At Ole Bearz Bees, I am often asked “What kind of beehive is best?” or “What kinds of hives are there?” There are many different types of hives used throughout the world, but I will discuss the most common in Michigan. The styles of hives I maintain in both the Ole Bearz Bees Apiary, and the Dahlem Environmental Education Center, are Langstroth. I do utilize the Kenyan Top Bar Hive at the Ole Bearz Bees Apiary as well.
Langstroth Hive-The Langstroth hive was developed by Rev. L.L Langstroth, who was a minister, but also loved the honey bee. He did vast amounts of study on the concept of bee space which resulted in the more standardized use of a removable frame. The Langstroth design utilizes a 19 inch top bar the will fit into a box that is 19 ⅞ inches long. There are various depths of the frame, but the top-bar length is standard. There are deep boxes, which are 9 5/8 inch deep and hold a frame 9 ¼ inch deep. Medium deep boxes are 6 ⅝ inches deep and hold a frame 6 ¼ inch deep. Sometimes they are also called Illinois or Western hive boxes. Shallow boxes are 5 11/16 inch or 5 ¾ deep and hold frames that are 5 ½ inch deep and are also called honey supers. Supers are usually any hive body placed above the brood box and are used for storing honey. The width of the hive body boxes are a standard 10 frame wide or 8 frame wide. The traditional set up for a Langstroth hive is two deep boxes for brood, a medium or two for or shallow bodies are placed above the brood nest for honey storage. At Ole Bearz Bees, I utilize all 8 frame wide medium boxes. I utilize this method because it allows me to have all of my equipment standardized. I can pull a frame from anywhere and place it elsewhere as needed. Sometimes I may need brood, eggs or food from one place and put it in another place or even another hive all together. They also weigh less and that helps me as well. Bear in mind, a full deep box will weigh approximately 80-90 lbs. A full medium box will weigh approximately 60-70 lbs. A shallow box will weigh approximately 50-60 lbs. Please keep in mind that you will be moving these mostly in the very hot summer and each hive will have multiple boxes, it’s up to the individual how much weight they want to handle. The honey is harvested most commonly, by using an extractor. The “crush and strain” method can also be used with foundationless comb. Foundation can also be scraped with a putty knife or an uncapping knife and gravity will drain the honey from the comb. Foundationless comb can also be used for “cut comb” honey, basically large squares of comb is cut containing its honey.
Kenyan Top-Bar Hive-The top bar hive is basically a horizontal hive which utilizes only the top bar for bees to attach their comb. The hive body itself usually ranges from 4-5 feet in length. In my region, I build my top-bar hives out of 2 inch lumber. The hives I currently have, are red oak, but that’s simply because I had a huge old log I took to the local sawmill. Because of the cold winters in Michigan, I would highly suggest 2 inch, or as close as you can get to it, for the insulative value. I currently have one top bar hive which is a 4 winter survivor hive and I treat the swarms from that hive like gold! Top-bar, or horizontal hives, are thought to have developed in Greece and then moved to other places. The horizontal hive has also been used in European countries for centuries. The Kenyan Top-Bar was developed for the hot climate originally. One of the benefits of the top bar hive is the ease of working the hive. Each top bar is removed as needed, there is no need to move an entire box. Many people who are not able to manage the weights of heavy hive boxes find the top bar hive an excellent option. The bees are also able to build the comb to the size they prefer, also known as “natural comb”. There are some folks who have modified the top bar hive to take standard frames, these hives are also known as Tanzanian Top Bar Hives. A Langstroth hive can also built as a horizontal hive and allows for less weight to manage and the benefit of using foundation if desired. The honey is harvested from a Top-Bar hive by using the “crush and strain” method. While some see this as a detriment given the comb is crushed to get the honey, others see it as a benefit as the comb is regularly replaced. Each beekeeper will need to decide the method they prefer. The comb from a top bar hive can be treated the same as foundationless comb and can be used for “cut comb” honey, basically large squares of comb is cut containing its honey. The Top-Bar Hive does require regular maintenance as “cross-combing” can be a real problem and if it isn’t corrected quickly, each following comb will also be “cross combed”. Sometimes a great deal of comb will need to be removed to correct the problem.
Warre’ Hive-The Warre’ hive was developed by French Monk Abbe’ Emile Warre”, during his designing of his hive, he worked with more than 300+ hives and hive designs. During his quest for what we now know as the Warre’ hive, he wrote a book called Beekeeping for All. This hive is considered to be a minimally invasive hive to use. The hive expansion is achieved by adding boxes to the bottom, where Langstroth hives add boxes to the top, This promotes a continuous turn over for comb and wax as the “crush and strain” is the most common method of honey harvest for this hive as well. Cut comb is also another way to harvest honey from this hive.
As you have likely determined, the “best” hive to use is the one with which you are the most comfortable and fits best into your personal management strategy. There is an older hive called a Skep, and it is usually made of a straw basket, however it is not legal to use a Skep in the United States as the comb is not removable to allow for inspection. Some people use them for swarm catching, however there are other ways of swarm catching I prefer.