Guide to bee hive types

Guide to bee hive types

Quick presentation of the most common hive types

bee hive

A bee hive

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There are literally hundreds of different hive types around the world you could choose from1.

Still, the ultimate goal for sustainable beekeeping is to be in harmony with the bee and to provide an environment that supports the activities of the colony, without exploiting.

Therefore, we want you to remember two general factors before you decide:

  • If you practice beekeeping for honey production, you should be able to take out the honey combs without destroying the whole hive.
  • If you practice beekeeping for the bee’s sake or for pollination reasons, you should be able to observe the condition of the bees, check where the queen is located and see if the colony is doing well. Frames should be removable.

In the following, we present the most common bee hive: the Langstroth hive

Langstroth hives

Langstroth hives are the most common hives for commercial purposes and chances are very high that you have already seen them around, even if you are a newcomer.

The inventor, Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth patented his design in the early 1852. Today it has become the standard style hive worldwide.

These hives are made of rectangular, vertically stacked wooden boxes filled with frames upon which the bees build their combs. Inside the boxes, frames hang parallelly to each other. New boxes can be added to the top of the hive. These are called supers and come in various depths – deep, medium and shallow.

Ten or eight frames hold the beeswax honeycomb formed by the bees. In fact, there exist the two models made of either ten or eight frames.

In the following, we speak about the Ten Frame hive, while the Eight Frame hive has the same characteristics, just being smaller and thus, weighing less.

More specifically, the hive is made of three parts:

  • Bottom board, with the entrance for the bees
  • Boxes with frames for brood and honey. The lowest box is for the eggs and the boxes above are for the honey.
  • Inner cover and top cap for weather protection.

Langtroth was also the first person to mention the “bee space”. It is a specific space that defines a distance from 5 to 9 mm between frames and other parts of the hive. Given this space, bees stop gluing together the space nor fill it with joining comb (also called “burr comb”). Read more about the bee space here.

Langstroth bee hive

bee hive

Top Bar hive

There is a second hive type which is quite famous it is named Top Bar or Horizontal hive.

We do not explain this hive in detail: Harvesting of honey can be only carried out by crushing all the honeycombs, which is not something we would recommend.

In this hive, whenever you harvest honey, bees are supposed to rebuild their homes from scratch.

This is an energy-wasting task that should be spared to bees, so they can use their energies for foraging, hive climatization, defending against diseases and parasites and other vital activities.

A top bar hive. Photo: Flickr

Warré hive

At we do not recommend the traditional Warré hive for several reasons.

Originally, the inventor Abbé Émile Warré, a French monk, had the intention to create a hive that would resemble as closely as possible to a natural environment.

To make it easier to understand, the difference to the Langstroth hive is that a beekeeper adds new boxes to the bottom of the hive, rather than to the top.

In this way, bees build from the top down as they do in nature. A beautiful idea.

Yet, the traditional Warré hive has no frames or foundation, therefore inspection is not easy, or better, it is not foreseen at all to do inspection. In Warré’s opinion, bees should not be disturbed in their activity.

However, without being able to remove the frames, beekeepers cannot assess hive activity, spot parasites and check the presence of the queen. Those are vital tasks to monitor the health status of the colony2.

There are Warré hives that provide frames learn more about this alternative in our article about Warré hives with frames (work in progress).

A Warré hive. Photo: Bay Branch Farm