Which beehive design is right for urban and backyard beekeeping?

8 TYPES OF BEEHIVE DESIGNS FOR URBAN AND BACKYARD BEEKEEPING

Over 5000 years ago, the Egyptians kept bees in something resembling a so-called bee cavity. It looked like stacked tubes of Nile mud. As time moved on, people started keeping bees in hollow trees, log hives (Klotzbeute) and baskets woven from straw or willow rods. Early evidence show that honey was extracted straight from wild hives in voids of trees, caves and many difficult to obtain places.

Since then, thankfully the human race have managed to encourage bees to live within purpose-built enclosures, that can be managed by people keeping bees.

Today there are literally hundreds of different hive types, systems and variations worldwide. Most of them conform to the following logic: “comfortable for the beekeeper, convenient for the bees”.

The human management of the bees created order and standards for us, because they help aid efficiencies, ease and productivity. Beehive designs have adapted over the years when new research was found, new materials and techniques developed resulting in creating beehives for our convenience. In general bees adapt more or less well to them.

Many can argue that the main principle of the beehive design has not changed over the years however we have found a number of innovations applied to the humble hive that need to be highlighted. As highlighted, they are literally 100’s of hives which are near impossible to cover however we will be concentrating on a few popular models that have a proven record and still available today.

Vertical vs Horizontal Beehives

For more information and consideration in the differences in purchasing a vertical vs horizontal beehive, please read this article. 


TYPES OF BEEHIVE

We have found eight types of beehives to keep your bee all safe and sound.

1. Langstroth Beehive

2. Top Bar Hive

3. Warre Hive

4. Long/Horizontal Hive

5. National Beehive

6. Dome Hive

7. Golden Hive

8. Hex Hive

 

1. Langstroth Beehive

Hive Type: Vertical

The Langstroth beehive is arguably the world’s most popular beehive where it is used across all the main worlds continents.

This was developed by Rev. Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, in 1852 where he worked out the fundamental parts of the hive needed and made the parts modular so that the hive can be easily expanded if required. Nearly one hundred and seventy years later, this beehive is still the most commonly used type of hive in North America. 

The Langstroth is made up of a combination of boxes (called supers), that are positioned vertically on top of each other. These supers are available, usually in three different sizes being the shallow, medium (ideal) and the deep being the largest. Today the deep size is almost the default and only size used by many beekeepers because are they are more versatile where less supers are required on a hive based on volume. Deep supers are also used for holding the brood where they are sometimes called Brood boxes but frequently also used for collecting honey above the brood. These honey boxes can also be called honey supers.

Between the brood and honey supers are placed a queen excluder, which restricts the queen and drones where it maintains them within the brood area.

Below these supers rests a bottom board which acts as the floor where the bees enter and exit the beehive. The entrance can be adjusted to reduce and increase the size of the hole that the bees access the hive which can be adjusted during different seasons.

Above the supers are usually located an inner and outer cover. The inner cover sits directly on top of the top super, where it not only provides insulation but primarily discourage or prevent the bees from building honeycomb above this level. The outer cover or roof is exactly that. This usually is slightly larger than the super’s width and length to allow it to sit over the edge of the boxes. This is effectively also why it is called a telescopic cover allowing it to adjust up and down depending what it is sitting upon.

Within the supers holds rectangle shaped frames which the honeybees build wax comb. These frames can be interchangeable between supers as long they are the same size. These frames which are removable can be easily taken out to aid inspections and then returned where necessary in the bee hive. This flexibility also lends itself to honey production where individual frames can be removed and taken away for processing; whilst leaving frames that are still in process to be filled to minimise disturbance.

Another consideration that might not be obvious at first, most honey extractors on the market are designed based on the Langstroth beehive frames. Therefore, sometime the consideration of choosing a beehive might have to extend beyond than just the beehive itself.

One of the biggest advantages of the Langstroth beehive is its versatility where parts are modular and can be rearranged at different levels. In addition, the parts can be shared on different beehives as well. Furthermore, new parts can be easily sourced to expand the hive to aid its expansion when required. 

