Your first honey bee hive

Your first bee hive

It's the middle of winter, and you're going to keep bees next year! Congratulations, it's a wonderful hobby. If you're not absolutely certain what you're doing, you've come to the right place, as I'm going to be writing about some of the decisions in front of you.

The first two decisions you have to make are what you're keeping your bees in, and how you are going to get the bees. The answer to the second question is dependent on your answer to the first.

There are three main types of equipment that almost all modern beekeepers use to keep their bees in. They are: Langstroth, Top Bar, and Warre.

Langstroth bee hiveLangstroth hive interiorLangstroth hives are the most common equipment in use. A langstroth hive is a stack of boxes containing movable frames for comb, as well as a bottom board and a lid. They are named after Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth, who created the basic design in the 1850s.

Why keep bees in a langstroth hive? It is the most standardized equipment around, so you can buy langstroth hives from multiple online retailers, and some local beekeepers, and all of the equipment will be interchangeable. Langstroth hives also require the least internal maintenance of any hive style, as most beekeepers give the bees foundation to build the comb on, which forces them to build the comb straight. But you can also let the bees build their own comb from scratch on foundationless frames if you prefer. One big drawback of langstroth hives is that you need to be able to lift at least 60 lbs regularly, which is the weight of a single box of honey. This can be minimized a bit by using equipment that contains 8 frames rather than 10 frames, but the boxes will be heavy no matter what.

Top bar hiveTop bar hive interiorTop Bar hives are a modernized version of a design that has been used for hundreds of years, and are built to mimic a fallen tree or log. Top bar hives consist of a single rectangular box with bars over it from which the bees build their comb. Because there is no foundation to force the bees to build their comb straight, top bar hives require a little more work getting started than a langstroth hive (at least, if you want to be able to work in the hive without destroying comb and killing a lot of bees). They are popular among people who want to take a more natural approach to beekeeping, as well as those who cannot lift heavy langstroth hive boxes. Because the design is fairly simple, many people build their own top bar hives. Some online retailers are also starting to carry top bar hives.

Warre Hives are a hybrid of the langstroth and top bar styles. They are a set of stacked boxes, but use top bars rather than frames. They also tend to have thicker walls than langstroth hives, which helps to conserve heat (and energy) in the winter. Because of the thicker walls, the individual boxes tend to be smaller (but still heavy). Emile Warre designed the warre hive to be extremely low maintenance, where the hive would ideally only be opened twice a year, once to harvest and once to put the harvested boxes back on the hive. Unfortunately, mites and other modern hive health issues make that level of what was once benign neglect dangerous for the bees. Unmanaged warre hives also tend to throw large numbers of swarms, which can make neighbors anxious. Warre hives are a perfectly valid way to keep bees, but plan to manage them like a langstroth or top bar hive.

Made your decision? Now it's time to talk about how to get bees into that beautiful hive that you're about to build or buy.

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