It can be very confusing…
There are several different types of hives. All with various pros and cons.
Some look very similar. Others look entirely baffling!
But thankfully, some hives have become standard and commonly accepted by a vast number of beekeepers.
Of course, beekeepers can’t always agree on which is the best 🙂
Some swear by the Langstroth beehive. Others prefer Top bar hives.
This article will give you an essential overview of the different types of beehives most commonly used to nest a colony of bees.
Types of beehives
I’m going to be talking about man-made beehives … Not the type of natural bee hive you see Winnie the pooh trying to steal honey from 🙂
There are quite a few to choose from. Still, they’re all designed to make the beekeeping process more manageable and aim to harvest a decent crop of honey!
If you’re thinking of taking up beekeeping, understanding some of the most popular types of hive designs is an excellent place to start. How you use and manage each kind of beehive can vary considerably, so one sort might fit your style of beekeeping better than another.
Let’s begin with the most commonly known types of beehives.
Traditional bee hives
Traditional beehives like skeps are rarely used nowadays. But they do sometimes get used to capture swarms. This is because they are just the right size and shape for dropping a swarm of bees into.
A skep is the kind of hive you often see printed on pretty honey labels. These dome-shaped hives are usually made out of straw or wickerwork. A bit like an overturned basket.
They were still used before the 1950s and before hives with removable frames were invented. But they were an incredibly destructive way to rear bees…
After the bees had worked hard to build comb during the summer, the beekeeper would drive away the bees. Then recover the entire contents of the hive, including all the brood and honeycomb. Bees would be left without shelter or supplies for the winter.
Not a very eco-friendly option these days! In fact, today, you cannot legally keep bees in a skep!
This is the most widely-used type of beehive in the US. Both hobbyists and commercial apiaries use them. In addition, the measurements are pretty standard, making it easy to find widely available parts.
The Langstroth hive was invented by Lorenzo Langstroth, an American clergyman, and beekeeper. He is considered to be the “father of American beekeeping.” He patented his first hive in 1852.
The Langstroth hive is made up of multiple boxes that are stacked vertically. (Amazon link)
The bottom box (called the brood chamber) is where the queen lays eggs, and new bees are produced. Above this is a series of “supers” used for storing honey.
The queen is kept inside the brood box using a grilled frame called a “queen excluder.” This allows worker bees to move freely upwards to build honeycomb, but the grill is too small for the queen to pass.
This method allows the beekeeper to add or remove boxes throughout the season according to the colony’s growth, keeping the brood and honey separate.
The Langstroth also comes in two standard sizes…
You can get 8 and 10-frame versions of the Langstroth.
The significant advantage of 8-frame hives is the lower weight when they are full of honey. (A full deep honey super can be “super” heavy!)
The disadvantage is less honey 🙁
So 10 frame boxes are more popular with “beeks,” whose priority is harvest size.
Apart from the size, they both work on the same principle.
These days you can even find Langstroths made out of plastic – LIKE THESE ! (Amazon) The advantage is that they are lighter and insulated to keep bees warm during the winter.
The Warré Hive
The Warré looks the way most people imagine a beehive, with its sloping roof on top of some stacked boxes and cute little legs!
The intention was to create a natural space for rearing bees that imitates honeybees’ natural habitat, like the hollow interior of a tree! For this reason, this type of hive is preferred by fans of “natural beekeeping.”
Emile Warré was a French priest who loved to keep bees. So much so that he invented his own version of a beeping hive!
He began by extensively researching hive models in his apiary of nearly 350 beehives. The result was what he called “la ruche populaire” (the people’s hive).
Warré introduced his hive to the public in his 1948 book “l’apiculture pour tous” (beekeeping for all).
Warré beehives are pretty sophisticated and incorporate many ideas and mechanisms designed to make the beekeeper’s job easier. However, this doesn’t mean they are complicated to use. On the contrary, fans of the Warré say there is less management.
However, it does mean they are quite expensive compared to other types, such as the Langstroth.
The original setup uses fixed frames. This can be a sticky problem in some parts of the US. Because different State requirements place duties on beekeepers to provide “moveable frames” for inspection and management. But if you’re keen to try Warré hives, thankfully, you can also get them with removable frames.
Top Bar hives
The top bar hive is a horizontal sort of beehive that is more popular with hobbyists than commercial beekeepers. This is mainly because the honey yield is lower with this type of hive.
However, devotees of the Top bar hive claim it has some advantages over the more popular Langstroth.
The top bar design is basically one big self-contained horizontal box. This makes it more straightforward than the multiple box system used by Langstroth hives.
The single-chamber contains 24 wooden bars. Each one has a vertical guide that the bees use to build out honeycomb. These “top bars” are how this hive got its name!
