With the rise of recreational beekeeping, a lot of people are faced with this incredibly deep and detailed hobby. One of the first things that you will have to consider before getting your own beehive is its type. Usually, different beehives vary in terms of their popularity based on your region. Still, there are some universal pros and cons to each type that have to be discussed before you move forward with your project.

Some of the most common types of beehives that we will take a look at in this article are:

  • Langstroth Hives
  • Top Bar Hives
  • Warré Hives
  • Hex Hives
  • Dome Hives
  • Golden Hives

Before we dive deeper into this topic, make sure you check out my guide on some of the best beekeeping start kits on today’s market. There, I’ve reviewed some amazing starter packs and have given you a list of all the necessary tools to start caring for a beehive in your backyard! Now, let’s jump straight into this topic!

Langstroth Hives

Colourful beehives

One of the first beehives that became famous worldwide is the Langstroth. It came into existence in the middle of the 19th century thanks to its inventor – Rev. Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth. For the past 160 years, this particular design has gone through a couple of mid-life facelifts. Still, it ultimately keeps its original idea and design cues which were the so-called “bee-space” and stackable, expandable design.

The bee space refers to the space between all the vertically stacked frames inside the Langstroth hive. Typically, manufacturers leave anywhere from 1/4 tp 3/8 inches of distance between the individual frames. Bees generally avoid filling up that gap with either propolis or comb, making it much more convenient for the beekeeper to take the frames out and extract the honey. Curiously enough, the bee space, first patented by Rev. Langstroth is now a gold standard for any type of beehive out there.

Another obvious advantage of this type of beehive is that it is stackable. This gives beekeepers plenty of room to expand on their beehives as they grow. Making the hive bigger doesn’t necessarily make it harder to maintain which is one of the main reasons these models are so famous and universally approved. The dimensions of Langstroth hives are also a standard in the industry, allowing everyone to basically make universal accessories or stackable parts that work on all Langstroth hives across the globe.

The dimensions of these hives are also available online making them even more accessible for people that prefer building their own hives. Now, let’s sum up some of the most important pros and cons of the Langstroth hives:

Pros

  • Relatively affordable
  • Hives’ parts stack universally with each other
  • Dimensions are a worldwide standard
  • Easy to access the frames
  • Not too hard to make one on your own
  • Can be expanded as your colony grows

Cons

  • Hive inspections can be difficult due to larger size
  • Boxes can get very heavy
  • You will need storage space for the unused boxes

Top Bar Hives

Handmade kenyan top bar beehive

Even though Top Bar Hives (or TBHs) became famous relatively sooner compared to Warrés and Langstroths, they are the oldest hive type known to us. Also, they are perhaps the favorite hive of the beginner beekeeper. Why is that, you ask? Well, first of all, these hives come at a very convenient height, allowing you to easily work on them. Additionally, these hives aren’t upgradable or stackable and you won’t have to lift them which makes them easier to maintain compared to the tower-like heavy Langstroths.

Inside the Top Bar Hive, you will again find vertically oriented wooden bars. These bars are easy to get in and out and each one of them has a starter strip from which the bees can begin building the comb. They also usually come without a foundation which makes them appropriate for people that prefer this way of beekeeping. As with Langstroth hives, these are super easy to build on your own if you know your way around woodworking.

Pros

  • No heavy lifting needed
  • Foundationless beekeeping
  • No wooden frames that need assembling
  • Looks great
  • Time-tested hive
  • Great for people that prefer pollination rather than honey production

Cons

  • You can’t use a centrifugal honey extractor to remove the honey form the comb
  • The bees will have to make a new comb each year
  • These types of hives require frequent inspections to check and prevent swarming

Warré Hives

Warré hives

The Warré hive became famous in the 1950s by its inventor Emile Warré. It features a top bar design but unlike regular (horizontal) top bar hives, this one is a vertical top bar hive. The architecture here is comprised of identically sized boxes stacked on top of each other, often without frames. There are also no foundation sheets and the bees build their comb from the top bars in each hive.

One thing that most beekeepers do with their Warré hives is stack beneath the first box. This is rather different, as most other hives are stacked vertically from the bottom up. These are stacked from the top down in order to mimic the natural way bees build their hives in nature. Thanks to the Warré hive being generally smaller than the Langstroth, it is also lighter and easier to manage.

Another peculiar characteristic of these hives is that they often include a so-called “quilt box”. This box is meant for the moisture and temperature control of the beehive. It typically has a moisture-absorbing material that will keep most of the condensation from the bees in check. This is important because there can be quite a lot of condensation when the colder ambient air meets the warmth of the winter cluster.

Pros

  • Typically light
  • Allows for vertical stacking
  • Foundationless beekeeping
  • Doesn’t require frequent checks
  • Has a top “quilt” box that controls moisture and temperature
  • Authentic looks
  • Easy to manage
  • Allows bees to build from the top down, as they do in nature

Cons

  • The process of stacking beneath the original brood box isn’t very easy
  • The smaller boxes typically mean that you will have less honey come harvest
  • Lacks a full-frame
  • They aren’t as common and are therefore harder to find parts for (or advice from local beekeepers)

Hex Hives

bees entering a beehive

Hex hives are surely one of the most interesting types out there. As their name suggests, they are hexagonal in shape and look much better than the other boxy hives. They were invented by Willow Hankinson in Australia and are quickly gaining popularity for their aesthetic (and a few other) advantages. As all other hives, they use vertically stacked frames. However, in the gaps left on both sides, they used three-sided frames and top bars to fill those spots.

