Hive Types

History of Honey Harvesting and Hives

Searches related to honey bees existed on earth long before the appearance of humans. In these early times, bees lived in naturally protected sites such as caves, trees, overhangs, and other similar locations. When humans appeared and advanced in knowledge sufficiently to realize the importance of the honey bee as a source of honey and wax, they attempted to control its existence and distribution by providing a suitable abode or “hive.” The hive may be defined as a manufactured home for bees. Early hives were crude shelters made from any suitable material available to man in his particular locale. Probably the first hives were horizontal sections, either rectangular or circular, made of bark with the ends closed by wooden plugs. A perforation in one end provided an entrance for the bees. Other materials used included clay, cork, wood, and straw. Generally, these materials were shaped into cylindrical or basket-shaped vessels in which a small colony of bees could be kept. Some were furnished with wooden bars on which the combs were built, making it easier to remove the honey and wax.

Later, this same type of bar was used in various types and sizes of hives made of wood that sometimes could be enlarged. Hives of this type were used throughout the bee-populated parts of the world until the 16th century, when a series of events advanced the science of beekeeping and resulted in a corresponding advance in hive development. Events mainly responsible for this advance included scientific developments enabling beekeepers to better understand the life cycle and biology of bees, management techniques that provided greater colony control, and the spread of the honey bee to two new continents. This advance in apicultural knowledge led to the eventual discovery of the “bee space” by L. L. Langstroth and his subsequent development of the movable-frame hive in 1851. Langstroth patented his hive, and during the next half century many others developed hives using his principle, often violating his patent. Claims of the perfect hive were frequent and often disputed. Differences of opinion centred mainly on the size of the hive, a single hive body being considered enough to satisfy the brood space requirement for an entire colony. During this period, the development of the excluder, extractor, and comb foundation advanced the production of extracted honey and increased the demand for large colonies. The resulting change to production of extracted honey led to the use of multiple-story brood nests for each colony. By the early 20th century, discussion and experimentation led to increased use of the Langstroth hive or the Dadant hive.

Types of Hives

We can categorize the type of hives as removable frame and fixed comb hives. Fixed comb hives are also known as “traditional” hives which have been in use for centuries. They don’t allow for transportation or easy inspection, therefore less and less people are using them. We could say that they are recently making a comeback, as they have gained a reputation as “more natural”, therefore, “healthier” method of producing honey.

In ecological beekeeping, we believe in as little intervention as possible and we also believe in preserving the traditional ways of beekeeping. Traditional hives are known to have more disease and varroa-resistant colonies. Many ecological beekeepers argue that the corners of modern hives are against bees’ natural instinct, which always makes round forms.
In our field trips, we witnessed that many apiaries in Macedonia keep traditional hives, along with modern ones. The beekeepers say that some “difficult” years, the traditional hives perform much better.

Nature does not like monopoly. Although Langstroth hives are the industry standard in many countries, it is worth considering having different types of hives and observing how they perform in different conditions.
Please check with local authorities about the regulations of keeping traditional hives in your area.

Removable Frame Beehives

These are the most common types of beehives. These hives are also the easiest to work and allow full access to the brood chamber for inspections. They also allow for easy transportation, so they are most preferred by traveling bee keepers. It is the industry standard in most countries.

1. Langstroth Beehive

Langstroth Beehive

Credit: Illustration by Felix Freudzon, Freudzon Design
The basic components of a Langstroth hive.

Elevated Hive Stand
A hive stand isn’t necessary, but you may find one useful because it elevates the hive off the wet ground, which improves air circulation and results in less bending over when you’re inspecting your hives. In addition, grass growing in front of the hive’s entrance can slow the bees’ ability to get in and out. The stand alleviates that problem by raising the hive above the grass.
Bottom Board
A bottom board is the floor of the beehive. It consists of several rails that serve as a frame around a solid piece of wood, and it protects the colony from damp ground. These days, more and more beekeepers are using what’s called a screened bottom board in place of the standard bottom board. This improves ventilation and is helpful when controlling and monitoring the colony’s population of varroa mites.
Entrance Reducer
A bottom board is the floor of the beehive. It consists of several rails that serve as a frame around a solid piece of wood, and it protects the colony from damp ground. These days, more and more beekeepers are using what’s called a screened bottom board in place of the standard bottom board. This improves ventilation and is helpful when controlling and monitoring the colony’s population of varroa mites.An entrance reducer is a cleat that limits bee access to the hive and controls ventilation and temperature during cooler months. You don’t nail the entrance reducer into place but rather place it loosely at the hive’s entrance so that you can introduce it or remove it as needed.

