The Different Types Of Beehives: Choose The Right Hive

One of the initial considerations in my journey to becoming a beekeeper was the different types of beehives available. It's essential to understand their differences and decide which one best suits your specific needs as a beekeeper.

David Horstmann

— 17 min read

Beginner friendly Beehives - Dadant Beehives are good beginner beekeepers

One of the initial considerations in my journey to becoming a beekeeper was the different types of beehives available. The beehive is not only the residence for my bees. It’s far more than that. When choosing a beehive, I had various considerations to ponder.

Is the beehive suitable for beginners? Do I need more experience to manage it effectively? Does the beehive offer a convenient height for my inspection visits? Am I aiming to cultivate a large bee colony with a subsequently big honey yield? Or am I fine with a smaller hive with less activity?

In this article, I aim to provide valuable insights that can help aspiring beekeepers to make an informed choice when looking into different types of beehives. With many different types of beehives available, it’s essential to understand their differences. Only then can you decide which one best suits your specific needs as a beekeeper.

We’ll look at the following different types of beehives:

  • Traditional Beehives
  • Langstroth
  • Dadant
  • Top Bar
  • Warré
  • Flow Hive
  • Plastic Beehives

A short History of Beehives

Beekeeping, or apiculture, has a deep-rooted history that spans back thousands of years. Already the first prehistoric humans might have collected honey from wild bees. Evidence of beekeeping dates asw far back as ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. As today, these early societies kept bees for honey production, beeswax, and other products.

Throughout the ages, beekeeping techniques have advanced and diversified. A transformative moment for example was the introduction of movable frame hives. They significantly improved hive management and the efficiency of honey extraction.

The History of Beekeeping

Today, beekeeping is much easier than in the early days. There’s a multitude of different beehive and beekeeping techniques to choose from. But for the novice beekeeper, the multitude of options might be a bit overwhelming at first.

Considerations when exploring different Types of Beehives

As a new beekeeper (or a seasoned beekeeper who wants a breath of fresh air), it’s important to consider several factors when looking into different types of beehives. These include:

  1. Budget: Some beehive types are more expensive than others.
  2. Experience level: Starting out with a beehive that allows easy access for expansion and inspection might facilitate the beekeeping processes
  3. Honey production: Consider whether high honey yields are your priority or not. Depending on your choice of beehive, your honey harvest might be bigger or smaller.
  4. Beekeeping goals: Decide if your primary focus is honey production, production of colonies, or creating a more natural habitat for your bees. There’s lots of different approaches to beekeeping out there for you to explore and experiment with.
  5. Location: Some beehive types may work better in certain environments or climates.

Now, let’s deep dive into a couple of different types of beehives that there are out there. I’ll focus on the ones I personally like or find interesting.

Different Types of Beehives:
Traditional Beehives

Since ancient times, different types of beehives have been used by many different civilizations all around the globe. Mud and clay hives, skeps and log hives have been used by beekeepers for thousands of years. Today, the legacy of traditional beekeeping endures. Enthusiast continue to preserve and practice this old art.

If you want to engage in these century old practices, I can recommend you gain a fair bit of beekeeping experience. You’ll need a deeper knowledge about the intricacies of bees and their colony.

Mud and Clay Hives

In ancient Egypt and all around the eastern Mediterranean for example, baked cylinders of clay were and are used for beekeeping. Crafted from locally sourced materials, the construction of these hives involves mud, clay and sometimes straw. The domes and cylinders are shaped by hand and then baked, forming sturdy and well-insulated structures for the bees to reside in.

Mud and Clay Beehives

Skeps

Skeps are typically made of straw or wicker and shaped like a dome, as are the mud and clay hives. Dating back centuries, they are one of the earliest types of beehives. They are a simple yet effective design that consists of a single, continuous coil that forms the beehives’ walls. A small aperture serves as the primary access points for the bee colonies that reside in the skeps.

Traditional Skep Beehive

Log Hives

Log hives are made from hollowed-out logs. While these traditional beehives served their purpose and are very close to the bees nature, they have some drawbacks, such as difficulty in inspecting and maintaining the bee colonies.

A Log Beehive

The Concept of Bee Space

Before we look at the more modern varieties of different beehives, we need to have a look into the concept of bee space. Bee space is the space between honeycombs. Science has shown that anything from 3/8” to ¼” between their honeycomb is acceptable for them. Bees are creatures of immense precision. They will always try to make the best of the space they have. They will not tolerate any space between their honeycombs that outside of this range.

