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A beehive is an enclosed, man-made structure in which some honey bee species live and raise their young. Though the word beehive is commonly used to describe the nest of any bee colony, scientific and professional literature distinguishes nest from the hive.

The nest is used to discuss colonies that house themselves in natural or artificial cavities or are hanging and exposed. Hive is used to describe an artificial, man-made structure to house a honey bee nest. Several species of Apis live in colonies, but for honey production, the western honey bee (Apis mellifera) and the eastern honey bee (Apis cerana) are the main species kept in hives.

The nest's internal structure is a densely packed group of hexagonal prismatic cells made of beeswax, called a honeycomb. The bees use the cells to store food (honey and pollen) and to house the brood (eggs, larvae, and pupae).

Beehives serve several purposes: production of honey, pollination of nearby crops, housing supply bees for apitherapy treatment, and to try to mitigate the effects of colony collapse disorder. In America, hives are commonly transported so that bees can pollinate crops in other areas. Several patents have been issued for beehive designs.

Honey Bee Nests  

Honey bees use caves, rock cavities, and hollow trees as natural nesting sites. In warmer climates, they occasionally build hanging nests. These nests are composed of multiple honeycombs, parallel to each other, with a relatively uniform bee space. It usually has a single entrance. Western honey bees prefer nest cavities approximately 45 liters in volume and avoid those smaller than 10 or larger than 100 liters. The height above ground is usually between 1 meter (3.3 ft.) and 5 meters (16 ft.), entrance positions tend to face downward.

The bees often smooth the bark surrounding the nest entrance and coat the cavity walls with a thin layer of hardened plant resin called propolis. Honeycombs are attached to the walls along the cavity tops and sides, but small passageways are left along the comb edges. The basic nest architecture for all honeybees is similar: honey is stored in the upper part of the comb; beneath it are rows of pollen-storage cells, worker-brood cells, and drone-brood cells, in that order. The peanut-shaped queen cells are normally built at the lower edge of the comb.

How do honey bees make hives?

Honey bee hives are made of six-sided tubes, which are the shapes for optimal honey production because they require less wax and can hold more honey. Some hives develop broods which become dark in color over time because of cocoon tracks and travel stains. Other honey bee hives remain light in color.

Wild honey bees make hives in rock crevices, hollow trees and other areas that scout bees believe are appropriate for their colony. Similar to the habits of domesticated honey bees, they construct hives by chewing wax until it becomes soft, then bonding large quantities of wax into the cells of a honeycomb.

Although worker bees only live for approximately 6 weeks, they spent their lives performing tasks that benefit the survival of their colony. Workers forage for food and gather nectar from different flowering plants. When they carry nectar within their pollen pouch, it mixes with a specialized enzyme. After returning to the hive, the worker bee transfers the nectar from her tongue to another worker's tongue, where the liquid from the nectar evaporates and becomes honey.

The glands of worker bees convert the sugar contents of honey into wax, which oozes through the bee's small pores to produce tiny flakes of wax on their abdomens. Workers chew these pieces of wax until they become soft and moldable, and then add the chewed wax to the honeycomb construction.

The hexagonal cells of the honeycomb are used to house larvae and other broods, as well as to store honey, nectar, and pollen. When beekeepers extract honey from hives, the comb is easily left intact, though beekeepers sell honeycomb as well.

Traditional Hives

Traditional beehives simply provided an enclosure for the bee colony. Bees create their honeycomb within the hives which are often cross-attached and cannot be moved without destroying it. This is sometimes called a fixed-frame hive to differentiate it from the modern movable-frame hives.

Four styles of traditional beehives include; mud hives, clay/tile hives, skeps, and bee gums.

Modern Hives

In the southeast part of the United States, sections of hollow trees were used until the 20th century. These were called "gums" because they often were from black gum trees.

Sections of the hollow trees were set upright in "bee yards". Sometimes sticks or crossed sticks were placed under a board cover to give an attachment for the honeycomb. As with skeps, the harvest of honey from these destroyed the colony. Often the harvester would kill the bees before even opening their nest. This was done by inserting a metal container of burning sulfur into the gum.