The small notch reduces the entrance of the hive to the width of a finger. The large notch opens the entrance to about four finger widths. Removing the entrance reducer completely opens the entrance to the max.

If the hive design you choose doesn’t use an entrance reducer, you can use clumps of grass to close off some of the entrance.

Deep Hive Bodies
The deep hive bodies are essentially boxes that contain frames of comb. For a Langstroth hive, you typically build two deep hive bodies to stack on top of each other, like a two-story condo.

The bees use the lower deep as the nursery or brood chamber, to raise thousands of baby bees. They use the upper deep as the pantry or food chamber, where they store most of the honey and pollen for their use.

If you live in an area where frigid winters just don’t happen (temperatures don’t go below freezing), you may not need more than one deep hive body for your colony (one deep for both the brood and their food). In such situations, you want to monitor the colony’s food stores and feed the bees if their supplies run low.

Honey Super

Beekeepers use honey supers to collect surplus honey. That’s your honey — the honey that you can harvest from your bees. The honey that’s in the deep hive body must be left for the bees. Supers are identical in design to the deep hive bodies, and you build and assemble them in a similar manner. But the depth of the supers is more shallow.

Honey supers typically come in two popular sizes: shallow (which usually measure 14,5 cm high) and medium (which usually measure 16,8 cm high). Medium supers are sometimes referred to as Illinois supers because they were originally developed by Dadant & Sons, Inc., which is located in Illinois.

Some prefer medium supers to shallow supers and use mediums exclusively. Why? The mediums hold more honey and yet are still light enough that you can handle them fairly easily when packed with golden goodness (medium supers weigh in at around 22 to 25 kg when packed full).

However, many beekeepers use shallow supers because they’re just that much lighter when filled with honey (they weigh around 15 to 18 kg when packed full). The choice is yours.

You can use medium-size equipment for your entireLangstroth hive (no deeps). Three medium-depth hive bodies is about equivalent to two deep hive bodies. Standardizing on one size means that all your equipment is 100 percent interchangeable. The lighter weight of each medium hive body makes lifting much, much easier than manipulating deep hive equipment (in comparison, deep hive bodies can weigh up to 45 kg when full).

As the bees collect more honey, you can add more honey supers to the hive, stacking them on top of each other like so many stories to a skyscraper. For your first season, build one honey super. In your second year, you’ll likely need to build two or three or more supers. Honey bonanza!

Some hives use removable frames (for example, nuc, observation, British National, and Langstroth). The bees build their honeycomb onto the frames. Because the frames are removable from the hive, you can easily inspect, manipulate, and manage the colony.

For the nuc, observation, and Langstroth hives, the wooden frames contain a single sheet of beeswax foundation. Frames typically come in three basic sizes: deep, shallow, and medium, corresponding to deep hive bodies and shallow or medium honey supers.

You can certainly purchase frames from a beekeeping supply vendor. Or you can find out how to build your own Langstroth-style frames.

Inner Cover

The inner cover of the hive resembles a shallow tray (with a ventilation hole in the centre). You might also like to cut a notch in one of the short lengths of the frame. This is an extra ventilation source, positioned to the front of the hive. You place the inner cover on the hive with the tray side facing up.

Credit: Photographs courtesy of Howland Blackiston and Jim Fowler
Langstroth-style frames (left) and top bar frames (right).

Credit: Photograph courtesy of Howland Blackiston
For the correct placement of an inner cover, the tray side faces up.

Alternatively, screened inner covers have been gaining popularity in recent years. They provide the colony with terrific ventilation.

You do not use the inner cover at the same time you have a hive-top feeder on the hive. You use the hive-top feeder in place of the inner cover.

Outer Cover
The outer cover protects the bees from the elements. Like the roof on your house, you can ensure that it’s waterproof and also extend the life of the wood by covering the top with a weatherproof material (aluminum flashing, asphalt tiles, cedar shingles, and so on).

If you are interested in building your own boxes, click here for plans.

2. Top Bar Beehives

All components of the hive are simple to make. Someone with very little woodworking experience could build a top bar hive. The only downside to top bar hives is that they are slightly harder to work than Langstroth hives. Cross combing is an issue. Another downside is, there are no standard dimensions. Top bar hives may not be compatible with a Langstroth hive or other top bar hives. This means that installing a nuc or sharing frames of honey and brood with a friend isn’t as easy unless they are using the same design.

