Types of Beehives

Reader Contribution by Kirsten Lie-Nielsen and Days Ferry Organics
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If you’re thinking about getting bees, you’ll find there are a lot of choices for hive designs. It’s important to choose what will work best for you, and to be familiar with how each style of hive effects the colony within.  For a long time, the only beehive you tended to see would be the traditional Langstroth hive. In recent years, new styles have become popular including the Warre hive, and the top bar hive design.

Langstroth hives were first patented in 1852. The design is a series of simple boxes that can be stacked on top of each other to expand the hive as the colony grows. Within the boxes are pre-made frames with wax foundation off of which the bees will build their comb. The frames can be removed, and the honey extracted in a special centrifuge.

Because Langstroth hives have been the most common method of beekeeping, it is very easy to find parts and designs for this system. The hives are said to produce more honey than other styles, and some beekeepers find them easier to manage bees with. However, Langstroth hive frames dictate the cell size for the bee’s comb, which is said to contribute to many health issues effecting bee colonies today. The box design, which is easier for the beekeeper to access, is much more disruptive to the colony when you are working with them. In principle, the Langstroth hive was designed with the beekeeper in mind, and not the natural ways of the bees.

Warre hives were developed in the early 1900s by French beekeeper Abbe Emile Warre. This style looks somewhat similar to the Langstroth design in that it is an upright and boxy shape. It has a slanted roof, however, and the interior of the hive is much different.

This style of hive was created with the natural habits of a bee colony in mind. The boxes, which can be built up from the bottom as the hive grows, contain bars across the top from which bees can build down their comb. A quilt under the roof provides insulation for the hive, and a window can be included in the lower boxes for the beekeeper to keep tabs on his bees. In addition to being more bee-friendly, the Warre hive was created with the idea of being a hive that does not need a lot of monitoring, which can be harvested from occasionally and otherwise left to its own devices. The downside of the Warre hive is that it is harder to access the interior bars for a close inspection of the hive, a point which is alleviated by the fact that the hives should be self sufficient.

Top bar hives have grown in popularity since the start of the 21st century. The design has been in use for many centuries, but was refined in the 1960s and 1970s. Top bar hives are horizontal, unlike their cousins the Langstroth and Warre, and sit above the ground on wooden legs. The interior of the hive has bars across the top, from which the bees will build their combs.

The height of the top bar hive can protect it from many casual honey predators. Like the Warre hive, top bar hives are much more natural for bees to use and mimic the idea of a hollow in a tree. Top bar hives are light and easy to work with, and can also be adapted to include a window. It is easy to access the comb inside, and working with the hive is not disruptive to the colony. Top bar hives do not always overwinter well, and the design requires monitoring when the bees are first installed to make sure that they follow the lines of the top bar.

All of the hives have their own pros and cons. The Warre and top bar designs are much more friendly to bees’ natural life cycles and should be considered for the health of your hive. To get the most out of your hive, researching each style will help you understand what will work best for you, and these types of hives can help your bees.

Kirsten Lie-Nielsen operates a suburban homestead using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Find her online at Days Ferry Organics Blog.

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