Natural tree hollows and artificially hollowed tree trunks were widely used in the past by beekeepers in Central Europe. Bee gums are still used by beekeepers today, for bee species whose honey output is less than that of the more productive honeybee. Unlike most beehives, the bee gum allows the housing of other bee species. The bee gum allows the bees themselves to organize their nest. In some instances, bee gums are also still used, even with bee species that do not produce large quantities of honey.

What are the Reasons for Starting Beekeeping?

  • There is very little wintertime work with honeybees. If the beekeeper has helped prepare the honeybee colonies so they have plenty of food for the winter and has addressed pest, predator and disease issues in fall then there is nothing to do. They don’t need feeding, watering, shoveling, milking or anything else.
  • No cows, goats, chickens, rabbits or whatever to jump over, crawl under or knock down your homestead fencing, and get out to aggravate you and your neighbors.
  • Bees make honey, but more is needed as they need to survive a winter on their own. They share the surplus with the beekeeper. Flowering plants produce a sweet liquid solution called nectar to entice a honeybee to visit the flower and do this important thing ”” pollination ”” that we talked about earlier. This nectar is collected by the honeybees. They add enzymes to it to change the sugar profile and reduce the moisture level below 18 percent so the honey will not spoil or ferment.
  • Honeybees’ main foods are nectar/honey and pollen collected as they fly from flower to flower. Their hairy little bodies pick up the sticky pollen from flowers. This is the pollen that then transfers to the sticky stigma on another flower and pollination occurs. Flowers produce lots more pollen than they require because this pollination activity is still risky. The excess pollen stuck on the honeybee’s body is combed out by a structure on the bee’s legs and collected in small balls on the hind legs, easily seen in its bright orange, yellow, and even red and green colors. Bees collect pollen because it is their protein, vitamin, fat and mineral source of food. Nectar/honey is the energy carbohydrate food. These pollen grains are protected and encased in silica (glass) to protect the “sperm” inside from drying out, getting wet, etc., before they can fertilize a seed. This silica shell has to be broken open. Honeybees add various bacteria and yeasts to the pollen collected that when it is stored in the cells of a honeycomb, it starts to ferment and the silica shell breaks away releasing the food inside. This fermented pollen is called bee bread. Kind of like pollen silage for those of you familiar with that process.
  • Honeybee equipment, such as honey extraction equipment and a honey bee extractor, while having a cost, is far less expensive than other farm or agricultural equipment. A hive of honeybees doesn’t require oil, gasoline, diesel or anything else to run.
  • If your hive results in too many colonies of honeybees for your backyard, then unlike cows or something else big, you can simply ask a neighbor if you can put some of your valuable honeybees on his property in the unused place in the back. Most of the time, if you have done your PR (samples of honey and the pollination story), the answer is yes. No land to buy or rent.
  • The honeybee works for almost nothing. They feed themselves (a honeybee can forage for nectar and pollen efficiently in a 2- to the 2-1/2-mile radius of their colony) and clean up after themselves as well. If you could develop a breed of goats that collected hay and brought it back to the barn to use in winter and then cleaned out the barn as well, you would have something almost as good as a honeybee.
  • Honeybees are the keystone fundamental pollinator species of agriculture and for wildlife. They produce an almost perfect energy food, honey. They are very forgiving livestock. You don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect beekeeper. Honeybees do not necessarily require the management skills of a learned beekeeper for optimum results.

What are the types of Bee Hives?

Top Bar

The Top Bar beehive looks similar to a trough used for animal feeding. The bees make their comb by drawing it down from the wooden bar inside the top of the hive.


The Langstroth consists of wooden boxes called supers, stacked on top of each other. They are sitting on a base called the foundation board and topped with a lid or cover. Inside, the bees create their comb and fill the cells with honey on waxed frames that hang vertically inside the super.


The Warre has been compared to a cross between a hollowed-out tree and a top bar hive. These are smaller than the Top Bar and the Langstroth versions.

Rose Hive

A hive and method of management developed by Tim Rowe, maintaining the same cross-sectional dimensions. The single box and frame size are used for both brood and honey supers. Standardizing on one size reduces complexity and allows for the 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. When collecting honey, brood and honey frames can be relocated up or down the hive, as needed.

Flow Hive

Proprietary design for a beehive launched in 2015, based on a design by father and son team of beekeepers and inventors. 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.