If the bee space is too narrow, the bees will close the gap with propolis. If the gap becomes too wide, the bees will build additional honeycomb to compensate for the space. Bees will always bring the gaps between the honeycomb back to the precise space they desire. One of the first beehives that included this concept of bee space was the Langstroth beehive.

Different Types of Beehives:
The Langstroth Hive

The Langstroth hive is one of the most popular types of beehives used around the world, especially in North America and Australia. It has been around for a long, long time. Patented by Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth in the mid-1800s, its primary characteristic is its adherence to the concept of “bee space”.

The Characteristics of the Langstroth Hive

The Langstroth system was a different kind of beehive at the time because it respected the bee space. A typical Langstroth hive consists of supers, which are boxes containing removable frames. Each super holds 8-10 frames, with a 5/16 or 3/8” space separating each frame and the frames from other parts of the hive. This adds greatly to the beginner friendliness, as the boxes and frames can be easily moved, stacked, replaced and added.

There’s multiple different types of Langstroth beehives which slightly vary depending on the manufacturer, type of material, or region you’re at:

TypeDepthFrame lengthFrame depthFrame width
Jumbo/Dadant (Continental) body294 millimeters (11.6 in)19 inches (480 mm)285 millimeters (11.2 in)1+38 inches (35 mm)
Deep body9+916 inches (243 mm)19 inches (480 mm)9+18 inches (230 mm)1+38 inches (35 mm)
Medium (Illinois) body/super6+58 inches (170 mm)19 inches (480 mm)6+14 inches (160 mm)1+38 inches (35 mm)
Shallow Super5+34 inches (150 mm)19 inches (480 mm)5+38 inches (140 mm)1+38 inches (35 mm)
Comb super4+34 inches (120 mm)19 inches (480 mm)4+18 inches (100 mm)1+38 inches (35 mm)

Advantages of the Langstroth Hive:

  • Standardized dimensions: This helps in easy assembly, compatibility between different manufacturers, and interchangeability of parts.
  • Bee space: As mentioned, the hive is designed to maintain optimal gaps, which allows bees to move freely between the combs.
  • Modularity: The hive comprises multiple boxes that can be added or removed as needed for honey production and colony growth.

Disadvantages of the Langstroth Hive:

  • Heavy Lifiting: The weight of full boxes of Langstroth may range from 30-100 pounds, so prepare for some heavy lifting.
  • Large storage room: Since the Langstroth boxes are quite large, you might need additional storage room

Different Types of Beehives:
The Dadant Hive

Dadant it is a modification of the Langstroth beehive. The Dadant beehive was introduced by Charles Dadant who introduced his improvements of the Langstroth design to France and therefore Europe. He used slightly larger frames than those of Lorenzo Langstroth’s design. To this day, his “Dadant-Blatt” design is the most used here in Europe.

In my beekeeping course, the Dadant beehive got recommended because of its ease of use, large colonies (up to 60’000 bees live in a Dadant beehive), potential honey yield, and beginner friendliness.

Dadant Characteristics

At the heart of the Dadant hive is its modular design, which allows for easy expansion and management. Here are some of the key features that make the Dadant hive stand out:

Advantages of the Dadant Hive:

  • Spacious Brood Chamber: The Dadant hive has a larger brood chamber compared to other hive designs like the Langstroth, which enables the queen to lay more eggs, leading to a stronger colony.
  • Versatile Frames: Dadant hives can accommodate both standard deep frames and shallower frames, making them a versatile choice for managing brood and honey production.
  • Flexibility: The Dadant beehive allows you to adapt your setup for specific needs, since it is compatible with various frame sizes.
  • Large Honey Yield: Dadant can produce up to 40lbs (20kg) of honey per colony, honey super (part of the bee hive where the bees store their honey), and harvest

Disadvantages of the Dadant Hive:

  • Heavy Lifiting: Comparte to the boxes of Langstroth the Dadant boxes are even heavier when filled with bees, brood, and honey
  • Large Storage Room: Same as with Langstroth, you may need a lot of storage space when you have a lot of colonies in Dadant boxes

In my beekeeping operations, I use Dadant boxes exclusively. I like them because they are versatile, yet pleasing. Hive management is easy and the colonies and honey yield can be large – Dadant beehives are perfect for beginner beekeepers.