Sizes

The Langstroth beehive can be split into two camps, the most popular from a commercial perspective is the larger 10 frame size. Whilst many hobbyists or beekeepers that find the larger size to heavy, tend to choose the slightly smaller 8 frame size.

Ten-Frame Langstroth Hive (sometimes called the standard)

The standard Langstroth hives have ten frames per super. This larger size is stand in the commercial world however, this can be extremely heavy. A ten-frame super full of honey can weigh as much as 30kg (66 lbs)! Although this may be the case, there are beginner beekeepers who primary target is volume of honey. In this case using the larger 10-frame sized Langstroth beehive, could a solid decision.

Eight-Frame Langstroth Hive 

The slightly smaller eight-frame Langstroth hives use the same design as the classic ten-frame hives but slightly narrower across the front and back of the beehive. The frames are exactly the same however as you can imagine, it only has eight frames instead of ten.

The smaller number of frames means your supers are smaller and lighter. So rather than a full super weighing 30kg (66 lbs), the eight frame supers only weigh up to 24kg (52 lbs). If you plan to move your hive boxes a lot, the smaller frame count can save your back. 

The main downside to the eight-frame hive is that it is not as common as the ten-frame. So sometimes these parts can be more difficult to find however we are finding both sizes to be plentiful in areas of the world where the Langstroth hive is popular.

Tips

  • When buying a Langstroth hive, look to ensure all part are included. Many cheaper beehives leave these out parts and cut corners to make the price appear cheap. In reality you need the below parts.
    • Ventilated Floor (most only supply a flat basic floor which can be a disadvantage in warmer climates)
    • Queen excluder
    • Inner cover
    • Most beehives need a minimum of two supers (boxes).
    • Ensure all frames that go inside the beehive boxes/supers, are the correct quantity and sizes.
    • That foundation is provided for inserting into the frames to start off the building of honeycomb.
    • Quality of Timber. This is usually difficult to establish but also look at the quality of the build.
  • You may consider using only Deep sized supers and frames for everything to provide flexibility and interchanging parts around your beehive.

Advantages and Disadvantages

  • Advantages
    • Great choice for a beginner beekeeper as parts and whole beehives are easily obtainable.
    • Easily to expand, add extra parts and find replacement when necessary.
    • Many supporting accessories such as extractors are also easily obtainable.
  • Disadvantages
    • Many cheap beehives can be poor quality
    • Some countries the Langstroth hive are not the most popular model or easily available to buy design, so may be worth considering other beehive design.

 

2. Top Bar Hive

    Hive Type: Horizontal 

    Horizontal Bar beehive

    Picture from BeeBuilt.com

    The Top Bar hive is very different from the above where it’s also renowned to be the oldest design currently used where variations in this design goes back to ancient times.

    The reasons for its popularity of the top bar hive, is simply down to its simple design where the parts are basic yet functional. As a result, the cost of a basic parts is cheap or easily can be made. In addition, the tolerance of construction is more flexible.

    One of the unique features of this design, is the main wooden body which is triangular is shape. The reasoning for the name of this hive comes from the frames that are positioned within and the laid out horizontal pieces of wood called bars. These bars are suspended along the top over a cavity, just below the lid and form the top of the frames. These bars are where the bees build their comb This layout allows bees to build their comb downwards more naturally than the more popular Langstroth hive.

    The main part of the hive has a large lid that covers the whole top of the beehive. Due to its size, it usually hinged with a chain to prevent the lid rotating too far. Along the bottom there is protection in the form of a wire mesh which

    To protect the colony, a wire mesh is placed along the bottom of the long box where it not only provides ventilation but also allows the bees to push mites through the mesh away from the beehive. On top, there is a cover that you can easily open and close to access the workspace. 

    Tips

    • As the bees will naturally be building wax-comb in a droop shape from the top bar, careful monitoring is required to ensure as comb is built downwards in straight and horizontally along the bar it’s not built is a slight curve shape. If you start to notice this is occurring, then gentle persuasion might be needed to carefully bend the comb back into the correct place.

