Beekeeping is becoming more and more popular for people to try at home.
It’s been around for thousands of years all over the world, leading to hives taking many different forms. Beehives have evolved over time to make inspections and harvesting easier for the beekeeper, as well as according to different cultural practices.
Read on to learn all about different types of beehives and their benefits.
A Wide Variety of Beehives
Beehives have taken many forms over the thousands of years that people have kept domestic honey bees.
All of them were developed for different reasons and serve specific purposes. Types of beehives can just be a matter of personal preference for the beekeeper and their situation.
All the Different Types of Beehives
Backyard beekeepers have a lot of different types of beehives to choose from, whether they’re just starting out or want to try something new.
The kind of hive you choose all depends on your personal preferences and setup. It’s completely up to you which type of hive you use, and some beekeepers even have a mix in their apiaries
1. Langstroth Hive
The most common type of beehive is the Langstroth hive. Invented and patented by Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth in 1852, this method of keeping bees has stuck around for a reason.
A Langstroth hive is made up of wooden, vertically stacked boxes that come in different sizes: shallow, medium, and deep. Inside these boxes is where the frames containing brood and honey will hang. These hives are commonly built to fit either 8 or 10 frames per box.
There are a few different ways to set up a Langstroth hive. Most beekeepers will keep one or two deeps for brood and winter food storage with mediums stacked on top as honey supers. If lifting heavy objects is a problem, you can opt to use mediums for brood and shallows for honey supers.
Starting a Langstroth hive begins with a single brood box regardless of size. Inside are the frames, which can be empty (foundationless), have a plastic foundation that may be pre-waxed, or have a fully built wax foundation. The first thing the bees will need to do is build up the wax comb if you don’t provide it for them.
Once about 80% of the frames have comb on them, you can add the next box on top for them to use. It’s important to make sure they don’t run out of space in the hive.
When the bees have started to make honey, and it’s ready to harvest, this can be done in a couple of different ways. You can simply crush and strain all the comb or uncap the comb and spin the honey out in an extractor. The former is simpler but will require the bees to rebuild all that comb.
Langstroth hives also come in a horizontal orientation which is a good option for people who might have trouble lifting heavy boxes.
Try this classic Langstroth hive setup.
2. Top Bar Hive
A top bar hive, while not as common as the Langstroth, is also a very common and old design.
Like the horizontal Langstroth, it makes another good choice if you want to avoid heavy lifting.
A top bar hive is long and has a hinged top that opens along the longer side. There are no frames, just bars that the bees build comb down off of, as the name of this type of beehive indicates.
Beekeepers like this design because it can be easier to harvest honey. Just cut the comb off, crush it, and strain the wax out. The smaller pieces of comb won’t be as heavy as more traditional frames.
Top bar hives don’t have separate sections for brood and honey. Instead, Each frame is used as needed.
Inspections tend to be quicker and easier, only working a small part of the hive at once so bees may stay calmer.
One huge benefit of top bar hives is that they can have a window added. This allows you to monitor activity inside the hive without having to open it up.
Many people like the look of top bar hives in addition to how they function.
3. Warre Hive
Pronounced WAR-ray, the Warre hive was named for French monk Abbe Emile Warre who originally designed it in the 1950s.
A Warre hive is vertical like a Langstroth, but the inside is set up like a top bar hive. The bees build comb down from bars with no frames attached.
Warre hives are known for being lower maintenance and require less involvement from the beekeeper. Rather than adding new boxes or harvesting throughout the season, you simply add empty boxes on at the bottom of the stack and harvest the full boxes at the top in the fall.
Honey is harvested with the crush and strain method. These types of beehives can have windows added to them as well.
4. Insulated Hive
Insulated hives are great for dealing with extreme temperatures.
They’re the same setup as a Langstroth hive, with boxes stacked and full of frames. Instead of wood, they’re made out of plastic with filling material inside the plastic to insulate it. Insulated hives provide temperature regulation all year long and are useful for a lot of beekeepers all over the world.
This type of beehive has good air circulation, which is really important for allowing the colony to adjust as needed and to get rid of excess moisture.
Several different brands make insulated hives that do a great job of maintaining more even temperatures.
5. Scandinavian Hive
Scandanavian hives are often called “bee hotels” because of their appearance.
Meant to simplify the wax and honey harvesting process, these types of beehives were developed in the Scandinavian region.
They’re set up to look like a small cottage, with multiple individual hives in a single structure. Each one is usually painted in a different color.
