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Different Kinds Of Hives / Comparisons Pro’s & Con’s

Langstroth -vs- KHTB
(Warre ? Rose Hive? Log hives? Experimental hives? Observation Hives?)

In my experience most people don’t give much thought to which kind of hive they will choose. They usually just go with the type of hive that most people around them are using. Virtually all of the time this means the Langstroth (Lang/Langy). Although this approach does have strong advantages such as availability of equipment and availability of expertise, it seems a pity that most backyarders choose them because other than availability, I don’t think this hive suits most backyarders and once they have them they will also often pushed be pushed towards a certain style of beekeeping (conventional/commercial).

There’s something to be said for not having too many options especially when things are new and already confusing. So perhaps this section will just further confuse things for you. And if that’s the case I apolgise. But you do have options, and as aspiring apicentric beekeepers, I think it’s important to at least be aware of these options so that you can make an informed decision with the bees welfare in mind.

If you are asking my overall opinion of which hive I think you should get, my answer is, of course, as with just about every question regarding bees, it depends.

The hive I mostly use is Langstroth (Lang/Langy) as it seems to fit in best with the business model I envision which does include moving hives around a bit. But my favourite hives are the horizontal hives. It seems to me that overall, for the average backyard beekeeper who wont be moving the hive around at all, a horizontal hive might make most sense. It also seems like the most gentle option for the bees.

And so I’d say that the frontrunners are the Kenyan and the Long Langstroth and Langstroth (taking into account some possible alterations to the Langstroth such as the Rose Hive method and Warre lid).

I haven’t included the Flow Hive at all because it is not a category of hive in itself – the flow HIVE is a total misnomer. It should be called the flow FRAME as the flow “hive” is really a Langstroth with an added gadget for extracting honey in place of some of the traditional frames. Those of you with a flow “hive” have already chosen the Langstroth.

And so The Long Langstroth, Langstroth and the Kenyan are the hives I will concentrate on here with side notes on the Warre both as a separate hive and as a hybrid along with some of the other options you have too.

Generally speaking, the Langstroth is touted as more practical and Kenyan as more bee-friendly. But of course, it depends.

I have done quite a few feral colony cut outs. I have removed bees from wall and roof cavities of many shapes and sizes, tree cavities, inside cupboards and from a compost bin. If you follow Hilary of GirlNextDoorHoney (which I highly recommend) you will see she has removed bees from tires, mailboxes, wheelbarrows and even a jet ski. And so it seems to me that bees aren’t all that fussy about the shape of the space they live in or the shape of the box you put them in.

What really makes you an apicentric beekeeper is not so much the kind of hive you use but rather how you mange the bees inside that hive.

Having said all that, there are design aspects, particularly of the horizontal hives, that in my opinion do make certain hives overall more bee-friendly than others. But we’ll cover those aspects shortly.

– Invented in the 1850’s by Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth from the United States
– Langstroth often credited as the inventor of the removable frame hive (but design is based on other earlier designs – Huber and previous)
– Design based on maximising honey production and ease of transport
– Revolutionised (or should we say industrialised?) beekeeping industry – the vanguard of “modern” beekeeping
– Before this time straw skeps were the norm
– Skeps often mean destroying the bees to harvest honey (but survival of the fittest with skeps?)
– Removable frames means manipulation of the combs becomes much easier
– Honey could now be harvested without total destruction of the integrity of the colony
– Soon became the modern standard commercial hive in “Western” industrialised countries which it remains today

As the standard commercial hive the mistake is often made of not being able to separate the hive itself from harsh commercial beekeeping practices normally associated with it. As such the Lang is definitely not the favourite of apicentric beekeepers and often gets a very bad rap.

A clear example of this is shown in Adrian Iodice’s guide to choosing the best hive in PIP magazine’s bee issue where he states “The Langstroth hive is a commercial beehive and in my opinion most of it’s management techniques have no place in backyard beekeeping.” And I would absolutely agree that the management techniques OFTEN USED with the Lang have absolutely no place in backyard beekeeping. But Adrian seems to be ignoring the fact that the techniques ASSOCIATED with the Langstroth do not actually have to be used with the Langstroth at all. The hive itself has much less to do with bee-centred beekeeping than the techniques we use inside it.

The conventional standard is now to use foundation in a Langstroth, but we don’t have to. Langstroth didn’t. Foundation was invented AFTER the Lanstroth hive as invented. The Langstroth hive was never intended for use with foundation.

There’s no reason why the Langstroth can’t be used in EXACTLY the same way as the Warre (often seen as the epitome of apicentric hives) with the only difference being the shape of the boxes.