     

    Advantages and Disadvantages

    • Advantages
      • Cheap to build
      • Minimum parts
      • Frames scale outwards providing plenty of room.
      • No foundation is required on the frames. This hive design uses the foundation-less method of building frames.
      • Builds 100% natural comb.
    • Disadvantages
      • The colony tends to take longer to fill out the hive and build honeycomb.
      • Ensure that the beehive is absolutely horizontally placed, as the bees-wax comb will be drawn downwards based on gravity. If there is a slight angle within the hive, the bees will not compensate for the slant and will continue to draw comb downwards based on gravity. If the beehive is substantially slanted, there is a good chance that the comb will cross-brace between the frame next to it. Needless to say, it can be a nightmare to fix up at a later time so careful monitoring is advised.
      • The maximum size of the hive is the maximum width. If the colony of bees fill the whole hive it’s not easy to expand with additional parts.
      • When full the beehive is extremely heavy and therefore not easy to move.
      • In addition, as the frames are only supported structurally by the top bar, if moved the bees wax comb is very susceptible to breaking and falling off the cross bar.
      • As the frames are not strong enough to hold the honeycomb, these cannot be used within honey extractors. There unfortunately isn’t any standardised extraction equipment or process to extract the honey 

     

    3. Warre Hive

      Hive Type: Vertical 

      Warre Hive from Bee Build

      Picture from BeeBuilt.com

      The Warre beehive was invented and developed by the priest Émile Warré in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s where he refined the product to suit the needs of beekeepers in France. By 1948, Warré towards the end of his life, had been practicing beekeeping for decades and had 350 hives in his apiary with a variety of models which he compared for over 15 methodical years. After extensive research, he designed what was called the People’s Hive.

      Warré objective was to create a hive that was as close to the natural environmental conditions for the bees while remaining practical for the beekeeper. An additional objective was also designed to be built economically by anyone with basic woodworking tools. Apparently, this design mimics a hollow tree trunk for more bee space and a more natural way for a colony to construct its beehives. As a result, the bees are happier and healthier. In addition, a beekeeper would spend less time maintaining their Warre hive.

      The easiest way to think about this hive is a combination of the Langstroth and Top Bar Hive where it uses the free building top bars laid across a vertical style box/super. There are a series of frame-free boxes that are assembled on top of each other but assembled in the opposite directing to a Langstroth hive where new boxes are added underneath the older established boxes.

      One of the unique features that sets this apart from other hives is its quilt box. This is effectively another slightly shorter box that is positioned just below the roof and above the honey and brood boxes. The base of the quilt box is covered with a fabric quilt thus forming effectively a container. This container area is then filled with wood shavings or other natural materials that not only insulates the below part of the hive but acts as a wikiing area where it draws moisture away from the hive and into the natural filling. The result with less conisation within the hive, the bees remain dryer and warmer through the winter months.

      In order prevent the quilt box from being stuck down from propolis, a top cloth is placed over the top bars (called top bar cloth) thus creating a barrier that the bees cannot pass however the moist air can flow freely.

      Advantages and Disadvantages

      • Advantages
        • Hands-off approach
        • Can harvest entire boxes rather than having to remove individual frames.
        • The boxes tend to be lighter in weight.
        • Uses the foundationless method of building wax in the frames
      • Disadvantages
        • Harder to remove frames from the hive because the frames are fragile. Careful consideration needs to be applied when working with the frames to prevent the frame bar from separating from the drawn comb.
        • Adding new boxes to the bottom can be more difficult and time consuming.
        • Not common standard so it’s more difficult to find parts.

       

      4. Long/Horizontal Hive

        Hive Type: Horizontal

        Langstroth Long-hive Beehive from Hydehives

        Picture from HydeHives.co.uk

        Commonly called a Long Hive but also known as the Langstroth horizontal beehive. This is for good reason because there are many synergies that this has with the popular Langstroth vertical hive. This uses the same structure principles as the popular model with one key difference, where instead being setup in a vertical fashion, the frames are laid out horizontally all along a surface in a single larger box super. This means less potential back ache where less lifting is required because no additional box supers are stacked on top of each other.