Unlike Warres and other top-bar hives, you can extract the honey from a hex hive with a centrifugal extractor. Additionally, the bees inside are encouraged to build natural combs and the spacious interior allows the queen to access all parts of the hive easily. This interior design also facilitates airflow in the hive, preventing cold spots. By far, one of the biggest advantages of this hive is its craftsmanship and the fact that these are often hand-built from premium materials. That, however, bulks up the price by quite a bit.

Pros

  • The shape allows for better air circulation
  • The queen has access to all parts of the hive
  • The honey can be extracted using a centrigucal extractor
  • Premium build quality
  • Beautiful looking
  • A good solution for natural beekeeping

Cons

  • Pest control is difficult due to the shape
  • Typically quite expensive
  • Most internal parts have to have a snug fit otherwise bees will start filling gaps with wax and propolis
  • They are heavy
  • Access to the frames requires taking the roof off

Dome Hives

Lately, the term “bee-centric” is being used more and more. The reason for that is because people also wanted to have a hive that simply catered to bees’ needs without wanting anything in return. This is where Dome Hives came in. They are inspired by the German Sun Hive and feature a curved oval shape with a top-bar design. They are often hung from trees or placed on tripods in the yard.

These hives are hand-crafted just like the Hex Hives and for that reason, they don’t come cheap. They typically have around 10 top bars some of which are purely meant for ventilation. The shape of the hive encourages bees to build and maintain a healthy colony. Thanks to the smooth interior surface, there is little to no room for pests to hide in. Just like in the Hex Hive, the queen is free to reach all parts of the hive easily. Inspection is also relatively easy and you just need to remove the bottom part to take a look inside. To remove the top bars and the bees’ comb, you can remove the whole top section of the hive.

Pros

  • Bee-centric design
  • Pest-resistant interior
  • Typically houses around 10 top bars
  • Promotes a healthy colony
  • The queen has access to all parts
  • Both the bottom and the top can be removed for inspection and taking the combs out

Cons

  • They are expensive
  • Culling older brood combs isn’t easy

Other Beehives Used Around The World

Apart from the hives that we just went through, there are also a few others that are also quite interesting and are used by beekeepers around the world. These are:

  • Golden hive (one-room hive)
  • Kenyan top bar hive
  • Langstroth variations

The golden hive (or Einraumbeute) is a hive predominantly used in Europe. It is loved for its large and deep frames which can house honey, pollen, and brood at the same time. The hive gets its name since it is built using the golden ratio, also known as the golden mean.

The Kenyan top bar hive is very similar to regular TBHs. However, it is bigger and much easier to make thanks to its rough and imperfect nature. It also allows inspection from the side and you can easily extract the honey from the sidebars, away from the nest. One of its biggest advantages, though, is that the roof isn’t taken off which keeps the bees relaxed, removing the need for a smoke.

In Europe, there are quite a lot of Langstroth variations which all come with slight modifications. They are often named after their creator, most of them coming from England or France. Some of the most common examples for such hives are the National Hive, the WBC Hive, the Dadant hive, and the Smith hive.

If you’re new to beekeeping and want to learn all the do’s and don’ts, I highly recommend checking out my beginner’s guide to beekeeping!

Frequently Asked Questions

How far should your beehives be from your house?

Depending on the size of your yard, you might want to put the beehives as far away from your house as possible. Also, take your neighbors into consideration. Placing your beehives directly on the property line might not be a great idea, so try having at least 10 yards between the property line and your beehives.

How many beehives should I start with?

As a beginner, you should always try starting with at least 2 beehives. The reason for that is because then you can compare those two beehives to one another and will be able to react accordingly. One very good example of the benefits of having two hives is when you lose one of the hives’ queens. You can simply place a frame with young larvae from the other hive into your queenless one and let the bees raise a new queen.

Can I mow around my beehives?

Generally, you can safely mow right up to your beehives. However, this is the best time to be observing the bees’ behavior and read into it. If your bees begin getting curious when you’re around 10 feet away from the hive, it might be wise to back off. However, if they don’t seem to mind the mower, you pretty much have their green light to continue.

Should you place your hives in shade or sun?

In most cases, you want to put the beehive under the morning sun. This will make them wake up earlier and make them go to work. In the northern states, you can place beehives under the full-day sun, while in the South, it might be wise to have your beehives under constant shade or at least mixed shade.

Final Words

Some of the most common types of beehives you can start with as a beginner are the Langstroth hive, top bar hive, Warré hive, and the long horizontal hive. These all have their own sets of pros and cons and will cater to the different needs of beekeepers. Additionally, there are quite a few other types that are worth mentioning, such as the Hex, Dome, and Golden hives. While these aren’t as popular in the United States, they are just as practical and are quite the conversation starter between your beekeeping friends!