Types of Beehives

Three beehives showing the development of beekeeping

Artificial beehives are made for beekeepers and honey-makers to house their bee colonies. Although bees can make their hives and nests, honey bees will naturally choose trees and other places for their combs. An artificial beehive allows beekeepers to harvest honey and to watch over the colony’s health and production.

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    What Is a Beehive?

    A beehive is a structure that houses bees. People create or set up hives so that they can observe bees, pollinate their garden, or make honey, whether commercially or recreationally. 

    These hives are often crafted from wood and appear as stacked boxes. With proper bee management strategies, a bee colony can thrive in these hives for many years.

    The advantage of modern hive setups is that they have removable combs with a centimetre of space between them, an invention that came from Lorenzo Langstroth, who built upon the previous Francois Huber’s hive design.

    Langstroth’s work made it possible to remove a comb and collect honey from the hive without destroying the hive or the bees. Before this, the method required the destruction of the hive to harvest honey.

    How to Choose the Best Type of Beehive?

    The primary reason people keep artificial hives is to harvest a colony’s honey. Hives provide the beekeeper with a way to collect honey and access the bees without destroying their hive. 

    Different beehives produce varied results in honey production. Additionally, beginner beekeepers must decide how much time and money they are willing to spend on bee colonies since some hives need more maintenance than others. 

    Some use structures like an indoor hex hive as an aesthetic feature in their homes, and the look of the Warre hive is attractive for many people. Another factor is that some designs require the heavy lifting of honey-filled boxes. This can be a deterrent for people who have lifting restrictions or want a more easily accessible design. 

    For beginners, one thing to consider is that using a more common design such as the Langstroth hive helps find support from other local beekeepers. Some designs are not used as much, and others are used more in certain regions.

    Langstroth Hive

    Langstroth Hive

    A Langstroth hive is a box with layered compartments. The lower section, boxes, and upper section are the main features of the hive. These frames are mobile, and a beekeeper can pull them up easily without disturbing other parts of the hive. This 19th-century simple invention continues to be a popular beehive for modern beekeeping.

    Langstroth created his beehive, altering the prior design of Huber. The frames line up like books, separated by a one-centimetre gap, which is just the right size, so the bees do not attempt to build in that area. This space between frames allows the individual frames to be removed for bee inspection and honey harvesting, and beekeepers can replace frames easily. 

    People generally use frames with a foundation of beeswax on them, which means the bees do not need to build as much of the structure themselves. This allows for more of the bees’ energy going into honey production.

    Honey production tends to increase with Langstroth hives. The primary drawback is the disturbance to the bees when lifting and moving boxed hives and then inspecting individual frames. However, with its simple, effective design, this hive is still the most common artificial beehive used in both hobby and professional beekeeping.

    Top-Bar Hive

    Top-bar hives are trough-shaped structures with windows and interchangeable combs. These hives sit atop legs to keep them above ground. 

    There are two types of top-bar hives, and they trace back to Africa in the 1960s. Their design allows for easy construction, and they do not need to be manufactured professionally. Original hives were created from logs or hung from trees. Greece used a variation of the top-bar style that featured a tub-shaped container instead. 

    To inspect the hive, the keeper can lift the top and one frame, and it does not disturb bees to the extent that a Langstroth setup does. Top-bar hives mimic natural hives well, but honey production may be lower than with other hives. 

    The combs are also more fragile, and the setup cannot be expanded, so it is not designed for a large-scale honey production operation or growing hobbyists. This setup is very straightforward for a beekeeper to manage, however.

    Warre Hive

    Warre Hive

    The Warre hive, or the “people’s hive,” is a type of top-bar hive that allows bees to build combs instead of relying on artificial ones. Therefore this setup appeals to those who aim for more traditional beekeeping practices. A unique aspect of Warre hives is a roof called the quilt box, which contains insulating materials that help prevent excessive moisture and retain heat in the hive in the winter.

    Emile Warre, the creator of the beehive, was a French priest and beekeeper. His philosophy in beekeeping was to create an environment as close to bees’ natural habitats as possible. He also created the hive to be simple and easy-to-use for beginner beekeepers. The boxes are square and smaller than Langstroth boxes to mimic the natural hive size that bees prefer in the wild, so there is a lower honey yield with this setup. 

    Keepers can harvest the honey in the top box. As one box gets full, beekeepers place an additional box underneath the full box so that bees have another location to build. This method differs from Langstroth hives, where the new box is placed on top, and it takes strength to lift all the boxes to place a new one. 

    Windows in the hive can let beekeepers observe without interfering with the colony, and the design is simple and inexpensive to build. It may be more difficult to find experts in the area to help new beekeepers with questions, as this hive design is less common. However, it provides an aesthetically pleasing setup that also works well with the natural preferences of the bees.

    Hex Hive

    Hex hives are hexagonal-shaped and can have multiple compartments stacked on top of each other. The hexagon mimics the shapes of bee cells. Additionally, the frames do not have a beeswax foundation, so they can create their combs like in Warre hives. The stacked boxes of the hex hive essentially mimic the Langstroth theme with a different shape. 

    There are also hex hives that install in walls with windows that can see entire interiors.

    Hex hives are not as widely used as other beehives, and some hobbyists and professionals question their practicality. 


    Dome Hive

    Dome hives reveal bee activity through a dome-shaped window at the top of a stack of wooden boxes. This style was made focusing on temperature regulation, which is a major factor in keeping a healthy hive. 

    The dome itself is inexpensive and can be placed on an existing hive. This method limits intrusion and circulates air throughout. 

    Other Types of Hives

    There are a variety of other types of beehives, including the horizontal hive, which uses the same sized frames as a Langstroth, but the hives are arranged in a horizontal box rather than a vertical stack. This design avoids the tedious lifting of boxes; It is possible to relatively simply transfer a Langstroth setup to a horizontal setup. 

    The golden hive is far more common in Europe, and it is similar to the horizontal hive but with bigger frames. However, because the combs are larger, honey extraction becomes challenging without unique equipment to do so. 

    The more recent and controversial flow hive is a variation of the Langstroth hive that attempts to make harvesting honey a simpler process. This system uses frames with a plastic foundation, and the keeper can turn a key to drain the honey from the combs.

    More traditional beekeepers who prefer to use natural materials and those unburdened by the harvesting process prefer more traditional hive designs.

    Each Type of Hive Is Unique

    Beehives stretch far and wide beyond just a simple home for the bees. Each unique type of hive has its strengths and weaknesses. The varying types of beehives and their individual histories and functionalities contribute to helping their colonies survive and thrive.

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