        One of the major benefits that the Langstroth horizontal beehive is that it uses the same sized frames as a Langstroth Deep. Therefore, if you currently have a Langstroth beehive, with frames for deep boxes, these are interchangeable. An additional benefit is both hive types can work side by side and support each other if some spare parts need to be swapped around. Furthermore, this can also act as an insurance policy where brood can be moved between hives to support a weaker hive if necessary.

        One caution before you might race off to acquire a new Horizontal Beehive, not all the parts are interchangeable between the two hives. They are usually more expensive and not as common as the Langstroth hive. This also applies to the parts where they are harder to come by. However, unlike the Top Bar Frame hives and because they use Langstroth frames, honey extraction is easier because honey extractors can be used.

        There are modifications around the world based on this horizontal design where some models have swapped out the standard Langstroth frames for Honey Flow Frames and Auto Flow frames meaning beekeepers can skip the use of extractors and use the gravity flow technology instead. If you want to go down that path, then undertake some research whether this flow technology would work in your climate.

        Advantages and Disadvantages

        • Advantages
          • Much less lifting required
          • Uses the same popular frames that are used with the Langstroth.
          • Popular alternative to the vertical Langstroth beehive.
          • Provides flexibility to expand outwards
          • Frames can be used with an extractor.
          • Variations of the model are available.
        • Disadvantages
          • Uses more space than a standard vertical hive.
          • Can be more expensive than other hives.
          • The maximum size of the hive is the maximum width. If the colony of bees fill the whole hive it’s not easy to expand with additional parts.
          • When full the beehive is extremely heavy and therefore not easy to move.

         

        5. National Beehive

          Hive Type: Vertical

          British National Beehive from Caddon Hives

          Picture from CaddonHives.co.uk

          The National beehive is very much a British product where it is the most commonly used beehive in the U.K. and Ireland. Its history is a little vague, but it appears to have been developed in around 1920.

          The National hive, as it usually known, is based on the Langstroth hive design principles with a vertical stack of modular components. Its dimensions are generally smaller and squarer but notably the brood chamber is shallower than the typical deep Langstroth hive, as its to suit a less prolific bee strain.

          Even this beehive model has undergone evolution where the original National had straight sided boxes with handholds machined in the sides in the same way as other single walled hives. To accommodate the British Standard long lugged frames the original was double walled at each end and single walled at the sides. Although we can find no reference, we have found out that in the late 1930s or early 1940s where there were possibly timber shortages due to the Second World War; a beekeeper simplified the design to give a single wall on the ends and added larger handholds. This eventually became known as the "Modified National" that was included in the British Standards, that was updated in the 1960s.

          Today the Modified National is the only model available superseding the original model. The changes were only to the boxes, all other parts stayed the same, with full compatibility between the two types. As its stands they are now all referred to as "Nationals".

          The external dimensions are the same as the Commercial (Also known as "16x10") hive. The standard for the Nationals’ bottom bee space, the Commercial can be top or bottom. If the beespace is the same Commercial parts can be used with National hives. It is quite common to use National supers on Commercial brood boxes, or Commercial supers on National brood boxes. Interestingly the former is popular in England whilst the latter is popular in Ireland.

          The standard floor is slightly sloped and reversible. This is handy when spring cleaning is required because all you need do is turn the floor over and the floor will be cleaned naturally by various creatures. There have been several roof depths manufactured, varying from shallow to deep but all fit the same roof area.

          There are three common depths of frame manufactured and these are referred to as:-

          • Shallow140mm (5.5”) for supers and known as "shallow frames".
          • Brood   215mm (8.5”) for standard depth brood boxes and known as "brood frames" or "deeps".
          • Deep    304mm (12.0") for deep brood boxes and known as "14 x 12" or "B.S. deeps".

          The National is popular with both amateur and commercial beekeepers because:-

          • The standard brood box is well suited to non - prolific bees, where a colony can survive all year on a single brood box. The capacity is adequate for queens during the summer and enough food can be stored for the winter, without emergency feeding being needed.
          • If prolific queens are used there are several options to make the brood area larger, including the "14 x 12", two brood boxes known as "double brood" or a super and a brood box that is known as "brood and a half".
          • As the National beehive is popular, second-hand parts can be easily bought or sold.
          • As British Standard Hives are square in construction, they will fit over the floor with the frames either perpendicular to the entrance or parallel to it. The "Cold Way" is the perpendicular version.
          • It is economical to buy, especially the "seconds" which are typically about 50% of the cost of premium grade. There may be some knots and imperfections, but they are perfectly adequate and will last for many years if cared for.
          • It is easy to use and lift for one person, with the light weight and large handholds.
          • Bees can easily be bought on B.S. frames if starting up a new colony.
          • The frames are also compatible with WBC hives.

