When people think of beekeeping, they usually think of tall Langstroth hives. However, there is another type of hive that works just as well. It is called a horizontal hive.
There are a lot of differences between Langstroth hives and horizontal hives. If you are new to beekeeping, it is a good idea to look at the pros and cons of horizontal hives.
What are Horizontal Hives?
A horizontal hive consists of one single, long box. Bars or frames are placed into the box, where bees build their comb. Horizontal hives are often used for natural beekeeping, as this structure is similar to where bees would nest in the wild.
There are 3 types of horizontal hives – the top bar hive, the horizontal/long Langstroth hive, and the Layens hive.
Top Bar Hive
Top bar hives use bars that are placed upon the top of the box for the bees to build their comb upon. This design allows the bees to build a natural comb structure, as the queen is allowed to move around the hive as she pleases. Because no frames are used, harvesting honey must be done through the crush and strain method.
Horizontal/Long Langstroth Hive
The horizontal, or long Langstroth hive is really interesting because it is similar to a traditional Langstroth hive, but the body is much longer. They use the same type of frames as Langstroth hives, but can hold twice as much, or even more.
The Layens hive is used mostly in Europe. It is much like the long Langstroth hive, but the difference is the frames. Layens hive frames are taller and more narrow than Langstroth hive frames.
Pros and Cons of Horizontal Hives
If you are thinking of getting a horizontal hive, it is a good idea to look at the pros and cons. Not all hive types are suitable for everyone, so you must do your research before choosing the right beehive for yourself.
Pros of Horizontal Hives
No Heavy Lifting
In my opinion, one of the biggest benefits of horizontal hives is that there is no heavy lifting involved. Anyone who has worked with Langstroth hives will tell you how heavy full supers, and even brood boxes can be.
It isn’t unusual for a single deep box to weigh 80 pounds or more. Lifting something so heavy can definitely be difficult for most people.
However, with horizontal hives, there is no lifting, as there is only one box, which stays stationary at all times. The only thing you will need to lift are the individual frames. This makes horizontal hives a great option for those who cannot, or would prefer not to lift boxes.
No Foundation for Top Bar Hives
If you prefer foundation free beekeeping, horizontal hives may be for you. That is because top bar hives do not use foundation, or even frames, for that matter.
What are the benefits of going foundation free? Some beekeepers prefer not to use plastic in their hives, and believe that forgoing foundation reduces the chance of varroa mites. They also want their bees to build their own cell sizes, as they would in nature.
Easier Hive Inspections
Because everything is contained to one box, hive inspections will naturally be easier. In fact, many beekeepers have found that inspecting horizontal hives make the bees less agitated because they aren’t being moved around as much.
Horizontal hives require less parts because they use one single box. Compared to Langstroth hives, that use multiple boxes,
Cons of Horizontal Hives
With Langstroth hives, you can grow your hive as much as you want, as long as you keep on adding boxes. In a season with a strong nectar flow you can add multiple honey supers for the bees to fill. However, with horizontal hives, you are limited to one box. That means that the amount of honey that you can harvest will be restricted.
You cannot use honey extractors with horizontal hives. Layens hive frames do not fit standard extractors, and top bar hives use no frames at all. That means that to harvest honey, you must use the crush and strain method.
The crush and strain method is likely not an issue if you are a hobby beekeeper with few hives. However, it can be time consuming for those with many hives.
Because horizontal hives tend to be foundationless, they will require more frequent inspections than Langstroth hives using foundation. The reason is that when there is no foundation, there is a risk of the bees building cross comb.
Cross comb is when the bees build comb that connects two or more frames together. This is a problem because removing the frames is very difficult. For that reason, cross comb must be spotted and corrected right away.
That being said, Layens hive frames can be used with or without foundation, and experienced beekeepers have successfully kept colonies in Layens hives with minimal inspections per year.
While horizontal hives are widely used around the world, they aren’t as common in the US. Because of that, new beekeepers who use horizontal hives may have a difficult time finding materials, or a mentor, if needed.
Luckily, with the internet, many things can be found and learned online. Some websites even offer free plans to build your own horizontal hive.
The three types of horizontal hives are top bar, long Langstroth, and the Layens hive. Pros of horizontal hives are that there are no heavy lifting, no foundation, easy hive inspections and less parts. Cons of horizontal hives are limited space, unable to use a honey extractor, frequent inspections, and less resources.
Horizontal hives may be a little more difficult for new beekeepers, as there are limited resources in the US, but they could definitely work for someone who does not want many hives at once.