Choosing the right type of beehive is the most important decision you’ll make as a new beekeeper. Despite what you may have heard, no beehive design is perfect for everyone.
This article is a complete guide to the different types of beehives. We’ll look at the strengths and weaknesses of each design to help you decide which is best for your needs.
What is the most popular beehive?
Hive popularity differs depending on where you live. In North America and Australia, Langstroth hives are the most popular option while the U.K. prefer National hives. Warre, top bar, and Flow Hives are increasingly being used by beekeepers, thanks to innovations that address the Langstroth’s limitations.
9 different types of beehives
|Design||Vertical stack of rectangular modular boxes with frames|
When most people picture a hive in their head, it’s the Langstroth that has been around since the mid-1800s. It is a vertical style hive that stacks up boxes to house the colony’s brood, honey, and other food supplies.
Each box contains frames that often have foundation cells to help the bees build out comb faster.
One or two deep boxes sit at the bottom of the hive on a bottom board. Their purpose is to house the brood. Supers are placed on top of these deeps and used by the bees to build honeycomb.
Langstroths are popular for their price, standard sizing of components, and easy scaling up as the hive grows. Some will find working with their heavy boxes cumbersome. You’ll need to allow extra space to house spare supers and other equipment like honey extractors.
- Quickly expand (or downsize) the hive by adding a super.
- Plenty of guides and resources make learning easy.
- Easily mix ‘n match equipment and parts from different product manufacturers.
- Cheaper than some other popular types of hive.
- Intrusive inspections require all boxes on top to be moved to get to the brood box.
- The boxes can be tricky to move around when loaded with honey.
- Requires storage for equipment when its not in use.
We wrote an in-depth guide to Langstroth hives here so be sure to check it out if you want to learn more.
|Design||Vertical stack of square 12″ modular boxes with top bars|
The Warre hive, or “People’s Hive” hit the beekeeping scene in the mid-1900s, roughly a century after the Langstroth. It uses a vertical box setup like the Langstroth and the two are sometimes confused as the same design. However, the Langstroth is rectangular while the Warre uses smaller, square boxes.
The underlying principle of the Warre is that bees know how to manage themselves, so let them do it. Instead of using boxes filled with frames, this type of hive uses eight removable top bars. The worker bees are free to build out comb as they see fit.
When the hive starts to outgrow its home, more boxes are added below the existing boxes. This is the opposite of a Langstroth, which adds them to the top.
Another useful feature found on a Warre is the quilt box. It includes materials like wood shavings that provide excellent insulation in winter. This design feature helps release moisture which can be responsible for freezing the colony to death in colder months.
People that prefer lifting lighter boxes may prefer working with a Warre. Each box is only 12×12”, which makes lifting honey-filled boxes much easier than a Langstroth. The Warre is considered less hands-on than the Langstroth, although regular inspections are still required.
- Manage boxes instead of multiple frames.
- Cycles out old comb and brings new comb in.
- Relatively easy to lift the boxes.
- Hive mimics a tree cavity.
- Lower honey yield than some other types of hive.
- Foundationless comb is much more fragile.
- Must add additional boxes to the bottom of the hive.
Be sure to read our guide to the Warre hive if this design sounds like a good option for your beekeeping operation.
3. Top Bar Hive
|Design||Horizontal box on legs that is filled with top bars|
The top bar hive (TBH) takes a radical departure in design from the Langstroth and Warre. This style of hive uses one horizontal box that is housed on legs. Under a removable roof, top bars are added that have no frames or foundations. The bees use these bars to build out comb for brood, honey, and other food sources.
Top bar hives will appeal to beekeepers that want to avoid bending and lifting. The box is conveniently positioned at roughly waist height and the roof can easily be opened to reveal one large box.
Rather than work with boxes, the hive can be managed by inspecting individual frames. This is much easier to lift and is also less invasive than moving entire boxes.
