The next big consideration, after finding bees, is the type of hive you’re going to use. We suggest that anyone considering keeping bees should try to see as many different hive types before making a decision about what they’re going to buy, as needs and preferences differ. Managing different types of hives in your apiary can be difficult. Problems can arise due to incompatibility between frame sizes and top/bottom bee-space hive elements. It might also be helpful to consider what other beekeepers near you are using.
To see a table of hive dimensions, click here.
The most commonly used vertical hive types in use in the UK are the National, the Langstroth, and the Smith (mostly here in Scotland).
Eight out of ten beekeepers in Aberdeen and District Beekeepers’ Association use National hives. They are square hives taking long-lugged British Standard frames and are bottom bee spaced unless modified.
Like the Nationals, Smith hives are square and with the same size brood box. The construction of the box is similar to the Langstroth with a top bee-space and short-lugged frames. They have a slightly smaller footprint than Nationals and are popular with beekeepers taking their colonies to the heather, particularly here in Scotland.
The Commercial hive is another square hive, similar to the National and the Smith, but with a larger brood area. The footprint is slightly larger than a National, but parts, such as the roof or crown boards, are interchangeable. Like the Nationals, they are bottom bee spaced hives, but use short-lugged frames.
Langstroths are the most favoured type of hive world-wide and are often the preferred hive type for commercial beekeepers because of the large choice of suppliers and competitive pricing. They are top bee-space hives taking short-lugged frames.
Designed by Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth in 1852, most other vertical hives with moveable frames are based on his original design.
The Dadant hive is a top bee-space hive similar to a Langstroth, with the same footprint, but the capacity of the brood box is larger. The Dadant shallows are often combined with Langstroth brood boxes or used on their own as a one-box hive.
The WBC (named after William Broughton Carr) is the kind of hive people often imagine at the bottom of the garden and is rather lovely. It carries National boxes and frames, but is surrounded by an outer box. It is more time-consuming to manage, but the bees are well-protected against the elements.
The Rose hive
The Rose hive is a modified National with just one size of box. The box is shallower than a National brood box, but deeper than a National shallow.
The Warré is also a hive with only one box size. It was designed by Abbé Émile Warré as a cheap and easy hive to construct for people on limited incomes. He considered the chosen size of the boxes (30cm x 30cm) to be the most bee-friendly choice. It can be used with frames or only with top bars.
The advantage of horizontal hives is that you don’t have to lift boxes to see the bees. This is particularly important and helpful for people with bad backs. The disadvantage is that they are more difficult to move, and extracting honey may also be more difficult.
The Long Deep hive
This is like a vertical hive but with the boxes side-by-side to form one long deep hive. The Dartington hive is an example of a long deep hive. They can carry the same size frames as vertical hives and therefore may be compatible with some vertical hives.
Top Bar hives
Top Bar hives are trough-shaped. The idea is that the shape easily accommodates the natural catenary curve of a honeycomb. As the name indicates, there are no frames – only top bars, and the bees draw out their combs from that. Newly drawn-out comb is delicate and should therefore be handled with great care, or you’ll end up with a lot of angry bees.
Polystyrene hives and other insulated hives
Some hive types are available in high density polystyrene. They provide the bees with a better insulated, more stable environment that they can control throughout the year, and in which they generally fare better than in wooden hives.
National poly hives come in two sizes – small ones with the outside dimensions the same as a wooden hive (for example, Swienty, Abelo, Paradise Bee Box) or large ones with the inside dimensions the same as a wooden hive (for example, Paynes, Maisemore, Bee Hive Supplies).
Unless you start off with polystyrene hives, it is worth considering their compatibility with your existing wooden hives. Most makes are compatible, although the hive may look awkward when using wood and poly together.
Below left: a large poly hive (BHS) and wood; and right: a small poly hive (Swienty) and wood.
The only kind of polystyrene hive that is not compatible with wood, or any of the other poly hives, is a hive with a raised lip, for example, Paradise Bee Box hives.
The bee space in Paradise Bee Boxes is also a problem as it is divided between the top and bottom of the boxes and therefore incompatible with other National hives. The Bee Boxes – both National and Langstroth are, however, good sturdy hives and very secure when they have to be moved.
Below left: Bee Box Langstroth shallows used as a one-box system; and right: National Bee Box.
One other type of insulated hive worth mentioning is the double-walled, plastic Beehaus supplied by Omlet which is an insulated version of a long deep hive.
There are other plastic and polystyrene hives on the market, and the list of suppliers will continue to grow as they become more popular.