In the past few years, the popularity of and interest in beekeeping has soared. Whether it is due to the rise in homesteading or concern for the alarming decline in the bee population, more and more people are raising bees. So where do you start?
First of all, you need a home for your bees, and there are three types to choose from: the top-bar, Warre, and Langstroth beehive. Each hive has its own strengths and weaknesses, and the one you choose depends on your needs and preferences.
The top-bar hive has been around for centuries. It is a simple concept, taking a wooden trench or tub and lining the top opening with wooden slats or bars. Once the bees take residence, they begin building their combs from the underside of those bars, working their way down into the tub. (Image)
• Top-bar hives have a simple design. You can build them yourself out of any materials you like using whatever dimensions you need, cutting down on the cost. Here are some beehive plans if you're interested.
• As with some hives, you won't require hundreds of dollars worth of equipment and accessories to maintain a top-bar hive. All you essentially need is the hive itself and a sharp knife.
• Top-bar hives are foundation-less, so the combs you end up with are completely natural, devoid of the pesticides or chemicals that may come in a purchased wax or plastic foundations.
• Because of its horizontal design, top-bar hives don’t require any heavy lifting save for the lid and the combs themselves. Also, the height can be adjusted to the beekeeper's preference, adding convenience and ease-of-use all around.
• Your bees will be less agitated. Lifting one slat at a time to harvest allows the rest of the hive to remain undisturbed, keeping the bees' stress level down and reducing your risk of being stung.
• The only way to harvest honey is to crush and strain the combs, meaning that the bees will have to rebuild new combs from scratch. As a result, top-bars are said to produce less honey than other hives.
• More inspections are required to make sure that bees have plenty of space for honey storage.
• Top-bar hives are not standardized, so if you’re looking for accessories, chances are you’ll have to build them yourself.
The Warre hive was designed by a French monk named Abbé Émile Warré. He wanted a hive that closely resembled what nature intended, requiring minimal interference from beekeepers. It has wooden slats similar to that of the top-bar hive, but it stacks vertically much like a Langstroth hive. However, you add new boxes to the bottom of the hive rather than the top. The idea here is to allow bees to work and build from the top down as they do in nature.
• The Warre hive is extremely low maintenance, aside from harvesting. It requires minimal inspection, leaving the bees to their work and, as a result, keeping them undisturbed and happy.
• This hive has a layer of insulation in a small box just under the roof. It is lined with cloth and filled with sawdust to keep condensation down, resulting in a much healthier hive. In addition, this extra layer makes the Warre hive much more suitable to colder climates.
• If you have the tools and know-how, you can build this hive yourself and cut back on costs.
• You’ll have to do a bit of heavy lifting with the Warre hive. When it comes time to add a new box, the top ones need to be lifted. Given the smaller size, they aren’t nearly as heavy as their Langstroth counterparts, but you can expect to hoist anywhere from 30-50 pounds.
• With the “minimal interference” concept that comes with a Warre hive, it can be difficult to assess hive activity or add desired accessories such as bee feeders.
• Extra, unused boxes will take up storage space.
Even if you’re new to beekeeping, chances are you’ve seen a Langstroth hive. These are the most common hives used in the United States, especially for commercial purposes. Langstroth hives are vertically stacked wooden boxes filled with frames upon which the bees build their combs. When a new box, otherwise known as a super, is needed, it is added to the top of the hive.
• Langstroth hives are standardized, so you will find that any replacement parts or accessories are readily available. Also, there's an insurmountable amount of resources for beginner beekeepers.
• These hives have a high production rate. When harvesting, only a portion of the comb is cut as the honey is spun out. Bees don’t have to start building new combs from scratch, resulting in more honey.
• You can choose whether or not to use a foundation.
• You have a choice between an eight frame Langstroth (which will prove to be much lighter) or the more traditional ten frame hive.
• Langstroth hives require accessories such as extractors and smokers, and costs like that can add up.
• Expect to do some very heavy lifting. Some supers can weigh up to 100 pounds which just may not be an option for some people.
• The Langstroth hive causes the most stress for bees. You’ll have to open the main box to harvest or inspect, exposing the bees’ home and riling them up. Not only that, but when you go to stack the boxes again, it can be difficult not to crush some of your bees.
• Most Langstroth users opt for foundations, and these can contain pesticides or chemicals. Also, they offer unnatural comb shapes which could result in an unhealthy hive. For these reasons, going foundationless is growing in popularity.
• Parts for the eight frame and ten frame hives are not interchangeable.
There is a lot to consider before acquiring a hive and raising bees. There’s no wrong choice, really, you just to think about what your goals are and which hive will serve your purposes best. If you’ve had any experience with any of these hives, do you have some tips for beginners? Would you mind sharing your successes and/or setbacks? Good luck!
Jennifer Poindexter and her husband raise most of their food and a variety of animals in the foothills of North Carolina, where they built a small homestead on very little money. She writes about all of her adventures at Morning Chores, where she shares the knowledge she has gained with others that might want to take the full plunge into homesteading. Read all of Jennifer's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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