Beekeeping For Dummies
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With all the different beehives to choose from, how do you decide? Maybe you just like the look of one hive over another. A better way to decide is to determine the primary reason you are beekeeping and select the hive best suited for that reason. This table will help you make these decisions.
Hive Checklist — Which Hive Meets Your Needs?
Hive Type Show and Tell Pollination Honey Production Notes
Langstroth No Very Good Very Good This is my recommended hive for someone getting started with beekeeping. Select either the eight- or ten-frame versions.
Kenyan Top Bar hive No Good Fair A great hive for those seeking a natural environment for their bees. The overall maximum size of the hive is fixed, so there is no opportunity to add supers and thus increase honey yields beyond what’s possible with the given size of the hive.
Apimaye Insulated Hive No Very Good Very Good This Langstroth style of hive deserves consideration for its durability and excellent insulation qualities. Bees stay warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. This equates to less stress and more healthy and rebust bees. Very important these days.
Flow hive Yes Good Very Good Some of these hives come with “windows” that allow you to observe what’s going on inside, but the hives are not “portable” for traveling to events. The easy harvesting of honey is the big selling feature of this unique hive.
Warré hive No Good Good Another great hive for those seeking a natural environment for their bees. It has the smallest footprint of all the exterior hives in this table, which makes it ideal for someone with limited space.
Nuc hive No Fair N/A This is a very small hive. It’s ideal for starting a new colony, raising queens, or providing some pollination in a garden.
Observation hive Yes Poor N/A This is the only hive in this group that is portable and lightweight enough to travel to various teaching opportunities. It’s also the only hive that allows you to observe bee behavior 24/7.

If you are a new backyard beekeeper just learning about bees and how to manage them, any of the Langstroth style of hives are your best bet. After a year or two of experience, try your hand at some of the other hives mentioned in this table (Top Bar, Warre, Nuc or Observation hive). These all require different techniques when it comes to managing your colonies. Many good resources are available on the Internet for managing these alternate types of hives.

The following sections take a look at the various things that might be going through your mind as you think about which of these hives you would like to try.

Hives for harvesting honey

You will be able to harvest from most of these hives, except for the nuc and observation hives. Both the Warré and the Kenyan Top Bar hives are decent honey producers. And the Flow hive makes harvesting honey a breeze (although some beekeepers have reported that bees can be slow to accept and fill the Flow Frames with honey) . But if you want gobs and gobs of sweet, gooey honey, the Langstroth type is the hive for you. It will have the largest colony of bees busily making honey. And its modular design allows you to add as many honey supers as the season dictates. Rest assured, the Langstroth is the granddaddy of all honey producers.

Hives for pollinating your garden

Suppose your primary reason for having bees is to improve pollination in your garden. You don’t care about harvesting honey. You don’t care about a show-and-tell hive. You just want larger and more abundant flowers, vegetables, and fruits.

The good news is that any of these hives will help pollinate a garden. But they will accomplish this to varying degrees. The larger the hive, the larger the colony to carry out pollination. Also, the larger the hive, the more work for you. So, if your intent is to max out pollination, then consider the Kenyan, Warré, Flow, or Langstroth type of hives. If you don’t want all the work associated with larger hives, a little five-frame nuc hive tucked into the corner of your garden or fruit orchard will do a reasonably respectable job of pollinating.

A hive for learning and teaching

Suppose you are really interested in bees but don’t want to deal with all that outdoors stuff every week. Your primary interest is to learn more about bees. To study their behavior. To sit back and observe the fascinating things that take place inside a hive. Kind of like having an aquarium where one becomes mesmerized by watching the fish do their thing. You feed them a little and occasionally clean the glass, but that’s about it. Or, you want to make presentations at schools, nature centers, and farmers’ markets, and you need a hive that’s portable and can be used to safely display live bees.

Then the best choice for you is the observation hive. Choose any of the sizes or styles that suit your fancy. It’s a way to show and tell and to, well, observe.

The table can help you decide which of the various hives mentioned in this table are just right for your adventure in beekeeping.

The sun hive

Here’s a design so interesting and inspiring, I just couldn’t resist sharing it.

The sun hive (Weissenseifener Haengekorb) was designed by the German sculptor Guenther Mancke. This design started appearing in the early 1990s. It is based on the simple basket hive, or skep, that was popular for hundreds of years in many countries. (The skep is associated with the public’s “romantic” image of what a beehive looks like.)

The sun hive’s form and shape was inspired by Mancke’s study of natural/feral bee nests. His design includes an ingenious combination of skep baskets (woven from rye straw) that are often covered with an insulating plaster made from cow dung. Inside there are nine half-moon-shaped, movable, wooden frames. The bees build their comb naturally onto the frames (like a Top Bar hive). The entrance is located at the bottom of the hive.

Unlike the picturesque straw skeps of yesteryear (which are illegal to use in the United States), the sun hive has removable frames that can be inspected. It’s this design feature that theoretically should make the sun hive okay to use, but its legality in your area should be validated by the powers that be.

If you want one of these beauties, you will likely have to make one yourself (check the Internet for how-to-build workshops in the United States and Europe). Few people are making these hives for sale, and even if you do find a builder, the waiting list would likely be long.

the sun hive Courtesy of Michael Joshin Thiele: Photographer Amanda Lane:

The sun hive by Guenther Mancke.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

C. Marina Marchese is an author, beekeeper, and honey sensory expert. She is also the founder of the American Honey Tasting Society and the Red Bee ® brand.

Howland Blackiston is the bestselling author of Beekeeping For Dummies and Building Beehives For Dummies, and founding board member and past president of Con­necticut’s Back Yard Beekeepers Association.

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