beekeeping equipment

Expanding with different hive types

“I started keeping bees this year and have one 8-frame Langstroth hive. Next year, I want to expand and was thinking about getting another Langstroth hive and a top-bar hive. Do you have any suggestions for resources on top bar hives?”

I am not actually going to answer your question, instead, I’m going to preach. But first, let me point out that there are hundreds of resources available to support any type of hive equipment. I like some better than others, but that’s a personal thing. Google it.

In my opinion, however, the type of equipment you use is pretty much irrelevant. A skilled beekeeper can keep bees in a cardboard box, a bread box, or a mail box. The point is this: once you understand the principles of beekeeping, and once you understand the the biology of the honey bee and its number one enemy, the varroa mite, then the shape of the container really doesn’t matter. The bees act like bees no matter where you put them. So, if you understand the bees, you can figure out the equipment.

That said, I really believe there is a huge benefit in having multiple hives of the same type. When you have multiple hives, you can swap brood combs, honey combs, empty combs, pollen combs—anything you want quickly and easily. Hive manipulation is a snap. When your hives are of different configurations, it’s a heck of a lot more work—and more disruptive to the bees—to swap things around.

For that reason, I strongly recommend staying with one style of equipment, regardless of the type. If you absolutely insist on variety, have two or three of one hive type, and then later get two or three of another.


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    • Me, too! 110%. I have a top bar hive and a Warré hive, just one of each, and it’s a hassle trying to share resources. The TBH top bars are too wide for the Warré, and the Warré combs are too deep for my TBH. It is no fun cutting top bars with combs already attached, and less fun cutting comb with brood in it. If I were you, I’d stick with another Lang. Once you have two or three years under your belt, by all means, go for it! By then you will have enough experience with some of the weirdness – the strange and wonderful things – that happen with bees, to deal with beekeeper-introduced weirdness.

  • I’ve been keeping bees in Langstroth hives since the mid ’60s.

    I tried top-bar hives — mostly to get experience so I can help those who get led into that very unfortunate fad.

    I am quite satisfied that there is nothing that is claimed as a benefit for the top-bar hive that can’t be done more easily with a Langstroth hive.

    • Blaine,

      I agree. I got some top-bar hives so that I could assist as a beekeeping instructor at a local school where I had to know how to do the top-bar thing. But I like Langs—easier, better, more options.

  • I’m not yet a bee keeper, but that’s the same opinion I came to on my own.

    My parents have 8-frame Langs. And they somewhat regret that decision over 10-frame because the farm supply store nearest them only stocks 10-frame equipment. So buying additional boxes requires they mail-order or drive a bit further up the road to a bee supply store that stocks it all. Even though their local supplier isn’t the cheapest, I gather they’d rather support locals and get the convenience of the locality. But now that they have 2 hives of 8-frame langs, they won’t be converting now. And after their 1st harvest this year and feeling how heavy 8 medium frames of honey are, they seem happier to have the 8s over the 10s.

    Ironically, my stepfather is going to be building a Top Bar Hive (TBH) for their third. I take it, it’s more for the education and 1st hand experience of exactly the difference between langs and TBHs. They may or may not actually work the TBH for honey. It might be just an overflow hive to capture a swarm with. I don’t fully know what their reasoning and strategy is other than just curiosity about TBHs.

    So that being said, different strokes for different folks. And from what I gather, there are no absolute rules, just opinions and preferences.

  • I converted to 8 frame Langstroth from the 10’s this year and really like them…much easier to lift the full boxes for me. I am strong for a woman but the full 10 frame deeps were really hard for me.

    As for Top Bar…their biggest advantage is that you ONLY have to work that one bar at a time. It is easy and perfect for someone who is having trouble handling full boxes ie. arthritis, very young, very old, etc. I love them for that single reason. They do require more attention given how fast they fill etc. but most backyard beekeepers are happy to do that.

    Just be sure you get TWO of whichever hive design you settle on so you can swap frames if you need to. My single top bar went queenless this year and I could not easily give them brood and eggs to make a new queen with. I tried, but it meant cutting down full frames and hanging them…bee space all wrong etc. Never did manage to get them to raise another queen and the hive died out. All beekeeper error.

  • When I was first getting started, I was further advised to not even go with the traditional (deep brood boxes)+(shallow honey supers), and instead use medium-depth equipment for everything. I think this was good advice, it is really convenient not to have to stock two sizes of frames.

    • Tim,

      That sounds like heaven. I have four sizes of standard frames and boxes: deep, medium, shallow, and comb . . . and this doesn’t include Ross Round and section supers, so make that six. Four of them—the four smallest—I can’t easily tell apart, so I had to make a little gauge that I carry around. I’m phasing out the mediums, so I hope it gets a little easier.