There’s also no reason the Lantstroth can’t be used in a similar way to the Kenyan (Long Lang/Tanzanian)

Langstrogth Pro’s
– Cheap and readily available in virtually all supply stores
– Much more likely to be able to find even cheaper second hand equipment (disease a consideration)
– Standardised dimensions mean you can be (fairly) sure that components will always fit
– Expertise readily available – this is the hive that most beekeepers and beekeeping books will talk about (pros and cons with this as apicentric beeks will always be swimming against the current)
– Modular hive so easily expandable when honey flow on (perhaps the hive best suited for honey production)
– Relatively easy to manipulate, dissect and inspect (but does depend on management techniques used)
– Frames easier to handle than with Kenyan – less likely to break comb
– Can easily find nuc hives to fit hive

– The easiest hive to transport

Langstroth Con’s
– The entire design is based on maximising honey production and ease of transport (pro or con up to you but definitely not an apicentric approach)
– Large volume boxes mean very heavy honey supers so lots of heavy lifting (Rose Hive method?)
– Getting to the brood can be quite an ordeal for the beekeeper
– Inspecting brood can be quite invasive for the bees relative to Kenyan with lots of crushed bees
– Oblong shape could mean difficult for bees to regulate temperature due to cold spots in corners
– Lots of parts mean that pests have many places to hide
– Can create lots of condensation inside the hive
– Filing cabinet look not aesthetically pleasing to most (Warre roof helps with this)

Langstroth Conclusion
To write this hive off as a commercial hive not suited to apicentric beekeeping is a mistake. Managed in the correct way this hive can be just as bee-friendly as Warre.
The best thing about Langstroth in my opinion is how readily available the hardware and expertise surrounding it are – although this can be a downside too as it’s hard to find people running it in an apicentric way so very easy to be swept up in non apicentric ways.
Probably the best hive for those who buy instead of make their equipment and for those who want the most simple start in beekeeping.
Lots of bending over and heavy lifting although heavy lifting can be addressed somewhat with the use of more shallow boxes and also by using a Long Lantstroth (Rose Hive Method?).

Kenyan Horizontal Top Bar Hive (The Kenyan)

This is one of the most ancient hive designs dating back to at least 17th century Greece but the modern version is often credited to Canadian aid workers. Designed to hang from trees or poles, they wanted to take a hive to Africa to help with local development which probably speaks volumes about the hive’s simple and efficient features.

This hive is basically a trough, usually about 1.2 meters long (though I’d say this is too short) and 0.5 meters across with tapered sides forming a half hexagon shape and bars resting across the top to create the internal roof. The idea is that the bees attach one comb to the underside of each of these bars. The angle of the trough walls are the angles of a hexagon making the bees less likely to attach the comb to the walls of the hive.
A ‘follower board’ is used to block off excess space in the hive and can then be moved and the space available to the bees expanded as the colony grows.

Kenyan Pros
– Very bee friendly with least intrusive hive inspections and no cavities above comb
– No heavy lifting
– Can be adjusted to exactly the right height and height won’t change for easy inspections
– Hives can be very cheap and simple to make (Phil – made with offcuts)
– Perhaps the hive with the least embodied energy / most sustainable

Kenyan Cons
– Limited space not easily expandable so requires intensive management
– Most hives I’ve seen for sale are in my opinion too small for Australian conditions
– Not readily available most likely have to have custom built or build yourself
– Not really any standardised dimensions so bought components may not fit
– Requires greater skill to manage… more fragile combs and less easy to fix broken comb
– Few beekeepers around using them so less able to seek advice (upside is that beeks you do find will likely be on the same page – most Kenyan beeks will be apicentric)
– Difficult to transport
– Very difficult/not possible to find starter nucs commercially unless you know someone willing to donate a nuc you will have to populate with a swarm or adapt Langstroth frames (see youtube vid for adapting Lang frames to Kenyan)

Kenyan Conclusion

I’d love to recommend this as the best hive for the backyard apicentric beekeeper as once the basics are learned this hive definitely offers the most laid back style of beekeeping with absolutely no bending over or heavy lifting and the least intrusive hive inspections.
But the fact that these hives aren’t easy to come by and there aren’t many beekeepers doing things this way mean it might not suit many.
Would suit budget conscious beeks interested in building their own hives.
Would also best suit the more confident and or enthusiastic beginner as requires a higher level of skill and management… but this is definitely attainable. (Phil).
Natural comb and no option to add honey supers mean that this hive is not the best for honey production.

Long Langstroth

This is in a way a hybrid between the Kenyan and the Langstroth. Known by some as the Tanzanian.
Essentially a Langstroth hive but instead of stacking boxes on top of one another they are all in a horizontal row.
Seems to be the best of both worlds but not being produced by anyone???
– gentle on the bees
– no heavy lifting
– components (though not hive itself) easily available
– easier to seek advice as basically the same as Langstroth
– no problem to find nucs
only downside seems to be that they are not easily moved

Developed by a french monk – Abbe Emile Warre in early 1900’s after testing with many different styles of hives. His idea was to create “The People’s Hive”. Simple to build, easy to manage, the correct size for the bees and allowing easy honey harvest. He wrote a book documenting his findings and the reasons he designed the hive the way he did called – Beekeeping For All.
This is a modular hive much like the Langstroth but with smaller square boxes and a different roof system and top bars instead of frames are often used.
Tim Malfoy is most known as the Warre beekeeper in Australia who introduced three sides frames instead of top bars.
The roof system includes a “quilt box” which absorbs moisture, retains the Nestduftwarmebindung (ideal temperature, relative humidity, natural “sauna” of anti-microbial propolis and essential pheremones… some call it the hive scent), whilst the pitched roof provides better protection from the weather and gives the hive a visually appealing look.