The comb is built more naturally than on a frame. This is said to provide better mite control because bees will make cells that are smaller and less habitable for varroa mites. Top bars also give better heat retention than vertical types of hive.
I mention this hive because you will probably hear the name quite frequently. But nowadays, it is pretty much obsolete.
The confusion comes from the fact that “Dadant” is an existing beekeeping supplies company. But the hives they sell these days are actually Langstroths!
Charles Dadant was an anglo-french beekeeper (He was born in France and moved to the US). He is also considered to be one of the founders of modern apiculture.
Dandant began producing hives similar to the Langstroth design but bigger in volume. In addition, the brood chamber was larger and deeper, providing plenty of room for the queen to lay. There were several variations to the Dadant hive over time. Still, the larger size made them more expensive and, therefore, less popular than the smaller Langstroth.
The National hive (UK)
If you live in the UK, this is the most common type of hive you will probably come across.
It works similarly to the Langstroth, with a series of vertically stacked boxes (brood at the bottom and honey chambers on top).
The National beehive is nothing special to look at. It pretty much looks like a pile of wooden crates!
You access the hive by lifting the lid off the top, just like other box-type beehives.
The brood box at the bottom is the biggest. The supers are smaller and can be added as the colony expands, and each super gets filled with honey.
Nationals are square boxes and are smaller than Langstroth hives. The smaller size of the brood box sometimes causes space problems. Often people add an extra super on top for the queen to lay eggs in (called a brood and a half).
National hives and parts are easier to find in the UK than Langstroth.
WBC hive (UK)
The WBC is another popular kind of hive in England. This is the “pretty” version of a hive. Most models have an attractive “pagoda” appearance.
The WBC is so named because it was designed by William Broughton Carr around 1890.
This moveable framed hive works on the same principle as the National or Langstroth. The one major difference is that WBCs have a double wall (an outer “skin” and an inner box). This makes them well insulated and provides extra protection from the elements.
However, the internal boxes are smaller than the National beehive.
The added layers also mean that hive inspections are more meticulous and fussy. You must remove the outer layers (called “lifts”) before you can get to the hive boxes.
Some new types of beehives
There are a few clever people still trying to create better hive designs! Beekeeping involves quite a bit of work at certain times of the year. So folks are always looking for ways to make the process less time-consuming.
One of the best-known new types of hive is called the flow hive.
Catchy name, don’t you think?
The Flow Hive
The flow hive works similarly to the popular Langstroth hive in using a series of moveable frames.
The big difference is that the flow hive uses a special type of frame that contains a ready-built honeycomb! (no foundation needed). These solid plastic honeycombs are called “flow frames.”
Using a unique “key,” each flow frame allows honey to flow straight into a jar! (hence the name, I guess). These unique frames can fit inside a standard Langstroth “super,” but you need to make a small cutout in the box to allow access for collection.
This obviously makes the harvesting process much simpler! (no removing frames. No crushing and straining honeycomb or using a dedicated extractor).
“Flow” also makes their own specially adapted hives to make the whole process easier.
Remember, you still need to take care of your bees! You have a duty to monitor the hives and do inspections throughout the season, etc. This is not a magic no-maintenance solution.
So what type of bee hive is best?
Ok… So, to sum up, you might be wondering which is the best type of hive to choose if you’re about to begin a beekeeping hobby.
Well… You can tell from the variety of hive types available these days that the answer is not so simple.
The best type of hive will be one that corresponds to your own personal views on beekeeping.
Suppose you intend to grow a reasonably large apiary. In that case, you should probably choose a standard beehive that is easy to find parts for. Depending on where you live, this would be the Langstroth or the National hive.
On the other hand, if you’re primarily interested in keeping bees for pleasure, you might want to go for a more natural type of beehive, such as the Top bar.
Many other types of hives not mentioned in the list above are popular in other countries. Still, these are less frequently used by the majority of beeks! For example, the Smith hive is popular in Scotland. The Normalmass and Frankenbeute in Germany. You can even find modern plastic hives like the Beehaus.
Here are a few related questions you might be asking yourself…
What is the most common beehive in America?
The Langstroth hive is the most popular type of beehive found in the US. It has become a standard for both hobbyists and commercial beekeepers.
Are horizontal hives better?
Some people consider horizontal beehives, such as Top bar hives, better. Thanks to the single larger chamber, they can be relatively easy for newcomers to monitor. However, the honey yield is lower with this kind of hive.
What size beehive to choose
The size of a beehive is mainly dictated by weight. Bigger beehives have larger boxes. For example, a 10-frame Langstroth super will weigh more than an 8-frame super. So choose a size that corresponds to your capacity for manipulating the boxes.