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What Type of Hive Should I Get

Choosing the right hardware can be daunting and confusing if you are not familiar with what is out there. And there are so many choices. The most important consideration is what works for you and your situation.

My first exposure to beehives was when I was a young girl. My family was staying with a family friend up in Stoneville (Perth hills). He was involved in a hit and run when he was in his early twenties. It left him permanently paralysed from the waist down. I remember his hive being under the washing line. Which he obviously did not use. Having the hive under the washing line was very disappointing for me. And my siblings. No swinging around on that Hills Hoist. Our fear of being stung outweighed our enthusiasm for fun! However, we all recall him bringing in some fresh honeycomb from the hive one morning. I can still remember the taste. And the wax getting stuck in my teeth!

None of us can quite remember whether he managed his bees from his wheelchair or from his crutches. Or what type of hives he was running. Despite his disability he obviously was able to manage his bees in a way that worked for him. An absolute feat!

Langstroth Hive

Through my time providing bee consultation services I regularly come across the issue of hardware that does not work for the beekeeper. The traditional vertical Langstroth hive is the most common example of this. The Langstroth hive was patented in 1852 and apart from a few minor changes the main design has not changed. Brood in the bottom box. Honey in the top. Commercial beekeepers use this form of hive as it was specifically designed for commercial beekeeping. But if you are a hobbyist then there are much better options out there.

A common issue with a Langstroth hive (yes, this includes the Flow Hive) is trying to lift a heavy box of honey off the top of the hive in order to inspect the brood box underneath. Yes. You need to be inspecting the brood box underneath. And when that honey box on top (the ‘super’) can weigh over 30kg, and you have only finger grips to lift that weight, it can prove to be rather challenging. And hard on your fingers. And your back. Commercial ‘beeks’ have equipment to help with all the heavy lifting. Hobbyists generally do not.

I find that many of my clients don’t take long to realise that perhaps their choice of hardware (hive type) was not the best choice. Especially when a large percentage of them are retirees. David and I made the very same mistake when we first started out.

One of the first things you need to consider prior to investing in your hardware is what type is best suited to your needs and situation. There are so many options out there now. And they all have their pros and cons.

Flow Hive vs Traditional Hive

The Flow Hive makes extracting honey an absolute breeze. It was specifically designed for this purpose. But removing that full super to inspect the brood? Have fun with that. Any other form of Langstroth is the same (except the horizontal hive). There are obviously ways around the issue of lifting heavy boxes such as removing frames to lighten the load, or using a manual hive lifter to remove entire supers (but you will need a buddy to help).

But you don’t have to be running 10 frame boxes. Which can weigh in excess of 30kg. There are now options to run eight, or even six frame boxes. Making the load a little lighter.

Need it lighter again? Perhaps consider running WSP which is 20% smaller than the full depth. Manley is 30% smaller. Ideal is 40% smaller. And then there’s the half depth. As you can see, all of these are up to 50% shallower than the traditional full depth frames. Making the super lighter. And hopefully easier to manage.

David and I started with full depth timbers. We now run mostly Manley supers on our production hives as I struggle with the full depth boxes. And using the poly (high density polystyrene) hardware makes them lighter again compared to the timber. A double win!

Long Hives

Now let's get onto the horizontal hives. The most common being the Long Langstroth and the Kenyan Top Bar. These hives are fabulous for those who can’t lift heavy things. Or have back issues. The only things you lift are the lid on the top (and that is generally hinged) and each individual frame. These hives take the pressure off your back as there is no need to lift any heavy supers. Everything is done at a single level. And if you set it up correctly, can be very ergonomic.

And now beekeepers who have woodworking skills, or have friends with woodworking skills, are building custom hives. These are becoming rather popular of late. The hive of the day is the ‘Long Lang Flow Hybrid’ which consists of a combination of traditional frames and Flow frames.

Our daughter Emily was gifted a Long Lang Flow Hybrid by a very good friend of ours (thanks Adam!) and it is perfect for her. No need to lift anything heavy, and it means that she can do small batch extraction so her honey is just that. Her honey! It doesn’t get tainted with the honey from our production hives.

The Verdict?

There are many other options out there which I have not mentioned here. There are far too many! But whichever way you go it pays to do your research and work out what hive is best for you, preferably before you invest in your hardware. Not sure where to start? Do you already have your hardware? Feel free to contact us. We can talk you through it and answer any questions you may have.

Helen Humphreys Passionate Beekeeper Trainer | Mentor | Producer

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