A Top bar hive would not be a good option if you plan to move your hives frequently. The combs are not as well supported as Langstroth frames and cannot handle the shock of transport. For this reason, commercial beekeepers do not use them.

3. Modified Dadant Hive

This hive is the largest hive you can get and is designed similarly to the Langstroth. The frames are deeper and wider than other hives and that’s the reason it is quite popular for commercial keepers.

The disadvantage is that it is heavy to move or manipulate, even just the supers. It has a brood area of almost 2,5 m².

The complete hive comprises: a wood floor, a brood body, a wire queen excluder, a crown/clearing board, a 10 cm roof and two supers each with eleven self spacing frames and foundation.

Fixed Comb Types of Beehives

These types of beehives are not as easy to manage as the removable frame hives listed above. The biggest reason is that these hives cannot be inspected easily, and some of them are impossible to inspect.

These types of hives are still fairly common in countries like Turkey and Macedonia, which have long standing beekeeping traditions. You can read more about traditional beekeeping and traditional hives in Turkey and Macedonia

1. Warre Beehive

Abbé Émile Warré invented the Warré hive to mimic the conditions of a natural tree hollow. The Warre Hive has a lot in common with a Langstroth hive. It is a vertical hive that consists of a stack of individual boxes. Two major difference between the Warré and the Langstroth hive is the smaller size, and lack of removable frames. Instead of frames, the Warré hive uses top bars, which are nailed in place and never removed.

Another aspect of managing a Warre Hive is that instead of placing new boxes on top of the hive like a Langstroth, you lift the entire hive and place new boxes on bottom. The reason for this is to allow the bees to build comb from top to bottom like they would in a natural tree cavity.

In order to keep a true Warré hive, you need to follow the management principles that Abbé Émile Warré intended for it. Abbé Émile Warré believed that the condition of the hive could be determined by observing the entrance, and never opened for inspections. If you would like to learn more about this style of beekeeping check out Abbé Émile Warré’s book “Beekeeping for All”.

2. Skeps

A skep is a coil basket traditionally constructed from straw or rope. The open end of the skep faces down, and a small opening is cut in the top for an entrance. These types of beehives are illegal in some areas, mainly because the combs are not removable. So, check your local laws before putting bees in one.

Before removable frame hives existed, many beekeepers kept their bees in skeps. Skeps are cheap and easy to make, and the bees thrive in them. The only problem with the skep beekeeping industry is that all the comb gets destroyed while harvesting the honey. Check out this series of videos showing a beekeeper keeping bees in skeps.

3. Log Hives

Humans have been keeping bees in log hives for thousands of years. Today, log hives are mainly used in developing countries. Log hives are not ideal for maintenance or honey production, because the hive needs to be completely destroyed to harvest the honey.

Log hives are found throughout the world, even in industrialized countries where resources are plentiful. These hives are mostly kept as novelties. Some beekeepers create log hives in order to provide more habit for wild honey bees.

4. Sun Hive

Made from an ingenious combination of skep baskets woven from rye straw with wooden support structures, the Sun Hive is intended to be installed at a height of at least 2.5 metres. The bees are thus in their aerial realm and fly above the heads of passing onlookers. The shape of the hive harmonises with the movement gesture of the bee colony and enables the bees to design their brood nests according to their own innate criteria.

The hive was designed by German sculptor, Guenther Mancke, and represents the fruits of many years of research into the nature of the honeybee colony. In the introduction to his book “The Sun Hive” he says: “The impetus for its development came from the need to free the bees from a principle at once earthbound and cuboid, one that goes against every law of form – we are dealing here with laws that are particular expressions of a creature’s life. There are many reasons for bees’ present-day afflictions. We can be sure, however, that one of these reasons is the fact that the creature, as a physical and ethereal entity, can no longer live its life as it is meant to. Our attempts have therefore been directed at counteracting the debilitation of the bees’ vital forces by means of those stabilising forces that are inherent in form. These latter forces act subtly in a generally therapeutic way on the living organism that is the colony, but they must be supplemented by methods of animal husbandry that abandon some of the old customs and replace them with new ones. On the one hand, the new skep we have developed allows the bee to live its life in a way that accords with its being, and on the other hand the system of movable combs offers the beekeeper the means of laying hand to the hive and taking any appropriate action that may be necessary. The Sun Hive is therefore an intermediate form between a fixed-comb hive and one with a movable comb system.”

Funded by the Erasmus+ Program of the European Union. However, European Commission and Turkish National Agency cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

Designed by Omer Mentes