
Mimics nature: This is another of the different kinds of beehives that allows the bees to build their comb to suit the colony needs.
Easy for inspection: Due to the shape, bees usually draw combs away from the walls, so it is easy to carry out any inspections if you suspect there is a problem.
Cons of the Top Bar:
Not readily available: While they are relatively cheap to build, parts are not standardized and they are not readily available. This can make it difficult to find parts that are compatible with your existing hive.
Quite limited in size: Knowledge transfer can be difficult, so you will need to maintain quite a small bee population.
The flow hive has gained popularity due to an internet and social media buzz. The design is very creative and was invented by an Australian father and son as a way to harvest honey with a less invasive approach. At the core of the hive is a Flow Frame, which has partially formed cells that you can open with a key turn.
The bees cover the cells with wax and fill them with honey. When you want to harvest honey, insert the key to open the cells and the honey will flow downwards. You can then turn the key back and the bees can then work on the cells again.
Pros of the Flow Hive:
Clever design: The flow hive design team have identified the key problem with harvesting honey, creating a product that is clever and makes it far easier than with a traditional hive.
Minimal disruption: There is also minimal disruption for the bees when you harvest. You don’t need to open up any boxes, you simply turn a key.
Cons of the Flow Hive:
Plastic Parts: The main foundation of many flow hive models is often made with plastic, which is a concern for those who want a more natural foundation.
Difficult to inspect: The flow frames are a closed system making it difficult to access all corners during an inspection.
Poor bee relationship: One of the reasons why many people enjoy beekeeping is that they develop a bond with their bees. However, the flow hive is designed for minimizing effort, which means you may not get that magical relationship with your hive.
As you can see with the different types of beehives, there are both pros and cons. So, you will need to consider what you are looking for and your own physical constraints to determine which of the different kinds of beehives are best suited to your needs.