Before your bees arrive, you must consider where they are going to live. There are three basic types of beehives. Let’s figure out which style is right for you.
In our last post, we discussed beekeeping clothing and equipment. Now let’s talk about a home for your bees …
Most new beekeepers purchase hive components ready to assemble, but it’s certainly possible to build your own hive. If you do, it is very important to follow the exact measurements for the type of hive you desire. Incorrect hive dimensions result in honeycomb being built where it is not wanted—from the beekeeper’s perspective, at least!
3 Best Types of Hives
1. Langstroth Hive:
The Langstroth hive (pictured below) is the most common style in use today and a favorite for new beekeepers. The design was patented by Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth in the mid-19th century and features removable frames that the bees build comb in. Langstroth hives consist of boxes that stack on top of each other.
The anatomy of a Langstroth hive. Credit: Dave Cushman
Parts of a Langstroth Hive
- Outer/Telescoping Cover — Keeps the whole hive dry from rain. Similar to a roof on a house.
- Inner Cover — The inner cover fits between the top hive box and the outer cover. It provides insulation and prevents frames from sticking to the outer cover. It can be used with a bee escape when harvesting honey.
- Shallow/Honey Super — Shallow supers are most the commonly used size for honey production.
- Queen Excluder — Allows only worker bees to pass through, keeping the queen and drones away from the honey. This is an optional piece of equipment that prevents the queen from laying eggs in the honey collection supers. Not every beekeeper uses an excluder.
- Frames — Removable frames (wooden or plastic) fit into the hive boxes. Frames come in different sizes to fit the three different sizes of supers. Bees build honeycomb inside the wooden frames (often using beeswax foundation/plastic foundation as a guide.) The comb cells hold young bees, pollen, nectar, and honey.
- Foundation — Most beekeepers use sheets of beeswax (or plastic) foundation as a guide inside the frames. This helps to encourage the bees to build straight comb inside the frames.
- Brood Chamber (Also called: deep super or brood box) — The brood box contains larger frames than the shallow super. Here, the queen lays eggs for the next generation of bees. In this maternity ward, nurse bees care for the young.
- Bottom Board — The base of the hive. Bottom boards are available as a solid bottom or with a screened bottom.
A Langstroth hive can contain any combination of the three sizes of super boxes: deeps/brood, mediums, or shallows.
2. Top Bar Hive
The top bar hive is the oldest hive design in the world. A horizonal top bar hive features wooden bars that are laid along the top of the long box. One-piece bars are used instead of the 4-sided wooden frames of the Langstroth design. The honey bees build comb down from the top bars. No foundation is required, but the hive should be elevated off the ground with some sort of stand.
There are several advantages to a top bar hive. In addition to not needing foundation sheets, there are no wooden frames to assemble. Perhaps the biggest draw of the top bar hive: no heavy lifting. Unlike the Langstroth hive that requires moving several heavy hive boxes, management of a top bar hive is much easier on the beekeeper’s back.
Top Bar Hive. Credit: Mind Control~bgwiki
Top bar beekeeping does have a few challenges, however. For example, a centrifugal honey extractor can not be used to remove honey from the natural comb, so the comb and honey will both need to be removed from the bar. This results in the honey bees having to make new comb each year. In general, top bar hives also require more frequent inspections to prevent overcrowding/swarming.
This type of hive can produce honey, but it is a favorite for beekeepers wanting hives for pollination alone.
3. Warré Hive
The Warré (war-RAY) hive, created by Émile Warré in the mid-20th century, is another top bar design. Instead of being a long horizontal top bar hive, the Warré hive is referred to as a vertical top bar hive. Identically sized stacked boxes have no frames or foundation sheets. Bees build honeycomb down from top bars placed within each box.
Warré Hives. Credit: Sweetvalleyhives.com
Beekeepers using the Warré style often “bottom-super” their hive: instead of putting empty boxes on top to give the colony more overhead room, empty boxes are placed at the bottom of the stack. They feel this arrangement better mimics bee life in the wild.
These are the three most popular hive designs, but every style has pros and cons! It is up to you to decide which type of beehive best suits your goals and management style. Closely follow plan directions if you choose to build your own bee hive of any style. Improperly built bee hives result in wayward comb, difficult inspections, and angry bees (and soon, stung beekeepers).
Warré hives painted various colors.
Painting Your Hive
Painting your hive protects the wood and will last longer. Traditionally, most hives are white to reflect the sun. Today, you can find hives in all colors.
Lighter colors are best for hives in Southern climates due to the possibility of over-heating in the sun. Any water-based (Latex) paint will do well. Only paint the outside surfaces of the bee hive.
Now that you’ve got your supplies, set up a beehive, and know what you’re in for, learn where to get your bees.
Beekeeping 101: Raising Honey Bees in Your Backyard
Read through our Beekeeping 101 series to get an overview of backyard beekeeping:
- Should You Raise Honey Bees?
- Planning for Honey Bees
- Beekeeping Supplies, Clothing, and Equipment
- Choosing a Type of Beehive (You are here.)
- Where to Get Honey Bees
- Harvesting Honey
- Common Bee Pests and Diseases
–A thank you to Master Beekeeper Charlotte Anderson from South Carolina who consulted on our beekeeping series!