The earliest recognizably modern designs of beehives arose in the 19th century, though they were perfected from intermediate stages of progress made in the 18th century.
Intermediate stages in hive design were recorded for example by Thomas Wildman in 1768/1770, who described advances over the destructive old skep-based beekeeping so that the bees no longer had to be killed to harvest the honey.
Wildman, for example, fixed a parallel array of wooden bars across the top of a straw hive or skep (with a separate straw top to be fixed on later) “so that there are in all seven bars of deal” [in a 10-inch-diameter (250 mm) hive] “to which the bees fix their combs”.
He also described using such hives in a multi-story configuration, foreshadowing the modern use of supers: he described adding (at the proper time) successive straw hives below, and eventually removing the ones above when free of brood and filled with honey, so that the bees could be separately preserved at the harvest for a following season.
Wildman also described a further development, using hives with “sliding frames” for the bees to build their comb, foreshadowing more modern uses of movable-comb hives.
Wildman acknowledged the advances in knowledge of bees previously made by Swammerdam, Maraldi, and de Reaumur – he included a lengthy translation of Reaumur’s account of the natural history of bees – and he also described the initiatives of others in designing hives for the preservation of bee-life when taking the harvest, citing in particular reports from Brittany dating from the 1750s, due to Comte de la Bourdonnaye.
In 1814 Petro Prokopovych, the founder of commercial beekeeping in Ukraine, invented one of the first beehive frames which allowed an easier honey harvest.
The correct distance between combs for easy operations in beehives was described in 1845 by Jan Dzierżon as 1½ inches from the center of one top bar to the center of the next one.
In 1848, Dzierżon introduced grooves into the hive’s side walls replacing the strips of wood for moving top bars. The grooves were 8 mm × 8 mm (0.31 in × 0.31 in), the spacing later termed bee space.
The Langstroth hive was the first successful top-opened hive with movable frames. The Langstroth hive was however a direct descendant of Dzierżon’s hive designs.
Hives can be vertical or horizontal. There are three main types of modern hive in common use worldwide:
- the Langstroth hive
- the Top-bar hive
- the Warre hive
Most hives have been optimized for Apis mellifera and Apis cerana. Some other hives have been designed and optimized for some meliponines such as Melipona beecheii. Examples of such hives are the Nogueira-Neto hive and the UTOB hive.
The key innovation of this type of hive was the use of vertically hanging frames on which bees build their comb. The modern Langstroth hive consists of:
- Bottom board: this has an entrance for the bees
- Boxes containing frames for brood and honey: the lowest box for the queen to lay eggs, and boxes above where honey is stored.
- Inner cover and top cap providing weather protection.
Named for their inventor, Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth, Langstroth hives are probably the most commonly used. Langstroth patented his design in the United-States on October 5, 1852 originally for comb honey production but it has become the standard style hive for many of the world’s beekeepers, both professional and amateurs.
A common feature of Langstroth hives is the use of specific bee spaces between frames and other parts so that bees are not likely to glue together nor fill these spaces with burr comb: comb joining adjacent frames.
The sizes of hive bodies (rectangular boxes without tops or bottoms placed one on top of another) and internal frames are relatively well defined for a particular style.
Langstroth hive bodies are rectangular in shape and can be made from a variety of materials that can be stacked to expand the usable space for the bees.
Inside the boxes, frames are hung parallel to each other. Langstroth frames are thin rectangular structures made of wood or plastic and typically have a wax or plastic foundation on which the bees draw out the comb.
Eight or ten frames side by side (depending on the size of the box) will fill the hive body and leave the right amount of bee space between each frame and between the end frames and the hive body.
Langstroth frames can be reinforced with wire, making it possible to spin the honey out of the comb in a centrifuge.
As a result, the empty frames and comb can be returned to the beehive for re-filling by the bees. Creating honeycomb involves a significant energy investment, conservatively estimated at 6.25 kilograms of honey needed to create 1 kilogram of comb in temperate climates.
Reusing comb can thus increase the productivity of a beekeeping enterprise.
This class of hives includes several other styles, which differ mainly in the size and number of frames used. These include:
- BS National hive: This smaller version of the Langstroth class of hive is designed for the less prolific and more docile Buckfastleigh bee strain and for standard dimension parts. It is based on square boxes (460 mm side), with a 225 mm standard/brood box, and shallow 150 mm Supers typically used for honey. The construction of the boxes is relatively complicated (eight pieces), but strong, and with easy-to-hold handles. The boxes take frames of 432 mm length, with a relatively long lug (38 mm) and a comb width of 355 mm.
- BS Commercial hive: A variation with the same cross-sectional dimensions as a BS National hive (460 mm x 460 mm), but deeper brood box (267 mm/10.5″) and supers intended for more prolific bees. The internal structure of the boxes is also simpler, resulting in wider frames (406 mm/16″) with shorter handles or lugs. Some find these supers too heavy when full of honey and therefore use National supers on top of a Commercial brood box.
- Rose Hive: A hive and method of management developed by Tim Rowe, it is a variation on the BS National hive. The Rose hive maintains the same cross-sectional dimensions of the National hive (460 mm x 460 mm), but opts for a single depth box of 190 mm (7.5″). The single box and frame size is used for both brood and honey supers. Standardizing on one size reduces complexity and allows for movement of brood or honey frames to any other position in the hive. A queen excluder is avoided, allowing the queen freedom to move where she wants. Boxes are added to the hive above the brood and below the supers. The colony can expand during large sap flow and retract to lower portions of the hive as the colony shrinks in the fall. When collecting honey, brood and honey frames can be relocated up or down the hive, as needed.
