I am often asked which style hive is best for new beekeepers. The asker usually has a particular hive in mind and will state their question, “Do you think the ________ hive is good for beginners?” In the few seconds that pass before I respond, I can see in their face that they expect a finite answer. They want my blessing or a warning against a certain hive style, but they are destined for disappointment. As with so many questions in beekeeping, my answer is not a simple “yes” or “no”. Read on for an exploration of this common query.
Asking The Wrong Question
One of the biggest challenges for beginning beekeepers is figuring out what questions to ask. In my opinion, a lot of time is wasted on asking the wrong questions. The truth is, there is no single hive that is universally good for beginners. However, there may be a hive that is better suited to your climate, physical limitations, location or beekeeping goals.
Hives for Your Climate
Are you in a particularly dry area? Do you have long, cold winters? Talk to the beekeepers in your area about which hive styles they prefer and why. For example, I have found that beekeepers in wet climates prefer screened bottoms on their hives, but in my dry climate the bees do much better with solid bottoms. It may be that certain designs work better for your specific area, but don’t be discouraged if no one is using the hive style you are interested in. Beekeeping is all about experimentation.
Physical Needs & Limitations
Beekeeping can be very physically demanding. Langstroth hives and variations of it (Flow Hive) involve some heavy lifting. Although there are workarounds (try removing frames before lifting), if you have trouble lifting heavy boxes, you may be happier with a horizontal style hive. Consider a Top Bar Hive or Long Hive for minimal lifting.
Beyond just your climate, you should also consider the more specific setting you intend to manage your bees in. Do you want to place your hive on a rooftop? Down a steep hill? Is your area shaded? Rooftops and other hard to access locations may be ill-suited to bulky, hard-to-move horizontal hives. Sunny, hot areas could also be tricky for the free-hanging comb in the Top Bar Hive. On the other hand, I enjoy having Flow Hives on rooftops and other difficult settings because it means I do not have to lug heavy supers full of honey up a ladder or up a steep hill.
Your Beekeeping Goals
Perhaps the biggest factor a new beekeeper should consider is their own beekeeping goals. Are you dedicated to natural beekeeping? Then, the best hive for you may be a Warre, Top Bar Hive, Sunhive or other alternative style. Are you interested in harvesting the most honey possible? Then a Langstroth hive may be your best bet because it allows for honey comb to be reused after harvesting. This saves the bees work and could result in more honey. Are you a foodie? Consider the Flowhive then! Its unique harvesting method keeps the honey from oxidizing which preserves delicate floral flavors that may be lost with other harvesting techniques.
An Argument for Langstroth Hives
I am sometimes tempted to tell beekeeping hopefuls that the Langstroth hive is best to start with. This is not because I believe it has a superior design, but because it’s the most popular hive in the U.S. and most teaching resources favor it. It may be challenging for a beginning beekeeper to start out with a hive design that is uncommon for their area. You might have trouble finding compatible equipment, knowledgable mentors or other resources specific to your chosen hive. And because you don’t have to stick with the same hive design forever, it may be wise to start out with what’s popular and save any alternative style hives for when you have become experienced with bees.
In the end, there is no “best hive for beginners”, but there may be a best hive for you, personally. It’s a good idea to think about your specific situation, needs and goals, but more importantly you should think about what most interests you. If you are drawn to a particular hive— maybe that’s the hive for you! My final advice? Go with whatever hive style gets you most excited about getting started with bees.
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