The top bar hive is much more hands-off compared to the Warre or Langstroth. Those beekeepers interested in a more natural style of keeping bees will appreciate how the TBH works.
Another feature of the TBH is its viewing window. This makes top-level inspections quick, easy, and unintrusive.
Top bar hives come as a fully self-contained unit which means they can’t extend as the hive grows. Beekeepers focused on maximizing honey output may prefer other more scalable options. Of course, it’s possible to buy additional top bar hives, but this can quickly become expensive.
- Less lifting and bending required.
- Low cost to get started and no expensive tools needed.
- Inspecting bars is less invasive than shifting whole boxes.
- Less honey production than a Langstroth.
- The hive capacity can’t be expanded.
- Parts are not standardized.
If the features of a top bar hive appeal to you then be sure to check out our complete guide to top bar hives. This resource goes into a lot of extra detail and takes a close look at the hive’s main components.
4. Flow Hives
|Design||Vertically stacked boxes with an innovative honey extraction system|
Beekeepers seeking a high-tech beehive variety should consider the Flow Hive. It’s relatively expensive compared to a basic Langstroth, but some impressive benefits come with it.
Flow Hives hit the beekeeping scene in 2015 and they immediately gained notoriety for their innovative honey extraction technology. Instead of opening the hive up and removing honeycomb frames, honey is extracted by turning a lever.
Flow Hives still require all the usual testing and treatments that beekeepers undertake. However, they will no doubt appeal to people wanting to keep bees without the heavy lifting. Also, honey extraction, which can be a drawn-out process, is super-easy using this new technology.
Removing honey without disturbing the colony is a huge benefit. Bees don’t have to deal with the stress of boxes or frames being removed. There is also no chance of them getting crushed under heavy supers.
- Easy honey harvesting.
- Bee-friendly practices.
- Expensive tools aren’t needed.
- Expensive up-front cost.
- Plastic frames aren’t ideal.
- May appeal to lazy beekeepers.
Beekeepers looking at innovative hive designs should check out our Flow Hive review.
5. Bee Skep
|Design||Traditional dome-shaped basket with no internal structures|
Bee skeps were one of the first types of hive used for honey collection. A rope was made from straw or long grass, which was then coiled into a simple basket.
They were flipped upside-down and used by bees to build out their homes. Skeps were very basic in design and had one small hole as an entrance. There were no internal frames or additional features.
When the time came to harvest the honey, the bees were killed with sulfur and the comb was ripped from the hive. Another method was to pace the entire skep in a vice and squeeze out the honey.
The bee skep is no longer used for beekeeping in most parts of the world. Modern designs are preferred as they’re much easier to manage and are more focused on bee welfare.
Inspecting bee brood is essential for fighting threats like varroa mite. But skeps have no removable frames which mean they can’t be inspected. For this reason, many countries have outlawed skeps.
- An affordable type of hive.
- Hanging skeps are kept away from most pests.
- Bees have control of the comb they build.
- Provides a bee home if you’re not looking to harvest.
- Inhumane treatment of bees during extraction.
- Against the law in most countries.
- Unable to inspect or treat the colony.
- Relatively low honey output.
Get more in-depth information in our article on bee skeps.
6. Horizontal Layens hive
|Design||A horizontal box that houses roughly 20 large frames|
|Popularity||High in Europe|
The Layens hive was invented back in the 19th century and is the original horizontal hive. It is a horizontal box that houses roughly 20 large frames. The design is excellent for keeping bees alive in cold climates. Its walls are thicker than most other hives, so overwintering is a little easier for the colony.
Like a top bar hive, the Layens is easier to operate than vertical hives as there’s no heavy lifting. The frames hold up to 12 pounds of honey which is easily manageable for most beekeepers.
Inspections are less intrusive as the beekeeper looks at one frame at a time. This is preferable to removing entire supers that affect bees on 10 or 12 frames at a time.
A Layens hive can’t be expanded as the colony population grows. You’re stuck with the room you’ve got unless additional hives are used.