Different Types of Beehives:
The Top Bar Hive

Top bar hives are unique, as they encourage natural comb building, which is better for the bees› health and results in more natural honey and wax production. They are believed to originate in Africa. Top bar hives don’t use pre-made frames or foundation, instead, they have horizontal bars lined across the top. The bees can build their comb down freely from these bars.

Advantages of the Top Bar Hive:

  • No heavy Lifting: A single frame with comb weighs only around 8lbs, compared to the 30-100lbs of a Langstroth or Dadant hive
  • Natural Comb: The bee colony can build their comb freely, adding to the overall health of the colony
  • Simple Design: All you need is right there in one box – no additional boxes are required

Disadvantages of the Top Bar Hive:

  • Lower Honey Yield: If you’re focused on honey production, Top Bar hives might not be(e) for you
  • Fragility: Natural honey comb that is not supported by a frame is very, very fragile

I have not tried Top bar beekeeping myself, but I find the challenge hive highly intriguing. I’m a fan of minimal intrusion when looking after my bees. The design of the Top Bar hive lets the bees work at their own natural pace, doing what they do best – looking after themselves.

Different Types of Beehives:
The Warré Hive

The Warré hive, also known as the «People’s hive,» was designed by French monk Abbé Émile Warré with a focus on being as close to the bee’s nature as possible. Just like the top bar hive, Warré hives allow bees to build their own comb. This bee-friendly approach results in minimal intrusion and disturbance by the beekeeper.

The Warré hive is built in a way that bees are able to create their own natural comb from top bars, thus staying true to their natural instincts. This approach reduces the stress on the bees from excessive human intervention and maintenance.

The design of the Warré hive accommodates the expansion of the colony with the addition of brood boxes and promotes healthier bees and bigger colonies. The Warré hive provides a natural approach to beekeeping, letting bees thrive in an environment that closely resembles their natural habitat.

Advantages of the Warré Hive:

  • Natural Comb: Just like top bar hives, this type of beekeeping is very bee-friendly, as the bees can build their own natural comb at their own pace
  • Low Intervention: You’ll inspect a Warré hive less frequently than different types of beehives, which reduces stress for the bees and creating a more natural hive environment
  • Vertical Expansion: While for example a Top Bar Hive cannot be expanded you can add supers and additional boxes to your Warré beehive

Disadvantages of the Warré Hive:

  • Limited Visibility: It’s more challenging to inspect a Warré beehive compared to its counterparts
  • Fragility: As mentioned before, natural honeycomb is very fragile, so very careful handling is of the outmost importance
  • Limited Honey Yield: Harvesting honey from natural honeycomb is less convenient than other forms of beekeeping

Different Types of Beehives:
The Flow Hive

An interesting innovation in beekeeping is called the Flow Hive. The Flow Hive tries to revolutionize the way honey is collected from your bee colony. Instead of the traditional methods that involve opening the hive, removing the frames of honeycomb, the Flow Hive simplifies the process.

The process is described as follows on Flow Hive’s homepage:

Harvesting Honey has never been easier!

Tapping honey straight from the hive without opening it means harvesting is gentler and easier – no more heavy lifting, expensive processing equipment or hours of hot, sticky work.

Watch as pure, fresh honey flows right out of the hive and into your jar. No mess, no fuss.

www.honeyflow.com

The Flow Hive’s patented mechanism allows a tube to be inserted into one end of the honey super. By inserting a flow key and turning it 90°, the cells split, causing the honey to flow into a waiting honey jar which can be placed right behind the Flow Hive. This innovative design ultimately reduces disturbance to the bees and provides convenience for beekeepers.

Examining the Popularity and Impact of the Flow Hive

One of the main advantages is the ease of honey extraction. The innovative process eliminates the need for traditional frame removal, making the honey harvest more efficient.

While some beekeepers argue that the Flow Hive might be overpriced, others believe that the benefits and convenience it offers are worth the investment. Regardless of the debates, it’s clear that the Flow Hive has transformed the beekeeping landscape in its own way and provided new methods for honey collection that minimize the disturbance to the bees.

My two cents on the Flow Hive

I doubt that the viewing window replaces regular inspections. You still want to make sure that your hives are happy and healthy, that your Queen Bee is in good shaped and want to control your swarming activity. You’d still need to open your Flow Hive every once in a while. But for honey extraction, the Flow Hive seems to be a solid option.