Warre Pros
Touted as the most bee friendly least interventionist hive – add boxes in spring, harvest honey in autumn
Very easy to make yourself
Smaller boxes so easier to lift
Dimensions somewhat standardised
Square shape is said to be easier for the bees to moderate conditions inside the hive

Warre Cons
Difficult to manage legally – cross comb can happen very quickly and very difficult to rectify with top bars
Not really meant to be managed on a comb level, more box level, which would flout Victorian guidelines
Small boxes not suited to Australian huge honey flows – may have to add many many boxes to keep up which makes the hive unstable and easy to tip over
If managed in classic Warre style need to nadir which means heavy lifting or a lifting device
Frames are difficult and expensive to buy and tricky to make

Warre Conclusion
Overall I dont really recommend this hive. I don’t think its particularly suited to Australian conditions and you can get all of the advantages from the Lang/Warre hybrid with gear that’s much easier to come by.
However, if you want to make your own gear and be a classic natural beekeeper it might be for you.

Lang/Warre Hybrid
Many apicentric beeks use the Lang with a Warre quilt box and lid which can be easily custom made (not so easily purchased) to fit the Lang hive. This is a best of both worlds approach and is a great option for those most concerned with the bees welfare. I chose this method as availability and price were very important (though I and still to find someone that can make the Warre roofs to fit the Lang for me!).
The quilt box absorbs moisture (addressing the condensation issue), retains the Nestduftwarmebindung (ideal temperature, relative humidity, natural “sauna” of anti-microbial propolis and essential pheremones… some call it the hive scent), use of the top mat somewhat addressing the problems associated with intrusive inspections, whilst the pitched roof provides better protection from the weather and makes the hive much more visually appealing.

Migratory Lid As Standard

This is something I have never seen discussed anywhere (unless I raised it 🙂

The Langstroth hive in (this part of?) Australia comes as standard with lid/roof which, in the rest of the world, is used only when the bees are being transported.

This migratory lid is very simple wooden frame, inlaid with plywood as the only insulation between the bees and a zinc/tin covering that fits flush with the sides of the hive directly on the topmost box and usually has vent holes near the top. This lid creates a cavity between the top of the frames and the underside of the lid itself. It is thought that the idea of the cavity is because bees like to cluster when they are moved and this cavity gives the bees space to do that. And of course, because the lid fits flush with the hive it makes the hive much easier to stack and transport.

In the rest of the world (and perhaps some parts of Australia?) the standard roof for a Lang an inner cover and a telescoping outer roof. I have never once seen these for sale in any bee supply shop around here.

It could be said that the use of the transport lid as standard in this part of Australia by all beeks commercial and backyard is strong testimony to how prevalent commercial practices (convenience over bees welfare) are in backyard beekeeping today. It is convenient to use one type of simple lid that doesn’t need to be swapped with another, but it also causes some quite serious problems for both the beekeeper and the bees.

The cavity designed for the bees to cluster in when being transported is very often filled with honeycomb when the bees are not being transported. This honeycomb breaks apart any time the lid is removed causing a lot of mess and the inevitable death of many bees.

The way the transport lid fits directly on the top box and flush with the side of the hive means that when it rains, moisture often enters the hive. The design of the lid (almost no insulation above a cavity) means that condensation builds up in the underside of the lid. Both of these aspects can lead to excess moisture in the hive causing numerous problems for the bees (mould, cold+damp=less healthy/dead bees)

Bees do not like empty space and the cavity above the frames creates it. The bees find it much more difficult to keep the hive at the correct temperature with an empty space above their combs which would never happen in nature. I suspect this is one reason why they have a strong tendency to fill the cavity under the roof with honeycomb.

The zinc/tin roofs can get INCREDIBLY hot in the sun and there is virtually nothing (one thin piece of ply) to insulate the bees from this heat. I suspect this is another reason the bees like to fill the cavity with honeycomb – to absorb and protect themselves some of this heat.

Sometimes these lids are sold with bare metal zinc/tin covering the roof. After sitting in the sun for a while these lids can become incredibly hot – hot enough to burn your hand. If you are sold a lid tha tis not painted white I would HIGHLY recommend that you paint it mat white before use in the summer. Overheating can be a very serious issue, especially for those using natural comb technique causing comb collapse which will at best be very messy and difficult to resolve and at worst can quite easily cause the death of a hive.

My guess is that commercial beeks weighed up the convenience of using the transport lid all the time against the expense and hassle of swapping out the transport lid with extra the inner cover/telescopic lid each time the bees were moved and the problems it causes the bees decided that overall it made best business sense to go for convenience and use the transport lid all of the time. The small amount of rainfall in this part of the world means that the moisture issues are not too much of a problem and wired frames/foundation mean that the bees can cook without comb failure.