- Less intrusive for bees during inspections.
- Less heavy lifting of boxes.
- Easier management of the hive for beekeepers.
- The hive won’t grow as the bee population expands.
- Reduced honey production. compared to modular-style hives.
Learn more about the Layens hive here.
7. WBC Hive
|Design||Similar design to a Langstroth but with double walls|
The WBC hive is named after its inventor, William Broughton Carr. It was created in 1890 and became a popular option in the U.K. for beekeeping and as a garden ornamental.
Also called the Classic Beehive, the WBC design takes its influence from the Langstroth. They’re both vertical modular hives with a brood box at the base and supers above that are full of frames.
The main difference between the two is that WBCs are double walled. There is an outside shell with boxes inside offering useful protection in adverse weather conditions.
- Offers an attractive design.
- Excellent insulation offered by two walls.
- Easily scalable design.
- Some may find it difficult to assemble.
- An entrance that’s hard to block.
8. Apimaye Hives
|Design||Vertical stack of boxes with superior insulation for extreme climates|
The Apimaye hive is a new type of beehive that looks to improve on the Langstroth. This next-gen design is loaded with handy features, but its insulation is what makes it special.
For beekeepers located in freezing cold or sizzling hot climates, this hive makes sense. It is double walled, providing six times the insulation of a wooded Langstroth.
Another major benefit of the Apimaye is the adjustable opening located in various parts of the hive. These are extremely useful for adjusting ventilation and controlling condensation.
Beekeepers will find that Apimaye beehives are more expensive than most conventional hives. Like the Flow Hive, there is more up-front cost. But keep in mind that with both these hives there’s less equipment needed further down the track. So, the cost of using these hives isn’t as high as you may first think.
- Superior insulative properties.
- Comes assembled which is a huge time saver.
- Boxes lock together keeping the entire hive secure.
- Made from durable, high-density plastic.
- Higher up-front cost than most other hives.
- Some may not like the hives aesthetics.
If this innovative hive sounds of interest then read our review of the Apimaye hive here.
9. The British Standard National Hive
|Design||Vertical stack of modular boxes with frames|
|Popularity||High in U.K.|
The National hive is based on the Langstroth design, consisting of vertically stacked boxes. It was invented around 1920 and is now the most popular option for beekeepers in the U.K. and Ireland. Although the National is similar to a Langstroth, its brood chamber is shallower, and the box dimensions are smaller.
The National beehive is considerably more expensive than a Langstroth. Also, Nationals use bottom bee space while Stroths use top bee space.
- Lightweight with large handholds
- Popular in the U.K. with plenty of spare parts
- Easier to handle honey supers
- More expensive to buy
Are there other types of hives?
Although we’ve mentioned some popular beehive designs above, there are a range of other hives you may want to research. We’ve listed some other hive types below:
- Hexagon hive
- Golden hive
- Dome hive
- Dadant hive
- Smith hive
- Commercial hive
If you’re getting started beekeeping, then it makes sense to check out a variety of hive designs before diving in. Many will find the Langstroth is the best option. It’s a low-cost option that expands nicely as the colony grows. Just as important, there are lots of spare standardized parts and learning resources to help deal with any conceivable issue.
Beekeepers looking for a more natural style of keeping bees should consider the Warre or Top Bar Hive. They give bees more freedom to build out their preferred hive.
The Flow Hive is worth considering if you like the concept of honey on tap. But be warned, there is still lots of work you need to carry out to keep the bees at their best.
It’s possible to winterize any hive to help your bees deal with cold weather. However, the Apimaye is a next-level hive that addresses the problems bees face in cold weather. Its high-quality insulation also makes it useful in hot weather.
At the end of the day, the way you care for your colony will prove more important than the hive design. Put careful thought into the hive but place more effort into learning how to manage it.
Whatever type of beehive you choose, we suggest starting small. If you decide to pivot in a different direction, then you won’t have wasted too much time and money.