          The "Hamilton Converter", when placed on the top of a National brood box allows the use of ten 16 x 10 Commercial brood frames running at 90°, making it a useful piece of kit for those who use both frame sizes.

          It may be of interest but there are some polystyrene "nationals" available, but not all are compatible with wooden parts.

          Advantages and Disadvantages

          • Advantages
            • Very popular in the UK and Ireland
            • Parts of commercial and stand can be interchangeable
            • Popular alternative to the vertical Langstroth beehive.
            • Frames can be used with an extractor.
            • Variations of the model are available.
          • Disadvantages
            • The Langstroth beehive is starting to become more popular in the UK so might be worth considering as an alternative.
            • Parts and hive may be difficult to obtain outside the UK.

           

          6. Dome Hive

            Hive Type: Dome

            Dome Hives from domehives.com

            Picture from domehives.com

            If you want a beehive to look totally different and to stand out from the crowd, then it will be hard to go past the Dome Hive. This looks totally unique and modern but apparently bees love it. A lot of thought has been put into the design to not only look aesthetically pleasing to the eye but has functionality too. This hive can be suspended in the air where it can be either be hung from a central ring or placed on stakes just off the ground.

            The design lends itself to the Top Bar Beehive design where rather than having flat straight, horizontal frames, these frames are semi-circle in design where each frame is different from the other. When all the ten curved frames (plus 2 for ventilation) are placed together it forms a half dome shape where the bees will build their wax-comb on. The advantage that this design has over the larger Top Bar Beehive design, is the curve itself. Rather than having comb attached along a straight bar, this design allows the bees to build within the semicircle frames providing a greater surface area to attach on to the frame bar. The result is a stronger attachment and therefore less chance of breaking away from the bar.   

            Other features have a variable ventilation lid which can be adjusted based on the season/climate. Air is drawn into the hive from the bottom, pulled through the hive, past the honeycomb and out through the exit ventilation at the top. 

            These hives are designed and constructed in Victoria, Australia and made from sustainable timbers and then sealed to withstand the environment.

            More details can be viewed here

            Dome hives are designed and constructed in Australia and made from quality wood to survive in the elements. The packs can either be hung from the central ring or elevated on stakes. No matter what mounting style you choose, a dome hive’s unusual design will surely attract bees and attention.

            Advantages and Disadvantages

            • Advantages
              • Attractive hive and unique in design
              • Natural comb is built on the frames which are stronger that other foundationless framed hives.
              • Beehive can be suspended or placed just off the ground.
              • Ventilation is designed to flow right through the beehive.
            • Disadvantages
              • Parts are unique and not easily obtainable.
              • More expensive than most beehives.
              • Can’t really be used in a radial honey extractor.

             

            7. Golden Hive

              Hive Type: Vertical

              Golden Beehive from beekindhives.uk

              Picture from beekindhives.uk

              The Golden Hive is also referred to as the Einraumbeute or one-room hive. It was designed 30 years ago by Thomas Radetzki for European biodynamic beekeepers. This type of hive is much more common in Europe than in other areas of the world.

              The design is similar to the horizontal hive however the frames are much larger in size. Each of these frames can hold brood, pollen and honey. These over-sized frames make the honey difficult to extract without specialised equipment.

              While this hive is fantastic for bee health, it has some weaknesses where it is very heavy to move and requires extreme precision when building and assembling the hive.

              Advantages and Disadvantages

              • Advantages
                • Bees love the ability to hold brood, pollen and honey all on a single frame.
              • Disadvantages
                • Very heavy beehive. One in location it’s difficult to move.
                • Frames are large and heavy in size which inhibits its easy and use.
                • As the frames are so large and can holds a combination of honey with the brood, it makes it difficult to extract.
                • Less versatile than other hive designs.

