Beekeeping has been around for thousands of years. In fact, there have been drawings of people collecting honey from bees 10,000 years ago. Back then, they would have to find the beehives, and would then keep the precious honey in pots. Pots of honey were even found in the tomb of King Tut!
Today, modern beekeeping is done using man made beehives and honey can easily be harvested without destroying the entire colony. If you are new to beekeeping the first thing you may ask yourself is, what is the best type of beehive? This article will go over the 3 most popular types of beehives used today.
The most common beehive in North America is the Langstroth Hive. This hive design was created by American apiarist, L. L. Langstroth in 1852. The Langstroth hive features stacking rectangular boxes with removable frames. It is widely regarded as the best type of beehive.
Many beekeepers like the Langstroth hive because it is easily customizable. Boxes come in different depths- shallow, medium, and deep, and can be stacked as high as the beekeeper decides. As far as width, you will be able to choose between 8 frames and 10 frames. The best type of beehive for beginners would be medium depth, with 8 frames. The reason being, is that it won’t be as heavy as a bee box with 10 frames.
Parts of the Langstroth Hive
The Langstroth hive consists of a bottom board, boxes (with frames inside) and an inner cover and a top cover. Bees enter and exit the hive through an opening in the bottom board. The boxes sit on top of the bottom board. That’s where the bees live and store their pollen and honey.
New boxes can be added to maintain a larger colony. Then an inner cover is placed on top of the last box. Inner covers have a small opening for bees to enter, as well as a small hole for a feeder. If using a feeder, a shallow box is usually then placed on top to protect it.
Then, the top cover is placed on that. The top cover will typically jut out over the boxes or angle downward in order the protect the hive from rain and moisture.
Pros of the Langstroth Hive
- Can customize with lots of options
- Good for large colonies
- Holds a lot of honey
- Lots of information and supplies available
The Langstroth hive can be considered the best type of beehive because it has so many options. As I mentioned before, the langstroth hive is customizable since you can add more boxes on top of each other to accommodate your brood.
You even have options when it comes to the frames. You can choose 8 or 10 frames, and use foundations, or go foundationless. For this reason the Langstroth hive is the most widely used type of beehive today.
Furthermore, because the Langstroth hive is so popular, there is a vast amount of information and supplies readily available to the beginning beekeeper.
Cons of the Langstroth Hive
- Can be heavy
- Supers can be difficult to lift if stacked too high
A con of the Langstroth hive is that it can be quite heavy. When inspecting the lower boxes you will have to remove the upper boxes to get to them. When full you can expect these boxes to weigh 60 – 100 pounds. While using 8 frames instead of 10 will allow your hive to be somewhat lighter, lifting bee boxes will be quite a work out.
Top Bar Hive
The Top Bar hive was originated in 1965 by Tredwell and Patterson. Several different designs of the hive came about in the following years. The Top Bar hive is different than the Langstroth hive in that it is only one story and it does not use any frames.
Instead, the comb hangs down from wooden bars that run horizontally across the top of the hive. Where langstroth hives consist of many boxes, the top bar hive contains just one box. Many beekeepers believe that the Top Bar hive is the best type of beehive because it allows them to keep interference with the colony at a minimum.
Parts of the Top Bar Hive
The design of the Top Bar hive is quite simple. Like the Langstroth hive it is constructed of untreated wood. It contains a box, a top, and legs. The box of the top bar hive can vary in size, depending on the design of the hive. It typically will be at least 3 feet long. Top bars, long pieces of wood are laid across the top of the box.
In the top bar hive bees will build comb on these bars, instead of on frames. The number of bars in your hive will vary, but on average, you can expect a top bar have to have about 28 bars. The top is basically a lid that rests on the box to protect the hive from the elements. This all rests on legs, which keeps the hive at a comfortable waist height.
Pros of the Top Bar Hive
- Allows for minimal interference with the colony
- No heavy boxes to lift
- Hive is at comfortable waist height
Fans of the Top Bar hive believe it is the best type of beehive because of the simplicity. It contains less parts than the Langstroth hive, which makes harvesting honey very easy. Top Bar hives are also much lighter than Langstroth hives. While Langstroth hives will have you lifting 50 pound boxes, you will only need to lift an 8 pound bar with the top bar hive.
If you are into natural, fondationless beekeeping, top bar is the way to go. Checking bees in a Top Bar hive is also much less invasive than with a Langstroth hive.
Cons of the Top Bar Hive
- Not customizable
- Less honey
A negative of the Top Bar hive is that it is not customizable like the Langstroth hive. You are not able to add onto it to accommodate a larger brood. Since you cannot add on to the hive you can also expect to yield less honey than a Langstroth hive.
The last type of beehive I will discuss is the Warre Hive. The Warre Hive was created by French Priest Emile Warre. Also called “The People’s Hive”, The goal of the Warre hive is to mimic bees in nature. While the Warre hive looks like the Langstroth Hive it is smaller and uses top bars instead of frames. Apiarists interested in natural beekeeping would consider the Warre hive the best type of beehive.
Parts of the Warre Hive
The Warre Hive consists of a box, base, and quilt box and roof. The box of the Warre Hive is meant to mimic the hollow of a tree. They are made of wood and usually measure 12” x 12”.
Like the Langstroth hive, the Warre hive can be expanded by adding additional boxes to it. However, instead of adding boxes on top, in the Warre hive boxes are added the the bottom. Reason being that bees build comb from the top down.
Instead of frames, bars rest upon the top of the boxes, similar to the Top Bar Hive. A quilt box and roof is placed on top of that. It is a box containing wood shavings and cotton cloth. It’s purpose is for insulation and moisture control. This all rests upon a simple base containing an entrance for the bees.
Pros of the Warre Hive
- Can add extra boxes to it
- Low maintenance
- Smaller than the Langstroth
A benefit of the Warre Hive is that it is low maintenance. It requires less inspections and management than both the Langstroth and Top Bar hives. It is also smaller than other hive types, so if you are working with limited space, the Warre Hive may be the best type of beehive for you. The Warre Hive is also the closest to nature of the three hives, so it would be ideal for a beekeeper interested in natural methods of beekeeping.
Cons of the Warre Hive
- Difficult to find hives and supplies
- Yields less honey due to small size
The Warre Hive is the least popular of the three best types of beehive. Because of this, it isn’t quite as easy to find parts and information on them in the US. A smaller box also means less honey. Because of it’s size, the Warre Hive yields less honey than the Langstroth and Top Bar hives. However, if you are a gardener, the Warre Hive is still great for pollination.
How to Choose the Best Type of Beehive
Each hive type has their own unique pros and cons, so choose one according to your needs. To choose the best type of beehive you must take into consideration the location of your beehive and the type of beekeeper you would like to be.
The best type of beehive for beginners is usually the Langstroth. There are lots of books and information available for those wanting to learn about langstroth hives. It’s a great beehive because it is customizable and yields a good amount of honey.
If space is an issue for you, you would be better with a Warre or Top Bar Hive. Top Bar hives are good for beekeepers who do not want to lift heavy boxes. Warre hives are good for smaller spaces and natural beekeeping.
Posted on July 6, 2019 and updated on July 27, 2020.