Choosing a hive can seem like an overwhelming task, but it doesn't have to be. It is something you want to give a lot of thought to, as once you commit to a type of hive, you'll have invested money and a lot of learning into that method of beekeeping. So take your time, read up, and talk to people to get as much information as you can. And start small, so if you change your mind, you won't have invested too much money.
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Ten-Frame Langstroth Hive
The stacked white boxes that most people probably envision when they think of beekeeping are called Langstroth hives. These boxes stack together to form the hive. The bees build a brood nest at the bottom and fill the top boxes with honey.
- Most common system and considered the universal beekeeping standard
- Most "old-school" beekeepers and commercial beekeepers in the US use it
- Supplies and support are easy to find
- Bulky, end up storing extra parts elsewhere
- Heavy, each frame can weigh... around 60 pounds
- Artificial cell size may contribute to health issues
- Have to smoke bees to calm them enough to work with them
- More disruptive to hive to work with them
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Eight Frame Langstroth Hive
Eight frame hives work just like the ten-frame Langstroth hives in terms of structure but each box is slightly smaller, holding only eight frames instead of ten. What does this mean? When you lift a medium super full of honey, it will weigh only about 30 pounds instead of 60 pounds for a ten-frame medium super.
- Same benefits as a ten-frame Langstroth hive, familiar setup as far as boxes and frames
- Lighter to work with
- Not interchangeable with ten-frame equipment
- Not standard, still... relatively uncommon
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Top-bar hives are becoming more popular with backyard enthusiasts and sustainable farmers. Instead of setting up the hive vertically, they are set up horizontally, so that the honey is at the front and the brood nest is at the back.
- Allows the bees to make natural cell sizes
- Light and easy to work with
- Less disruptive to bees, you don't need smoke or full bee suit
- Can be worked more easily by people with disabilities
- Bees can die in cold winters
- Combs can break off or form improperly
- May... not have local support for this type of beekeeping
- Can have poor ventilation or other problems if not built properly
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A Warré hive uses small, square hive bodies and top bars with no frames or foundation. It also uses a unique style of hive cover: a quilt and a vented, angled roof. This is supposed to provide superior moisture management as the sawdust-filled quilt absorbs moisture that can then escape via the roof.
Warré hives are designed for minimal inspections by the beekeeper. You cannot remove frames in a traditional Warré hive because the bees will build comb and attach it to the inside of the hive walls.... The cavity size is meant to allow the bees to consume their winter stores more efficiently and the overall design is meant to keep them warmer in cold climates.
Although these hives are not as common as Langstroth or even top-bar hives, they are experiencing a small resurgence in popularity, especially among hobbyist beekeepers who want to do things in a more "natural" way.
- Minimal inspections required
- Foundationless system is more natural for bees
- Size and shape of hive is more natural for bees, providing better overwintering and use of stores
- Can't remove top bars for inspection
- Illegal in some states (some state laws require movable comb hives)
- Uncommon system means not a lot of beekeepers know how to manage it
- Not interchangeable with standard equipment