Beehives

My Review Of Beehive Types For The Novice Beekeeper

Crikey! They don’t make it easy for us novice beekeepers do they?  There are so many hives to choose from and no ultimate recommendation.  As the beekeeper teacher kept reminding us, “… with 2 beekeepers you have 3 opinions, get 4 beekeepers together and you need to form a splinter group.”

Having attended 4 days of training, read 8 books, quizzed 15 experts, asked questions on beekeeping forums and thought about it a lot, I have written this page to help new beekeepers decide what type of beehive to invest in (and they’re not cheap).

Bee Space

Research shows that swarms prefer a cavity of about 40 litres (a little larger than a British Standard National brood box), well up off the ground, with a small entrance. This is essentially a space with room enough for a cluster and winter stores, which can be easily defended.  Bees do not mind if they are housed in good quality cedar, plastic or polystyrene.

When selecting a hive, one of the major differences is the size of the brood box. The number of bees in the colony depends on the queen – some strains lay in excess of 2,000 eggs per day, while other strains are less prolific. A bit of arithmetic shows that a queen laying 2,000 eggs a day will need 42,000 cells to lay in, since a worker is 21 days in the cell from egg to emergence. But around the brood nest there need to be pollen, nectar and honey stores and there will also be nibbled comb, spoiled bits around queen cells and drone cells which take up more room.  About 70,000 cells are required all told, otherwise the brood box will be too small with an increased likelihood of swarming.

 What Makes A Beehive?

  Explanatory notes:-Frames with wax foundation go into the brood box and supers.The honeybees draw out comb from the wax foundation in which they store honey.The brood box (at the bottom) contains frames and is where the queen lays and worker bees create enough food stores to last them through the winter.The queen excluder (between the brood box and supers) stops the queens getting into the supers.  Without this she would get into the supers and lay eggs and you would then have crunchy honey.

The supers (boxes above the brood box) contain frames and this is where surplus honey is stored and later robbed by the beekeeper.

My Review Of British Beehives For Novice Beekeepers

Beehaus

Verdict: Based on my research, this is the beehive that I would buy if I lived in the city, lacked space or only wanted one hive.

+ Pros: Relatively easy to inspect bees, ergonomic height, light supers, good sized brood chamber, easy to use wasp guard, triple insulation, good ventilation, good swarm management system, less assembly, no problems with woodpeckers

- Cons: Best suited to the hobby beekeeper who does not have much space for equipment; heavy when full of honey and brood, having to put up with negative comments from some traditional beekeepers.

£ Value: This is two hives in one, each hive using eleven 14×12 frames; starter kit only an extra £30.

No. of cells in brood box: 75,000 (good)

Summary: Modern plastic beehive, launched in 2009, designed and assembled in the UK.

→ Read my Beehaus Review

→ Visit Beehaus Website

→ Watch the Beehaus Videos

→ Read the Beehaus User Guide

Top Bar Hive (also known as Kenyan Hive)

Verdict: This is a more “natural” approach to keeping bees with some pros and cons.

+ Pros: Low cost, ergonomic, simpler system, more time to observe bees, produces perfect, “wild” honeycomb

- Cons: Difficult to manage varroa, does not produce as much honey, not the standard method in the UK (hence difficult to learn the system)

Summary: Developed as a lower-cost hive for Africa. Does not need foundation, the bees build the comb so it hangs down from the top bar. Expands horizontally, not vertically. Advocated by some as a more natural method of beekeeping. If you are going down the natural beekeeping route please read some of the natural beekeeping books highlighted on my beekeeping guides pages (UK guides, USA guides) and find yourself a mentor with experience of this hive.

Further Reading: A friend has written an excellent personal review of Top Bar Hives.

UK Links:

Buy 3' Top Bar Hive

Buy 4' Top Bar Hive

US Links:

Buy 3' Top Bar Hive

Buy 4' Top Bar Hive

British Standard National Using 14×12 Brood Box

Verdict: This is the hive I bought.

+ Pros: Good sized, single brood chamber

- Cons: Heavy brood box. With all non beehaus hives time is required to assemble (and install wasp guards, widen bee entrance, add woodpecker protection) and extra parts are required which add to the basic cost

No. of cells in brood box: 75,000 (good)

Summary: Increasingly popular as the brood chamber is large enough for a colony and there are half as many brood frames to inspect compared with a double brood or brood and a half. Can be made from cedar, plastic or polystyrene.