               

              8. Hex Hive

                Hive Type: Vertical

                Hex Hive from thanknature.com

                Picture from thanknature.com

                The Hex Hive® is designed to provide honeybees with as natural an environment as possible and to emulate an environment similar to a tree hollow. The hexagonal shape of each box replicates the bees’ own cell shape, where it not only provided aesthetics but gives them a familiar space. The foundationless frames allow the bees to build their own comb.

                Usually, the Hex Hive® comes completely assembled, ready to go, with beeswax starter strips in the outside frames and a coating of beeswax on each foundationless frame. 

                If you’re interested in natural beekeeping, you’ll love this type of beehive because it simulates the bees’ natural environment. Instead of using rectangular boxes, this taller hollow-tree-trunk-like hive, consists of hexagonal super boxes stacked on top of each other. 

                Each super contains ten foundationless frames where the bees can build their wax comb. While this encourages the bees to build natural comb, these frames can still be used in a centrifugal honey extractor to harvest the honey.

                Advantages and Disadvantages

                • Advantages
                  • Attractive hive and unique in design
                  • Mimics the natural environment of a hollow tree.
                  • Natural comb is built on the frames.
                  • Easily expandable by adding more super boxes.
                  • Removing supers full of honey are usually lighter than other beehives.
                • Disadvantages
                  • Not common parts so may be difficult to find replacements.
                  • Frame size is generally small is size.

                 

                FINAL THOUGHTS IF PURCHASING A BEEHIVE.

                Choosing a new beehive can be confusing but hopefully these tips might have helped you.

                • Consider the location you are living, including the altitude?
                • What type of flowers, pollen and flows are available and do they suite the types of frames you might use?
                • Do you need to move the hive once it’s being put in place? Will the hive need to move regularly to different sites for pollination and honey production?
                • Do you want to use frames with foundation to speed up the building of wax comb?
                • Do you want frames to be built naturally but slower?
                • Will you need to easily extract the honey using a honey extractor and therefore use ridged frames?
                • If buying a secondhand hive and parts, be careful as in some countries and states it’s illegal to purchase secondhand equipment.

                 

                REMEMBER

                As a beekeeper you need to consider more than just the beehive itself, you need to invest in your protection, a method of extracting your honey and some tools to manage the beehive.

                 

                FAQ 

                Do Beehives Require Maintenance?

                Like any product that sits out in the open weather, will require maintenance. During winter months where hives are usually reduced in size and most of the parts are removed, you can add some insulation or additional waterproof membrane to provide extra protection. Although the above is important, the most important thing to do is to feed your colony. Remember, cold temperatures discourage them to leave the hive and look for food so providing them more food than they need is essential for their survival.

                In warmer months, you will need to move top bar hives, Warré hives, and other types of hives in a shaded area and near a water source. Many beekeepers also split their hives into two to give the colonies enough space and enough time to prepare for winter.

                Are Horizontal Beehives better?

                This can be a personal opinion; however horizontal hives are better for people who have difficulty lifting and for people with disabilities. With this style hive, everything is on one level, so you don’t have to stack boxes or lift heavy supers. A super full of honey can weigh as much as 30kg (66 lbs). With a horizontal hive, you can remove one frame at a time.

                When should I put honey supers on?

                You should put honey supers as the bees begin to fill the frames in your existing box. If you have a ten-frame Langstroth hive, you will want the box to be at least half full before adding a new super. But most beekeepers wait until 6-7 of the frames are full before adding a new super. If you add a new super too soon, it’s quite likely they will ignore it and furthermore your bees could get too cold.

                When should I insulate a beehive?

                You should only insulate the beehive during colder months. If you insulate the beehive during hot summer days, you put the entire colony at risk of overheating. The queen will stop laying new bees and the entire honey production could be placed on hold.

                 

                References

                https://www.ecopeanut.com/types-of-beehives/

                http://www.organicbeekeeping101.com/hexhive.html

                 

                BeehiveBuzzbeeHorizontal hiveLangstrothLong hiveTop-bar hiveVertical hive

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