Hive Choices

Article by Debra Langley-Boyer, Member of OBA and President of Belfair & Beyond Beekeepers.

Debra presented the following information at the February 2023 General Meeting.

Which hive is best for you?

Honeybee’s can use a great variety of places for their hive.  Beekeepers provide hives for the bees as a convenience to the beekeeper.  Different style hives are used successfully all over the world.  The challenge is deciding what type of hive(s) will you use.  Many places have laws, such as in the United States we need to have some sort of removable frame (comb).  Beekeepers need to be able to examine hive for disease.  This article is just a quick look at some possibilities.  It explores a few of the pros and cons of some hives.  As well as questions the beekeeper needs to ask themselves when choosing a hive style.  

A beekeeper that has been around should be able to help you with general bee care.  Not all beekeepers will know exactly how every hive style works.  They can help you check brood or disease by looking at comb.  They do know if a hive needs space for brood or honey.  They may not know that a particular hive differences from Langstroth such as moving frames not adding boxes.  Details of how to work each hive is not universal. 

I cannot recommend that new beekeepers use any hive that has not been around for many years (50 to 100).   Learn about bees first in a tried-and-true hive style.  Then experiment.  Some of the experiments do not work in the end.  Bees will always behave like bees.  The hive style is about the beekeeper accessing the bees. 

Many hive styles can work for a new beekeeper.   Choose a hive style for you not another beekeeper.  Most hive types have potential adjustments to make it work for you.  All styles have beekeepers that love that one type of hive.  I recommend different hives for different people.   Think about the items below before choosing a hive.

Bees wants and needs:Engineering drawing

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  • Nice size cavity to build comb, lay brood, and store honey for winter.
  • Protection from weather and predators.  
  • Food source.

Beekeeper wants and needs: Some questions to ask and think about.

  • Why honeybees?  Products -Honey, pollination, wax or just love bees?  
  • Food – what will your bees eat?  Look at local plants.
  • Location -What protection do you need for weather (rain, snow, sun, wind)  or predators (bear)?  Where will hives be located?
  • Finances – Beekeeping is expensive.  Some hives initially cost more than others.  A picture containing old

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  • Physical (your capabilities) – What shape are you in for lifting heavy hives? Or alternative method.
  • Purchase equipment – Some equipment is easy to find others not. Build?
  • Assistance needed /available – mentor and classes?
  • Aesthetics (looks) – What do you like?
  • How to keep bees (time/treatment)– natural? Spend lots/little time working bees? Inspection – how often can you do it?  
  • Mobile – Do you plan on moving hives often?
  • Space  –number of hives, place to put hives 

Hives:  -very general information.  Many more hive styles to choose from. History shows us hives have been around for hundreds of years.  People have been using and inventing the whole time.  
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New styles, designs and decorations continue to develop.  Hives are generally vertical or horizonal, stacking or one size, frames or bars, foundation support or not and a variety of extras (feeders, insulation …)

  • Langstroth – (frames and vertical boxes)
    • Size of frames and boxes (deep, medium shallow – 5, 8 or 10 frame). Can add boxes to top for more space.  No protection (can add shelter, lids, covers).  Heavy lifting or moving one frame at a time per box.  Easy to get parts.  Common hive in U.S.  Mobile with lifting and truck.  
    • Long Langstroth – single long horizontal box. Limited space. Lift one frame at a time. Not so mobile. 

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  • AZ (Slovenian or American)  (frames and vertical chambers)
    • In bee house, opens like cabinet to work bees, frames slid in and out like books on shelf,
    • Has great protection (bee house).  Cost more -last longer. No lifting -only frame.  Few use AZ hive in U.S.  Travel – trailer.  Cannot add extra chambers.
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  • Top Bar (Kenya)(bars in one long horizontal chamber )
    • Limited space. No protection (can add shelter, lids, covers).  No lifting –one bar at a time.  Comb on bars, no support.  Few use. Harder to move.  Good natural wax when crushing for honey. Viewing window.
    • Notes from Tina who has top bar.  They offer a Zen feel with beekeeping.  Hive must be kept level.  A picture containing tree, person

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  • Warre’ (bars and vertical boxes)
    • Can expand for more space.  Add new box to bottom. No protection (can add shelter, lids, covers).   Lifting.  Small boxes (about 8 bars).  Comb on bars, no support.  Can get tall.  Few use.  Mobile with lifting and truck.  Natural growth for bees (top honey bottom brood).  Viewing window. Good natural wax when crushing for honey.
    • Notes from Shaari who has Warre’ hives.  Hive builds down.  Hard for chemical mite treatment and inspection.  Hive must be kept level.  Correct comb as soon as you see it.  
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  • Cathedral (notes from Angela Baker -Women in Beekeeping ’21)
    • Smaller hive – space limited – tend to swarm
    • Materials hard to find – splits hard
    • Bars fiddly to get started (empty tend to sip down into hive)
    • Comb more stable in warm weather than top bar because of 3 sides.
  • Layens  (horizontal- long frames)

  • Apimaye (horizontal stacking, insulation, plastic)
  • Flow  (stacking, honey flow box,)

Quick look at these hives.       1 = poor   5=great

HiveCavity sizeProtection CostProduct findLiftingEquipmentMentorTravel
Top Bar33-4435432

Winter Apprentice Level Class

NOTE: New Apprenticeship Class starts February 8th going through to April 5th.

If you are somewhat new to beekeeping, want to start beekeeping, or want to refresh your knowledge and skills about beekeeping, the Apprentice Level course is for you!

This course will be held online from February 8th through April 5th, Wednesday evenings at 6 pm. A hands-on and in-person session will be scheduled during the course as well. 

The course fee is $50. As always it requires current membership to Olympia Beekeepers Association. 

The fee includes receiving your certificate on successful completion of the course.

Apprentice Class – Purchase Certificate of Completion for $10

This offer and information is ONLY for the people who are currently taking the Apprenticeship Class with Gail and Margaret.

Washington Master Beekeepers Association offers a Certificate of Completion after successfully completing the Apprenticeship Level course.  The cost is $10. 

Deadline to order a Certificate is November 30, 2022.  (Payment window closing at the end of November, absolutely no extensions are possible.)