There are many different kinds of honeybee hives, but the most common type of hive in North American is definitely the Langstroth hive. Dating back to 1852, this hive was created by L.L. Langstroth and is known for its practicality. With its vertically hung, removable frames and just the right amount of ‘bee space’ (1 3/8″) between them, beekeepers are able to easily inspect, manipulate and extract honey from this type of hive. Honey extraction is done by uncapping the waxed honey cells and spinning out the honey in a honey extractor with centrifugal force.
Langstroth hives at UBC’s Botanical Garden.
While certainly being better for beekeepers, the Langstroth hive isn’t necessarily better for the bees. Yes, not as much comb is destroyed when removing frames from a Langstroth hive, but the four-sided frames don’t allow the bees to create their truly desired comb structure.
A more natural way of beekeeping is with a Top Bar hive or Warré hive. Both tend to mimic a hollow tree trunk and allow the bees to build to comb as they want.
Top Bar hive construction instructions by Philip Chandler.
A Top Bar hive is a long horizontal & trough-like hive, which was actually developed in Canada in the 1970s! It’s much simpler than the Langstroth, since it doesn’t require as many parts for the hive or honey extraction. Extracting honey from a Top Bar hive is done by ‘crush & strain’. The comb is simply cut from the top bars, which don’t have four-sided frames, so the bees are able to build the comb as the want. Apparently the bees leave just the right amount of ‘bee space’ between the comb frames and the wall of the hive, so that they can easily go from comb to comb. This is great for the beekeeper too because it means they can easily remove a frame without ruining much comb. While I don’t have much experience with the Top Bar, it’s definitely a hive I would like to try!
Since I started beekeeping I have been keeping my bees in Warré hives. The Warré hive was developed in France by Abbé Warré in 1867. It is basically a vertical Top Bar hive. From the outside, it looks like a smaller Langstroth hive, but from the inside it’s more like a Top Bar hive. In a Warré hive there are 8 top bars in each box and there can be up to 6 boxes per hive. Without the guide of four-sided frames, the bees are able to build the comb basically however they want. Like the Top Bar hive, the bars are designed with a triangular tip to encourage the bees to build comb from the bars. From experience, I know that the bees tend to build very interesting comb structures, which is sometimes attached to the walls of the hive body making it quite difficult to remove a frame without making a big mess. The honey extraction method is similar to the Top Bar hive; crush & strain or simply cut honeycomb. 🙂