Choosing a hive is something you want to give a lot of thought to, as once you commit to a type of hive, you’ll have invested money and a lot of learning into that method of beekeeping. Start small, so if you change your mind, you won’t have invested too much money. New beekeepers can sometimes be intimidated by the choices that face them. There are many options for equipment, tools and clothing. There is even a wide range of choices in terms of which type of honey bee to consider.

But what choices do you have when it comes to hives? The short answer is that you have many choices, including some very esoteric and fascinating options. However, as a general statement there are three main types of beehive used today the Langstroth, the Warre and the Top Bar.

Each of these has its advantages and disadvantages. Like most things in beekeeping, many beekeepers will tell you that their way and their hive is the only way to go.

So, with that said, let’s take a high-level look at the three main types of beehive. We will look at these in much greater detail elsewhere, so consider this merely the appetizer!

Langstroth Hive

The boxes stack together to form the hive. The bees build a brood nest at the bottom and fill the top boxes with honey.

The key innovation was the use of convenient vertically hanging frames, on which bees build their comb.

The spaces between these frames and between the frames and the inside of the boxes in which they hang, all respect so-called bee space. This is the precise space within a hive that bees will generally avoid joining with comb or “gluing” with propolis.

Top-Bar Hive

Top-bar hives are becoming more popular with backyard enthusiasts and sustainable farmers. Instead of setting up the hive vertically, they are set up horizontally, so that the honey is at the front and the brood nest is at the back.

An important characteristic of the Top Bar hive is that it has a single, long box. While this means there are no expansion capabilities, as exist with the Langstroth and Warre, it also makes for a more simple design. This simplicity is a significant attraction for many hobbyist beekeepers.

The Top Bar design is wider and a long roof protects the contents. Under the roof are 24 wooden bars. These bars are therefore at the top (see what they did there?). Each of the bars has a “starter strip” from which bees will start building comb, again hanging vertically.

Warré Hive

A Warré hive uses small, square hive bodies and top bars with no frames or foundation. It also uses a unique style of hive cover: a quilt and a vented, angled roof. This is supposed to provide superior moisture management as the sawdust-filled quilt absorbs moisture that can then escape via the roof.

A key difference with the Langstroth is that a new boxes are added beneath the existing boxes, rather than on top of them. While the individual boxes are smaller than the Langstroth (and therefore individually lighter), the existing boxes need to be moved up in the “stack” when adding a new one.

Another difference is that, rather than supporting vertically hanging frames, the Warre has a series of slats spanning the top of each box. From this guide, bees build their comb vertically downwards.

The top of the Warre features a roof  – often called a quilt box – that includes some material to absorb condensation that the bees might generate.

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