This is a photo of my 14×12 beehive with one super.
Beehive
→ I have written about ”A trip to my local supplier Maisemore” who I believe offer excellent value

Other beekeeping equipment suppliers

British Standard National Using Double Brood Box

+ Pros: Flexible system

- Cons: Two brood boxes to inspect, top brood box is heavy

No. of cells in brood box: 100,000 (enormous)

Summary: Very popular British hive

→ I have written about ”A trip to my local supplier Maisemore” who I believe offer excellent value

Other beekeeping equipment suppliers

British Standard National Using "Brood And A Half"

+ Pros: Flexible system

- Cons: Two brood boxes to inspect, two sizes of frames (due to different sized brood boxes).No. of cells in brood box: 75,000 (good)

Summary: Very popular British hive

→ I have written about ”A trip to my local supplier Maisemore” who I believe offer excellent value

Other beekeeping equipment suppliers

British Standard National Using Single Brood Box

+ Pros: Single brood chamber

- Cons: Brood chamber not big enough hence increased possibility of swarming

No. of cells in brood box: 50,000 (small)

Summary: Most popular hive in the UK.

The photo opposite is of my national hive using single brood box and two supers.
National Beehive
Buy Assembled Hive Now

Maisemore

Other beekeeping equipment suppliers

Commercial Brood Box

+ Pros: Single brood chamber

- Cons: Heavy, small hand holds

No. of cells in brood box: 70,500 (good)

Summary: Same external dimensions as a National hive, but instead of having a rebate the hive is a cube. One can use National supers on top of a Commercial brood box.

Maisemore

Other beekeeping equipment suppliers

Dadant

+ Pros: Single brood chamber

- Cons: Heavy, small hand holds

No. of cells in brood box: 85,000 (enormous)

Summary: Similar to the National but larger

Maisemore

Other beekeeping equipment suppliers

WBC

+ Pros: Looks good, double insulation

- Cons: Brood box too small, many beekeepers avoid this hive as it is very not practical to remove the extra layer before the hive can be examined

No. of cells in brood box: 45,000 (small)

Summary: This is the picture postcard hive but it’s too small and not practical.

Buy Flat Pack WBC Hive (UK)

Buy Assembled Red Pine WBC Hive (UK)

Maisemore

Other beekeeping equipment suppliers

As always, I welcome any thoughts on the above and please email me, or contribute to the blog, so that I can write about the choice of beehives in other countries.

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Comments

Beehives — 21 Comments

  1. Hi this is my 1st full season and I am a bit confused, as on checking bees yesterday noticed eggs in brood box and super even though “Q” excluder in place.I had this occurearlier in the month and decided best option was to shake all bees into brood box replace “Q” excluder therebyensuring she lays in box. but this is not the case. can you advise please

    • Wow. This is the first time anyone has asked me for advice! Please note I am a novice beekeeper. My first thought is whether the Queen Excluder is the right size, I have heard of some having gaps that are too large. Or you might have a slim Queen? I will speak to some of my beekeeping buddies and get back to you. In the meantime, please refer to beekeeping books.

      I spoke to a beekeeping buddy who has about 5 hives and has been keeping bees for 5 years. He currently has the same problem and is going to ask his mentor.

  2. My father runs two top bars (I run several Langstroths), and we’ve had good experiences so far. There is a lot I could go into to that would make this comment far too long, but my experience is that they produce well enough and are easy enough. I don’t know that I would recommend them for a beginner unless the beginner had a strong mentor to help them through it, but overall we’ve enjoyed it.

    One BIG advantage the Top Bar does offer is some models have a side window you can open without disturbing the bees. This has been wonderful for helping educate the neighbors, make quick checks, and otherwise alleviate the general curiosity that comes with beekeeping without hurting the hive.

    If you are interested, I would be willing to do a guest post of sorts on Top Bars. Let me know.

  3. I have a few top bar hives, having made my first from pallet wood (costing nothing) in 1998. Generally they are not as productive as the stacking box type of hive but this year with its strange weather they are doing much better than the others.

    One of the TBHs I run is the plywood trapezoidal type. I got it only because, on a communal gardens and orchard, it was paid for by the Rotary. It is far more difficult than my own design, the bars being longer and thus not compatible with Nationals, and the combs deeper making them more susceptible to breakage through wind pressure, weight, tilting etc.

    My own design (there is a photo in a recent post on http://www.chrissladesbeeblog.wordpress.com )is a half cylinder with 17″ top bars forming the diameter. It is 2 National supers long, just in case this should be useful (usually it isn’t).

    Apart from avoiding beekeeper’s back and from being free to make, I find the great advantage of the TBH is that the bees are so much better tempered. As often as not, when opening my TBHs I don’t have my smoker with me, let alone lit. Once, on the communal site,(on Portland where the nearest windbreak to the SW is the Appalachians) I happened along when there was a party. The Mayor in regalia was there and mayoress. They, (being Rotarians) wanted to see the hives. I was able to open the TBH show them the bees at work and break off a piece of honeycomb for the Mayoress. Nobody had any protective clothing and I didn’t have the smoker. Nobody got stung.

