DIY







Langstroth, Top-Bar or Warre?: Choose the Right Hive for You and Your Bees


| 10/25/2013 4:55:00 PM



If you’re interested in beekeeping but are debating which type of hive to choose or if you’re already a beekeeper and are wondering about different types of hives then read on.  Here I’ll talk briefly about the three different types of hives I use and discuss some basic pros and cons.  Let’s start with the the best known and most popular.

Pros and Cons of the Langstroth BeehiveLangstroth Beehive In Field

So, chances are if you’ve ever driven by a house or piece of land and seen beehives, you were looking at a langstroth hive. These are the standard hives used in the United States and most developed countries.  Imagine a wooden rectangle with wood frames that slide in vertically and rest in place on a top lip like a file folder.  Inside the frame is a thin layer of wax foundation printed with a hexagonal pattern that the bees will use to draw out their comb.  There is a removable top cover, a bottom board upon which the hive rests and a narrow entrance or slit between the bottom board and the hive body from which the bees come and go.  To add room for an expanding colony or for honey stores you add a super (basically another hive body, frames and all but shorter in height) directly on top of the hive body, then replace the cover on top of the super.

Pros

- Langstroth hives are standardized so it’s easier to find solutions for a specific problem.  For example, during my first year of beekeeping, one of my hives had so depleted their honey stores that their population had grown dangerously low. I was able to obtain a frame of brood and two frames of honey from a fellow beekeeper and save my colony. Due to the standard dimensions of langstroth, there are a lot of accessories for pest control, harvest, expansion, etc. that are readily available.
- When you harvest from a Langstroth, you slice off the tops of the honeycomb and spin the honey out of the cells.  You then put the frames back into your hive ready to go. It takes 8 lbs. of honey to make 1 lb. of wax so because the bees aren’t building comb from scratch every year you will be harvesting much more honey from a langstroth.
- Extraction is also much easier because honey extractors are built to work exclusively with langstroth frames.

Cons

-There is no way to know where your wax foundation is coming from or what contaminants it has been exposed to.
- Bees draw wax out from the cell size printed on foundation which is larger than cells in natural comb.  Some beekeepers feel that this contributes to problems like the varroa mite.
- Bees naturally want to move down not up which can prove to be a problem while overwintering.  Sometimes bees will starve to death because they have no honey stores at the bottom of a hive even if they have one or two supers full of honey on the top. 

Pros and Cons of Top-Bar HivesTop Bar Beehive Honey Comb

A top bar hive (TBH) is a long manger-like hive that has wood bars covering the top from front to back and some sort of roof over that. The bees will draw a comb from the bottom of each bar (no frames or foundation here). The entrance can be a slit in the front or a few holes in the side.  TBH’s can be an inexpensive DIY option or you can spend a pretty penny on one made of cypress or cedar complete with an observation window.  My point is that it can be as basic or fancy as you want and that in itself should probably count as my first pro.



Pros

- My number one pro here is that in all three of my top bar hives my bees seem to be unusually docile and prosperous.  They just seem to be really happy in this architecture and don’t mind inspections.
- Watching your bees build their own, pure white combs down from a bar of wood is really nothing short of magical.
- There are no supers to deal with during inspections which means little to no heavy lifting.Top Bar Beehive Comb
- As previously stated TBH’s can be a very inexpensive option so if you’re on a budget it’s worth doing some more extensive reading on this subject.
- The honey and wax you harvest will be from your colony only.  This is especially important if you’re planning on using the wax you harvest to make cosmetics.
- Comb honey generally sells for more money.
- You will have much less hardware to store through winter months.

Lynn
2/4/2018 8:05:48 PM

I live in Montana and would never go with a Kenya type top bar hive. The heavy honeycomb breaks off the top bar, the bees tend to crossbar comb making hive inspections impossible, you have to correct this weekly. No vacations without consequences. If you need to feed, the bees cannot go up so you have to feed inside the hive. Very impossible to do in winter without chilling your hive and killing your bees. Top Bar hives are not standard - in our club we 16", 18" 20" and 22" widths. You have to make all of your own solutions to feeding and treating problems in the hive. I could go on at length but do not recommend this hive type in northern climates and not for a first year beekeeper ever.


Lynn
2/4/2018 8:04:19 PM

I would never recommend top bar hives for beginning beekeepers and certainly not for northern climates. I won't even give my old ones away. I am turning them into planter boxes.


Lynn
2/4/2018 8:04:17 PM

I live in Montana and would never go with a Kenya type top bar hive. The heavy honeycomb breaks off the top bar, the bees tend to crossbar comb making hive inspections impossible, you have to correct this weekly. No vacations without consequences. If you need to feed, the bees cannot go up so you have to feed inside the hive. Very impossible to do in winter without chilling your hive and killing your bees. Top Bar hives are not standard - in our club we 16", 18" 20" and 22" widths. You have to make all of your own solutions to feeding and treating problems in the hive. I could go on at length but do not recommend this hive type in northern climates and not for a first year beekeeper ever.






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