How to start Beekeeping – Hive Designs

When I first became interested in keeping bees, I tirelessly searched the internet trying to learn how to start beekeeping.  I found out quickly that I would need to make some decisions.  I had lots of questions, and I wanted simple answers. Searching for simple answers isn’t easy when there are thousands of opinions to wade through.

I decided to write this post to help new beekeepers learn how to start beekeeping without the complications.  It is not a step by step tutorial, but more of an informative guide to help you on your journey as you learn how to start beekeeping.


Choosing the Best Beehive Design

The very first decision you need to make is what type of hive system you want to use.  This post will be geared towards helping you decide which system is best for you.

Before we begin discussing hive designs, I would suggest you remove any opinions or sensational beekeeping ideologies that you already have.  Especially any ideas that one hive is better than the others for the bees.  I don’t believe that any of these systems are better for the bees than the others.  Bees don’t care what box they are in.  What I do believe, and what is most important, is that a beekeeper can effectively manage and care for his/her bees.

Each one of the systems below will allow you to properly manage your bees and are all good options.  The three biggest beekeeping systems are the Langstroth, Top Bar, and Warre systems.  I will briefly outline each of them below.

Langstroth Hive System

Langstroth HIveThis is the most common and most universal.  This system is the easiest to get into because all of the hive components are standardized and can easily be purchased.  The majority of beekeepers use this system so there is a wealth of
knowledge and information to help you along the way.

It sounds simple, and it is, but there are some additional decisions that need to be made.  Personally, I feel like these decisions mostly complicate things, but there has been a movement in the beekeeping community leaning towards using 8 frame medium boxes instead of 10 frame deep boxes.

When I started, I chose to use 10-frame deep boxes for my hives.  The reason I chose to go with 10-frame deeps instead of 8-frame mediums, is because if at any point I decided I would like to try 8 frames mediums, I could easily cut my existing boxes down.  You can turn a 10-frame deep into an 8 frame medium, but it is hard to turn an 8 frame into a 10 frame.

If you are interested in building your own boxes, click here for plans.  If you would like to purchase your boxes, there are several good suppliers, but I prefer to buy from mann lake.  Their prices are very competitive and the best you will find online.   Below I have created a first time buyer’s list.  This will get you started with one 10 frame deep hive (this is what I use).  I have put the minimum requirement as having two boxes per hive, you might want to get three.  The bees probably won’t fill all of these their first year, but they will definately need a third box the following year.  If they do happen to fill both boxes, you will wish you had purchased the third one.

Langstroth Hive Beginniners Buying List:

Langstroth HiveMann Lake – Assembled 9 5/8″ 10-frame Hive:
This is a single box and includes the telescoping cover, inner cover, bottom board, and entrance reducer.  This is everything you need to keep bees.  However, if you would like to harvest honey, you will want to buy an additional box and frames to add to this hive so that the bees can expand.


Mann Lake Box with FramesMann Lake – Additional Assembled Hive Body with frames
A new package of bees will fill two boxes.  You will need this additional box to give the bees room to expand.  Adding this additional box to the kit above should be plenty, but you may want to consider purchasing 2 of these boxes just in case your bees make it into their third box.


Top Bar Hive System

Top Bar HiveThe top bar hive would be my second choice for a beekeeping system.  There are a lot of beekeepers that do really well with them.  Generally, people who choose this system are looking for a cheaper alternative to the Langstroth system.

Most top bar beekeepers build their own equipment.  The designs and components of the hive are simple enough that even a beginning woodworker, with minimal tools, could construct a top bar hive. For those of you who don’t want to deal with the woodworking, there are also top bar hives available for sale online.  There are some awesome designs available, and some even feature observation windows that makes managing the bees a lot easier.

The only downside to top bar hives is that they are slightly more work than langstroth hives to take care of.  Cross combing can become an issue, and there is no standard dimensions so most of the hives are not compatible with a langstroth hive or other top bar hives. This means that installing a nuc or sharing frames of honey and brood with a friend isn’t as easy unless they are using the same design.

Top bar hives are generally not suited for commercial beekeepers, and are not a good option if you plan to move your hives frequently.  The combs are not as well supported as langstroth frames and cannot handle the shock as well during transport.

If you are someone who is planning to keep 1-10 beehives and you want to keep startup costs low by building your own equipment, the top bar hive would be a good option for you.

If you are planning on building your own here are some plans and a turorial.  If you don’t want to build one, you could buy a Top Bar Hive online.  There aren’t many people that sell them and they can be hard to find.  I have provided a link to the few sellers on ebay that sell them. Click here to see the top bar hives available for sale online.

Warre Hive System

Warre HiveThe Warre Hive system is the least used of the beekeeping systems.  This hive isn’t much different than a langstroth.  It is a verticle hive that consists of a stack of individual boxes.  The biggest difference between the Warre and the Langstroth is that there are no frames, just top bars in the Warre.  Another aspect of managing a Warre Hive is that instead of placing new frames on top of the hive like the langstroth system, in a Warre Hive you lift the entire hive and place a new box on bottom.

This hive was invented by Abbé Émile Warré.  It has many unique features like it’s incorporation of a “Quilt board.” Probably the biggest management principle that Abbé Émile Warré advocated was that the hive not be opened.  He believed that the condition of the hive could be determined by observing the entrance alone.  If you would like to learn more about this style of beekeeping check out Abbé Émile Warré’s book “Beekeeping for All.”


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