In the back, the hives have small brightly-colored openings as entrances. This part of the hive doesn’t open. The front opens to a screened hive, which allows the beekeeper to monitor the bees without having to open the hive up.
To harvest from these types of beehives, simply slide honey frames out and replace them with new ones for the bees to fill.
Because of where they were originally developed, Scandinavian hives are great for cold, snowy climates at higher altitudes.
6. Skep Hive
While you might not be familiar with the skep hive, you’ve probably seen one before. This is one of the oldest types of beehives and not really in use today. In fact, they’re illegal in many places because it’s much more difficult to manage pests and diseases.
Regardless, skeps are usually what you’ll see in designs that feature beehives and they remain the most recognizable shape for beehives.
Skeps are made of straw and cone-shaped with a pointed top. The straw or dried grass is twisted into a thick rope, then coiled into the full cone shape.
They have a single opening at the bottom and are left empty inside for the bees to fill.
Historically, they were often kept in specially built inserts on the outside of people’s houses called “bee boles” to protect them from the elements.
The reason you won’t generally find beekeepers using skeps is because they can’t be inspected. While many beekeepers prefer a more hands-off approach, it’s still important to have the ability to check inside the hive periodically. Harvesting involves driving all the bees out and crushing the entire skep to squeeze out the honey, destroying the entire hive, and leaving the colony without a home.
For that classic honeybee aesthetic, check out this skep-inspired decor.
7. Observation Hive
An observation hive is not what most backyard beekeepers will opt for, but they’re still amazing.
They’re perfect for educational purposes. Made with a clear window or box inside, they allow you to watch the bees at work inside the hive. You may have seen them before at a museum or nature center.
It’s usually more hands-off and not a great option for honey harvests. They need to have access to the outdoors for the bees to forage, and closely inspecting them is nearly impossible.
Observation hives are a great option to just allow feral colonies to move into and manage themselves.
How to Decide Which Hive Is Right for You
There are infinite ways to keep honey bees, and there’s a type of beehive for each method.
Think about where you live and the type of weather you get. Do you experience super hot summers, ice-cold winters, or both? Are there predators around that you’ll need to worry about? This is the first consideration you should start to think about.
Next, decide why you want to keep bees in the first place. Are you looking for honey or wax production? Maybe you want to support pollination for your garden or community. Or perhaps you just want to learn about these incredible little insects by watching how they operate.
You’ll also want to make sure you’re able to manipulate whichever type of beehive you choose. If you have trouble with heavy lifting, that will make a big difference in which hives will work best for you.
Lastly, you can think about the aesthetics of your hive. While this should be the least important factor in your apiary, once you’ve thought through all the other important parts, you can pick a setup that looks nice to you.
This might mean opting for a Warre hive over a Langstroth or staining your wooden hives instead of painting them. It’s completely up to you!
Regardless of the type of beehive you end up picking, there are always fun ways to personalize it. Feel free to add colorful paint and designs to the outside. The bees won’t mind!
Assembled or DIY?
Most types of beehives can be purchased in pieces or fully assembled, or you can start completely from scratch.
If you’re a complete beginner and you want to make sure you have everything you need to get off to the right start, it’s worth investing in a high-quality pre-assembled hive.
Beekeeping can be an expensive hobby, and hives aren’t cheap. To save money, you can build the hive yourself. This is also great for DIY enthusiasts and beekeeping businesses.
You can also go somewhere in between, purchasing some components and constructing others yourself.
Some types of beehives, like the more common Langstroths and top bar hives, can be put together either completely on your own or fully pre-assembled and ready to use. Others, such as Scandinavian hives, tend to be more DIY in nature. You may be able to incorporate pre-made pieces from other types of beehives, but you won’t be able to purchase a single kit with everything you need ready to go.
If you’re really set on building your own hive but don’t have much experience, a top bar hive is a great place to start. They’re a bit simpler in design with fewer individual pieces, perfect for beginners.
Whether you decide to build or buy your hive, make sure you plan accordingly and do your research before you get started.
Choose the Beehive That’s Right for You
Each type of beehive has its positive and negative aspects, and it all boils down to what makes the most sense for you.
You may find yourself limited by your environment or physical abilities, but there are still options you can choose from. Narrow down your choices by your restrictions if necessary, so you’ll have more confidence in managing your colonies.
It can be fun to try out different types of beehives with different colonies and decide what you like most. Experiment with a mix of hives, noting the pros and cons of each as you inspect your hives and harvest honey.
Learn more about honey bees, what they do in their hives, and so much more on our Honey Bee Page!