There are a number of different types of hive for you to consider, we'll just give an overview of a few.
Your first question will probably be: ‘Why do I need to decide what hive type is best for me?’
Well the simple answer is not that simple! But let’s have a look at some things you should think about:
Firstly size and easy of handling: Frames full of honey can be quite heavy, especially if you need to carry them any appreciable distance.
Compatibility: It may be useful to be able to interchange hive parts as your ‘apiary’ increases in size.
Portability: Do you envisage having your hive(s) at home, even if you do initially, things may change and some hives can be difficult to carry in the back of your car.
Production: Very often a new beekeeper will be heard stating ‘I’m not really interested in how much honey I get, I’m just in it for the bees, but experience tells us that this opinion can quickly alter the first crop is harvested: Plan for the future.
The best place for advice is your local association. You’ll be able to see different hive types and chat with beekeepers who have first-hand experience in using them, but here’s a brief overview of some:
This is the most common type of hive used in the UK. The National is a versatile hive, giving options for expansion whilst offering the bees a suitable home. The dimensions of the various hive ‘boxes’ and therefore the frame sizes, gives an acceptable weight when full whilst still offering the bees enough space to thrive. Being the UK’s favourite, there are always second hand parts available, and if you need to ‘swap’ frames with another beekeeper, chances are they’ll have something suitable.
A top-bar hive is essentially a long box, laid horizontally, standing on fixed legs. There are no frames or foundation used, the bees simply build natural comb on ‘Bars’ which are laid across the top of the box. As bees build natural comb it takes the shape of a tear-drop, so to mimic this shape the sides of the hive box slope inwards.
The Top-bar is considered a ‘natural’ approach to beekeeping as the hive attempts to mimic a hollow log, or similar cavity that the bees may adopt as a home in the wild. Due to its size the hive really needs two people to move it once a colony has established. Honey production is not particularly good from a top-bar hive, but because the bees build their own comb, the wax is considered ‘purer’
Manipulation is fairly straightforward as once the lid is lifted there are only individual bars to deal with; no lifting of heavy boxes, it’s even possible to keep 2, or even 3 colonies in the same ‘box’ depending on size. Construction can be achieved by the average DIYer using simple tools and basic materials, keeping costs down. Top-bar hives have proven popular amongst hobbyists with mobility problems or who may be confined to a wheelchair.
The Warre hive has characteristics of both the National and Top-bar system; it has stacking boxes like the National but uses foundationless bars as in a Top-bar. Honey yields aren’t as good as the national, but better than a Top-bar. The parts are fairly easy to self-build.
The above is not intended as a definitive guide, but rather a brief overview. For more information we advise getting in touch with your local association.