There are a number of different types of honey bee hives. Some are more popular than others, and in part, this may depend upon the country in which you live.
So which bee hive is best? To an extent, your view will depend on your philosophy with regard to beekeeping, and why you wish to become a beekeeper.
Honey bees are magnificent creatures, they are fantastic architects, and left to their own devices they'll construct their nests in the wild in tree stumps or caves.
On the other hand, combs may be seen exposed and hanging from the boughs of trees.
In the past, skeps (pictured below) – essentially straw baskets - were used, and as soon as honey had been produced by the poor bees, a number of the colonies were destroyed and the honey taken. Nowadays, skeps may be used more commonly for capturing swarms. (Read more about the history of beekeeping).
Here is a description of some of the types of honey bee hives available.
Used by those following the increasingly popular 'natural beekeeping' movement.
The top bar hive pictured above is by Phil Chandler, a prominent beekeeper in the 'Natural Beekeeping' movement. It is taken from his free download explaining how to build such a top bar hive, and a link to that page is featured below - see top bar bee hive plans.
These types of hives
are designed to allow the honey bees to make their own honey combs and cells
according to the size and shape they desire.
Vertical or horizontal top bar hives may be used. The vertical top bar hive was especially advocated by Emile Warré (pictured below) in the early twentieth century. He designed the Warré hive, which he also called ‘The People’s Hive’. It is advocated today by people such as Dr David Heaf, author of The Bee-friendly Beekeeper.
In general, Natural Beekeeping aims for a low level of interference by humans, with Warré beekeeping traditionally advocating the least interference of all the methods. However, all beekeeping is a form of domestication - if only temporarily.
These types of hive are widely used in the USA. This hive design has a deep brood box and about ten frames.
These hives are commonly used in Britain and Europe, and are similar to the Langstroth hive above.
This hive - featured above - was designed
by William Broughton Carr around 1890. In Britain, this type of hive is the image
many people have of the traditional bee hive. Often thought of as being
inconvenient to have and dismantle.
Again, similar to a Langstroth Hive, and all the parts are interchangeable. The Dadant is often used in France and also in some parts of Spain.
Used sometimes in Scotland. Holds 13 frames, and built to similar dimensions as a National Hive.
the same dimensions as a National Hive, this type of honey bee hive is designed
to encourage a large volume of honey in the supers.
It is said that there are now relatively few wild honey bee populations. However, it’s always worth remembering how, without domestication by humans, honey bees survive in the wild.
I can’t help feeling that there are some lessons for all, and
not just beginner beekeepers. Indeed, some beekeepers are working to address this, such as Corwin Bell, who says:
"Our hope is that by introducing new hobby beekeepers to the rewards of beekeeping that there will eventually be backyard beekeepers worldwide that will help bring back the feral bee population and improve the genetic diversity of the honeybees. This diversity is critically important to the survival of this most precious natural resource."
Authors such as Dr David Heaf have long advocated api-centric beekeeping. As stated above, Heaf himself uses Warre hives.
More recently, Thomas D. Seeley has gathered years of research data and experience to understand how beekeepers could become more api-centric, so that healthy, more robust colonies are reared. I recommend his excellent book - The Lives Of Bees:
In the wild, honey bees naturally seem to like to nest in the cavities of trees, caves or buildings.
In doing so, they manage to reproduce and establish new colonies to continue generations of bees.
The honey bees make their own combs with a structure and cell size deemed by the bees to be appropriate for larvae and storing the honey. They will then eat the honey they have stored in the honey combs during the winter months when forage is scarce and conditions mean they avoid venturing out of their nest.
Honey bee hives, however, were invented by man, as a way of
domesticating honey bees in order to exploit them for honey, but if we wish to continue harvesting honey, it is incumbent on us to look at bee hive design, just as Chandler, Heaf, Bell and Seeley have done, with the aim of providing the best solution for the bees themselves, so that beekeeping is as api-centric as possible.
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