Intro to Bees4Beginners

Are you interested in starting your own colony of bees? Welcome to Bees for Beginners, a series of blog posts meant to guide you through some of the need-to-know concepts of home honey harvesting. In this article we are going to look at the types of home beehives you might encounter. With a brief introduction to these beehives you will have a great start at deciding which hive style is right for you.


Langstroth Beehives 

Langstroth hives are the most common hives in use today. They are typically the image you conjure in your mind when you think of home hives. They consist of multiple layers of wooden boxes that contain anywhere from 5 to 10 frames for honeycombs.  They were invented by Lorenza Langstroth in 1852. Though they have been used for over a century, the design has remained almost unchanged. Because of this, there have been set industry standards. These standards include box sizes, thickness of wood, and the use of full frames. 

The layers of a Langstroth hive are created using deep, medium, and small boxes. The deep boxes usually make up the base of the hive and are often used for the brood. This means that the queen is housed in these boxes and the comb the bees produce is usually used to house eggs. Depending on the size of your nest, you may end up upgrading to two brood boxes stacked on top of each other.  While these boxes will not produce much honey, it is still important you inspect them to make sure your hive is thriving, and your queen is producing new eggs. These boxes, when full of brood or honey, can become quite heavy, and moving them to properly inspect your hive will require some heavy lifting. 

The medium and small boxes are usually on top of the larger ones, and this is where excess honey—honey not needed in the brood boxes—is stored. These boxes usually house 5 to 10 frames based on how much space the bees need. Just like the large boxes, you may end up adding more of these boxes as your hive grows. You can also opt to use a queen excluder to make sure your queen doesn’t have access to the smaller boxes. This will make sure your small boxes are not used for brood.


Warre Beehives

Warre hives were invented by a French monk, Abbe Emile Warre, in the 1950’s. Labeled by Warre as “the people’s hives” this hive style is hands-off and is ideal for a beekeeper who is looking for a low cost, low maintenance hive. It’s two box system allows you to monitor the amount of space your bees have used and swap your boxes from top to bottom as needed. In fact, some Warre hives come with plexiglass windows that you can use to monitor your hives without disturbing the boxes. 

Warre hives consist of three major parts-- the roof, the quilt box, and the hive boxes. The roof on Warre hives is pitched and allows rain and moisture to slide off the hive. A small gap between the roof and the quilt box allows for ventilation and lets the bees maintain in-hive temperature easier. The quilt box is a hollow square box with a piece of canvas on the bottom and filled with cedar wood shavings. This provides the bees with proper insulation and helps maintain hive temperature.  Beneath the quilt box is another piece of canvas, which keeps the bees from gluing the quilt box to the regular hive boxes with propolis.

The two bottom boxes are mainly for brood and honey production. Warre hives work by rotating the boxes between honey harvests. Once the top box is full, which you can monitor with the observation windows included in most warre hives, you harvest the box and place it at the bottom, replacing the less full bottom box.  

The boxes usually have top bars in the boxes, with a guide along them to help the bees build their comb down, but in the exact way they want it. Since Warre hives don’t use full frames like Langstroth hives, the comb can be fragile. However, the weight of the honey boxes is much lighter, only weighing 30 to 40 lbs. 


Top Bar Beehives

Top Bar Hives are the only horizontal beehive we are looking at in this post. Top Bar Hives consist of a long horizontal box that rests on a stand to keep in off the ground. It usually sits at about waist height. Top Bar Hives require no heavy lifting, as the bees build their comb on the guides of the top bar that line the inside of the hive. This means the only parts of the hive you will be handling are the roof and the top bars themselves. This means there is no heavy lifting required. However, this type of hive does require the most hands-on activity as you have to be constantly monitoring the comb's health and development, as well as watching the growth of your hive itself. 

The top bars in a Top Bar Hive do not have a frame, which means that your bees might attach a comb to the sides of the box and even to other combs as well. If this happens, harvesting your honey can be extremely disruptive to your hive as you have to cut away at the comb. This can cause stress to your bees which may have adverse effects on the overall health of your hive. This means you need to be constantly monitoring the way your bees are building their comb and discourage the building of comb in those areas.

Some Top Bar Hives include an observation window, but it is not as common as it is on Warre hives. The sloped roof and stand keep the hive off of the ground to keep moisture out of the hive, but you still need to monitor the temperature and humidity of the boxes as the Top Bar Hive does not include much in natural temperature regulation and insulation. These hives are a great option for the beekeeper who is looking for a hive that doesn’t require much heavy lifting, but is alright with a more hands-on project.

These are the three most popular types of home hives. Knowing your level of commitment and which hives will work well for you and your system is an important step in growing your own colony. This blog serves as a brief introduction to the many types of home hives available, and we strongly encourage you to do your own research. 

Our next topic will be looking at what types of bees you can purchase for your hives. See you then!


As you begin your adventure with your new garden beehives, it is important to keep a list of future needs in your mind. If you are thinking about what type of bottle you might want to use for your first batch of honey, you are in the right place! Sailor Plastic Bottles carries a variety of honey bottles designed for product visibility and are the perfect packaging option for commercial and family honey producers!


About the Author: Jessica Welch is a student at Minnesota State University- Mankato who is working towards an MFA in creative writing. She has helped work on business related blogs and product descriptions as an intern with Sailor Plastic Bottles.