Your Beehive Selection Guide

Four hive styles; lots to think about. Equip yourself with the info you need when selecting the right beehive for your farm.

by Ross Conrad
PHOTO: iStock/Thinkstock

One of the first things you want to figure out when getting honeybees is what type of hive will work best for you. Honeybees can live comfortably in most any hive, but if the hive is not easy and convenient for you to work with and doesn’t meet your beekeeping goals, you will have a difficult time caring for the hive’s residents.

Here are four of the typical hives found in the U.S. and pros and cons of each.

Langstroth Hive

This is the most common hive, composed of rectangular boxes filled with frames of comb that are stacked upon each other.


  • It has the potential for high honey yield/production.
  • Obtaining information and help on hive care and management is easy.
  • Honey can be moved one frame at a time, but there is also the option to move whole boxes at a time, increasing speed of inspections.


  • They can be fairly expensive, $125 to $300 and up.
  • They’re not easy to build yourself.

Top-Bar Hive

Top-bar hives are less common and typically feature a single cavity that is rectangular in shape and horizontally oriented with wooden bars, instead of frames, onto which the bees will build their combs.


  • They’re easy to build yourself, making them comparatively inexpensive: $180 to $500 commercial, or as low as $20 to do it yourself.
  • You can move honey frames one at a time, so there’s no heavy lifting.
  • Opening the hive only disturbs the bees on the single frame where the hive is opened.


  • It can be difficult to find information on hive care and management.
  • Honey yield/production is low.
  • Inspections take more time since all frames are moved individually.

Warre Hive

This square-shaped top-bar hive is vertically-oriented like the Langstroth hive, but features top bars instead.


  • Honey frames can be moved one at a time, but there’s also the option to move whole boxes at a time, increasing inspection speed.
  • It’s easier to build than a Langstroth hive, making it cheaper.


  • It’s an uncommon hive, so obtaining information and help on hive care and management can be difficult.
  • Honey yield/production is low.
  • Supering hives requires lifting of the entire hive and placing an extra box on the bottom which typically requires special hive-lifting equipment.

Flow Hive

The Flow Hive is really a modification of the Langstroth hive that features an easy way to harvest honey from specially designed plastic combs.

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  • Honey yield/production may be high and potentially much easier to harvest than with any other design.
  • Obtaining information on hive care and management is fairly easy thanks to company customer support.


  • They can be very expensive: between $630 to $700.
  • Advanced planning is required to avoid harvesting too much honey and not leaving enough for bees’ needs during periods of dearth.
  • It’s basically impossible to build yourself.
  • Ease of honey harvesting without having to open the hive may cause a beekeeper to neglect inspections and miss signs of trouble, potentially leading to disease, pest and queen problems.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of Hobby Farms.

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