You can extract your honey with minimal intrusion compared to different types of beehives. At the same time, a large amount of honey will stay back for the bees. I doubt that the yield will be great, but the bees will profit from the leftovers. A Flow Hive? Why not? No harm in trying.

Advantages of the Flow Hive:

  • Simplified Honey Extraction: Put a jar behind the hive, open the valve – done.
  • Reduced Disturbance: You don’t have to open your colonies for the honey extraction, which reduces the amount of stress for your bees
  • Educational Value: Being able to see and feel what’s going on in your colonies provides a lot of educational values for both you and interested people that want to look over your shoulder

Disadvantages of the Flow Hive:

  • Initial Cost: Compared to traditional hives, a Flow Hive is much more expensive
  • Risk of Crystallized Honey: If your honey crystallizes in the Flow Frames, good luck with extracting it!
  • Limited Brood Inspection: The focus on honey extraction might divert your attention away from what’s just as if not even more important: The health of your colony and regular inspections

Different Types of Beehives:
The Plastic Hive

Plastic beehives are a relatively new, durable, and lightweight alternative to traditional beehives. They are typically constructed from high-density polyethylene, which makes them more resistant and to decay. Being very lightweight, most of them resemble the typical Langstroth hive configuration with removable frames for inspection and honey harvest.

Cleaning and maintenance of Plastic Beehives is relatively easy due to the smooth surface of the plastic. Replacement parts can be easily ordered online and are cheap. However, some beekeepers reported problems with ventilation and insulation. Also, the plastic hives do not provide the same natural properties as wood.

Advantages of Plastic Beehives:

  • Durability: If they are not exposed to strong UV, plastic beehives are resistant to decay and weather damage
  • Lightweight: Compared to traditional wood hives, plastic hives are much less heavy
  • Cost Effectiveness: When considering the ease of production and longevity, plastic hives might be a cost effective solution to traditional types of beehives

Disadvantages of Plastic Beehives:

  • Ventilation and Insulation: There might be issues with overheating and moisture-related issues. Plastic does not “breathe” as well as wood
  • Limited Tradition: If you are a beekeeper that values aesthetics and feel, plastic beehives might not be for you
  • Environmental Impact: The impact of plastic on the environment is well-known today

My Opinion on Plastic Beehives

I personally would not choose a plastic beehive, as it moves beekeeping away from its natural origin. Plastic beehives have an “industrial feel” to me compared to different types of wooden beehives. For centuries, bees have resided in tree trunks and other natural structures, so why change that? Also, the less plastic we use, the better!

Direct Comparison of different Types of Beehives

Each of the different types of beehives has its own set of advantages and challenges, depending on your experience level, budget, and goals. To have all the pros and cons in one spot, I have put together a table as a summary of all the details above.

Here is a quick summary in a table format to help you compare:

Beehive TypeProsCons
TraditionalHistoric significance and cultural value, natural comb buildingLimited accessibility for inspection, challenging honey extraction
LangstrothEase of management and inspection, modular expansion high honey productionHeavy lifting, potential stress of bees during inspection
DadantEase of management and inspection, modular expansion, high honey production, larger frames for both colony and honeyHeavy lifting, potential stress of bees during inspection
Top BarAffordable, easy maintenanceLower honey production, challenging for beginners
WarréVery simple design, natural comb building, less invasive inspectionsLower honey production, challenging for beginners, limited visibility
Flow HiveEasy honey harvesting, less stress for beesHigher cost, criticism from traditional beekeepers
PlasticDurable and weather resistant, lightweight, easy to handleInsulation and ventilation problems, environmental issues

Conclusion

As a beekeeper, you’ll have to figure out which style suits your needs the best. There’s a whole lot of factors to consider. Each of the different types of beehives has its unique characteristics and caters to specific beekeeping goals.

I have said it and I will say it again: You will acquire the most valuable knowledge by engaging with your local beekeeping community, or enrolling in a beekeeping course. It’s through as much hands-on practical experience as possible that one become a successful beekeeper

In the end, every beekeeper has unique preferences and goals. For me, it was important to strike a balance between honey production, ease of maintenance, and natural beekeeping practices, which led me to choose the Dadant beehives for my bee colonies. I hope that sharing my experience can help you in making an informed decision on which beehive is right for you. Happy beekeeping!