    When you open a conventional hive, you insert the hive tool and break the propolis seal between boxes. This sends the equivalent of an earthquake through the hive. Then you part the boxes. Their cosy atmosphere is gushed away, light floods in and, looking up, the bees can see the menacing shapes and threatening movements of the alien invader – YOU! No wonder they act defensively.

    With the TBH, you gently ease out a bar at the back to create some work space. Then only one bar at a time is eased out and examined. Only the bees on the comb you’re looking at know you’re there and, as you’re not waving your arms around, they don’t feel threatened.

    • I have to say that the top bar hive is very interesting. I have bought a book to help me understand it better and might see if I can bring some of the approaches to my Nationals, as I do want to collect honey.

    • I just started with my bees. I decided to go with the tbh, not only because you can make them inexpensively,but they are way easier on the back.

      I agree with chris, although it is a year later. With top bars the bees seem more docile. The fact that you are only taking out one frame at a time is way less threatening to them.
      I hear Langstrom beekeepers all the time, saying they wouldn’t was their time with one. Personally, I think they just havent taken the time to really look at them.
      Yes, it is true you get more honey with a Langstrom. A 48″ long tbh can produce anyway from 25 – 45 lbs. And if you are just doing for a hobby…. One other nice thing about them is they actually produce more wax comb

  4. I am constructing a Top Bar Hive and have a question regarding the bottom. One plan I have say to attach a heavy mesh along the bottom, another says use a solid board. I live in Michigan where our winters get mighty cold. I am leaning towards using the board but am concerned with temperature control during the warmer months. Anybody have any advice which type of bottom, or other ventilation needs the hives need ?

    • I personally like the ventilation as it reduces condensation, but Winters do not get so cold here in the UK. Could you create it so you have ventilation most of the year and then can add a board to keep it warmer in the very cold months?

      • Roger, thank you, with that said how do I recognize exess condensation?
        Once again, here the colder it gets the dryer it gets. ( I did include a fit bottom board which can be removed during hot periods)….thanks for sharing !

      • Dave, don’t know if this will help or not, but this is what I did when building my tbh. First I made it 48″ long, Put #8 mesh as the floor. Spoke to a beekeeper that has been using them for years, along with Langstroms. Anyway,he said to just leave the mesh,don’t cover it up. I live in Utah, winter usually low teens,some below zero, lot of snow. So I have decided to compromise. I am going to use a board down the middle and leave the mesh open on both sides. Probably 4″ ea side. He said leaving the floor just mesh really helps with condonsation. Guess I will see next spring. Good luck

    • You could take a tip from Messrs Abbott who designed the CDB Hive in 1894. They had a mesh panel in the floor which could be un/covered by turning a covering plank on the underside that was attached by one screw, allowing it to swivel.

  5. Hi guys completely new to bees done the 10 course !!! bought the hive etc. yesterday. First question do i make up and put all the frames in the brood box ?or do i only add the frames as the colony increases in size. As yet no bees just planning to site the hive and get it ready . all help greatly appreciated . Is this the best chat room or is their another one I should be using?
    thanks Charlotte

    • I make up all the frames for the brood box. Their isn’t a chat room on the site and responses are not immediate. Hope that the quality of advice and opinion makes up for lack of speed.

  6. Just finished a beginner course and think I may plump for a commercial brood box with national supers. Heard 14×12 frames can be so deep the contents can collapse if you hold them horizontally for too long.
    Is there anything preventing someone from overcoming the shallow hand holds on a commercial by screwing on handles?
    Love the site / blog btw

    • Hi Rachel.
      I use 14×12′s and hold them vertically. Not much need to hold them horizontally.
      Screwing on handles sounds like a plan.
      Thanks for the comments.
      Roger

  7. I have my doubts to the sincerity of this recommendation report, almost looks like an advert for beehaus.

    ” Cons: Best suited to the hobby beekeeper who does not have much space for equipment” Have I missed something here?

    I would think TWICE before purchasing a polystyrene hive, polystyrene is very slow to biodegrade and therefore a a major contributor to litter in the outdoor environment, especially in its foam form. NOT therefore bee friendly in the long term!

    Go for wood.

    • Thanks for the comments Shane. It’s not meant to be beehaus advert. I have used the same format/style in comparing all the other types of beehives.

      “Best suited to beekeeper who does not have much space” – because when you don’t have a shed or garage for all the beekeeping paraphernalia you need a compact solution. The beehaus can be used as a beehive plus nuc, the supers can be flat packed, its plastic and hence robust.

      I take your point on the environmental impact.

  8. If using a standard national brood box with three supers, will the bees swarm even if there is still work to do in the top super or will they wait until there is no room whatsoever.

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