- Smith hive
- Segeberger Beute (German)
- D.E. hive
- Frankenbeute (German)
- Normalmass (German)
- Dadant hive: Developed by Charles Dadant (developed in USA in 1920 from the Dadant-Blatt hive)
- Flow Hive: A proprietary design for a beehive launched in 2015 on Indiegogo. It was based on a design by father and son team of beekeepers and inventors, Stuart and Cedar Anderson from Australia to find a way of extracting honey from comb without the need to open the hive.The system uses food-grade plastic frames which can be split using a special tool and the honey then flows into containers without the need to remove any frames. However, the flow hive has been highly controversial within the beekeeping community, as it encourages laxity of maintenance of the hives against diseases and pests and encourages sickly bees.
- Hyper Hyve: A patent pending insulated beehive design that incorporates built in remote monitoring of the beehive. Designed by Mike James in the state of Wisconsin United States to help decrease Colony Collapse Disorder and increasing honey yields. The hive is designed around the updated Langstroth hive and can incorporate frames from the Langstroth hive with the ability for beekeepers to track hives remotely. Rather than having to use 3rd party monitoring the hive has integrated beehive monitoring
The Warré hive was invented by the abbot Émile Warré, and is also called “ruche populaire” (fr) or “The People’s Hive” (en). It is a modular and storied design similar to a Langstroth hive. The hive body is made of boxes stacked vertically.
However, it uses top bars for comb support instead of full frames similar to a Top-Bar Hive, as a general rule. The popularity of this hive is growing among ‘sustainable-practice’ beekeepers.
The Warre hive differs from other stacked hive systems in one fundamental aspect: when the bees need more space as the colony expands, the new box is “nadired”. i.e. positioned underneath the existing box(es). This serves the purpose of warmth retention within the brood nest of the hive, considered vital to colony health.
The WBC, invented by and named after William Broughton Carr in 1890, is a double-walled hive with an external housing that splays out towards the bottom of each frame covering a standard box shape hive inside.
The WBC is in many respects the ‘classic’ hive as represented in pictures and paintings, but despite the extra level of insulation for the bees offered by its double-walled design, many beekeepers avoid it, owing to the inconvenience of having to remove the external layer before the hive can be examined.
In 1890, Charles Nash Abbott (1830–1894), advisor to Ireland’s Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction, design of a new Congested Districts Board (CDB) hive in Dublin, Ireland.
It was commissioned by the Irish Congested District Board which provide support for rural populations until its absorption in the department of Agriculture.
One of the most famous Slovenian beekeepers was Anton Žnideršič (1874–1947). He developed the AZ hive house and hive box widely used today in Slovenia.
The top-bar or Kenya-hives were developed as a lower-cost alternative to the standard Langstroth hives and equipment.
They are becoming very popular in the US due to their alignment with the organic, treatment-free philosophies of many new beekeeping devotees in the United States. They are also popular, owing to their simplicity and low cost, in developing countries. Top-bar hives have movable comb and make use of the concept of bee space.
The top-bar hive is so named because the bees draw their comb from a top bar suspended across the top of a cavity and not inside a full rectangular frame with sides and a bottom bar.
The beekeeper does not provide foundation wax (or provides only a small starter piece of foundation) for the bees to build from. The bees build the comb so it hangs down from the top bar. This is in keeping with the way bees build wax in a natural cavity.
The hive body of a common style of top-bar hive is often shaped as an inverted trapezoid. Unlike the Langstroth design, this style of top-bar hive is expanded horizontally, not vertically.
The top-bar design is a single, much longer box, with the bars hanging in parallel. This common style is sometimes referred to as a horizontal Top Bar hive, or hTBH.
Because top bars are used as opposed to frames, the honey is usually extracted by crushing and straining rather than centrifuging.
Because the bees have to rebuild their comb after honey is harvested, a top-bar hive yields a beeswax harvest in addition to honey.
The bees store most of their honey separately from the areas where they are raising the brood. For this reason, bees are not killed when harvesting from a top-bar hive.
- Dartington Long Deep (DLD) hive: It takes 14 x 12 inch and can take up to 24 frames. It is possible to have two colonies in the brood box as there is an entrance at either end. It has half-size honey supers, which take 6 frames that are lighter than full supers and are correspondingly easier to lift. The Dartington was originally developed by Robin Dartington so that he could keep bees on his London rooftop.
- Beehaus: A proprietary design for a beehive launched in 2009 based on the Dartington Long Deep. It is a hybrid between the top-bar hive and a Langstroth hive.
Long Box Hive
The Long Box Hive is a single story hive utilizing fully enclosed frames (per the dimensions of Langstroth hives or deeper by variation) but is worked horizontally in the manner of Kenya/Tanzanian Top-bar hives.
This non-stacked style had higher popularity a century ago in the Southeast United States, but faded from use due to lack of portability. With the recent popularity of horizontal Top-bar hives, the Long Box Hive is gaining renewed but limited utilization. Alternative names “New Idea Hive”, “Single Story Hive”, “Poppleton Hive”, or simply “Long Hive”.