WBC hive

The WBC, invented by 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. Many beekeepers avoid it, owing to the inconvenience of having to remove the external layer before the hive can be examined.

CDB hive

In 1890, Charles Nash Abbott (1830-1894), design of a new CDB hive in Dublin, Ireland. It was commissioned by the Irish District Board to support rural populations until its absorption in the department of Agriculture.

Perone hive

The Perone or Automatic Hive was designed by Oscar Perone, large 2 meter-high vertical top bar hives that remain the same size all year, split into a bee area underneath, and a beekeepers area above (Mark 1) or side by side (Mark 2). The total hive volume is large, around 280 liters, which it is proposed allows the bees to develop into a 'super-colony' differing in behavior to colonies in smaller hives.

AZ hives

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.

Top Bar Hive

The top-bar or Kenya-hives were developed as a movable comb to make use of the concept of bee space. Here 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 bees build the comb so it hangs down from the top bar keeping the way bees build wax in a natural cavity.

The hive body of a common style of the top-bar hive is often shaped like an inverted trapezoid and expanded horizontally, not vertically. The top-bar design is a single, much longer box, with the bars hanging in parallel. 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.


It takes 14 x 12 inches 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.


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 but works horizontally in the manner of traditional Top-bar hives.

Fixed comb hives

A fixed comb hive is a hive in which the combs cannot be removed or manipulated for management or harvesting without permanently damaging the comb. They are no longer in common use in industrialized countries and are illegal in varroa and American foulbrood., still, beekeeping using fixed comb hives is an essential part of the livelihoods of many communities in poor countries.

Vertically stackable hives

There are three types of vertically stackable hives: hanging or top-access frame, sliding or side-access frame, and top bar.

Hanging frame hives include Langstroth, the British National, Dadant, Layens, and Rose, differing primarily by size or number of frames. The Langstroth was the first successful top-opened hive with movable frames. Langstroth hives are the most common size in the United States and much of the world-large parts of Germany and other parts of Europe by commercial beekeepers.

Top bar stackable hives simply use top bars instead of full frames. The most common type is the Warre hive, although any hive with hanging frames can be made into a top bar stackable hive by using only the top bar and not the whole frame. This may work less-well with larger frames, where cross comb and attachment can occur more-readily.

Movable Comb Hive

Langstroth's design for movable comb hives was widely adopted by apiarists and inventors in England, France, Germany, and the United States. Classic designs evolved in each country: Dadant hives and Langstroth hives are still dominant in the US; in France the De-Layens trough-hive became popular and in the UK a British National hive became standard as late as the 1930s although in Scotland the smaller Smith hive is still popular. However, the Langstroth and Dadant designs remain ubiquitous in the US and also in many parts of Europe, though Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France, and Italy all have their national hive designs.

The differences in hive dimensions are insignificant in comparison to the common factors in all these hives: they are all square or rectangular; they all use movable wooden frames; they all consist of a floor, brood-box, honey super, crown board, and roof.

Pioneers of practical and commercial beekeeping

The 19th century produced an explosion of innovators and inventors who perfected the design and production of beehives, systems of management and husbandry, stock improvement by selective breeding, honey extraction, and marketing. Preeminent among these innovators were:

Petro Prokopovych used frames with channels in the side of the woodwork; these were packed side by side in boxes that were stacked one on top of the other. The bees traveled from frame to frame and box to box via the channels. The channels were similar to the cutouts on the sides of modern wooden sections.

Jan Dzierżon was the father of modern apiology and apiculture whereas all modern beehives are descendants of his design.

François Huber did significant discoveries on the life of bees including the mating of queens and their interaction with other members of the hive despite his blindness.

Things to know before having a Beehive

1. You Must Do Your Research

The most important part of starting a beehive on your homestead is to learn all you can about bees. Bees need certain things and are quick to swarm and leave your hive if they can’t survive. Protect both yourself and your investment when wanting to start a colony by taking the time to do the research.

2. There Are Two Ways to Acquire A Hive

Once you know all there is to know about bees, you’ll want to purchase or build a beehive. There are many places online where you can buy a hive. There are also a few different styles and designs to choose from as well. Pick one that you like and make sure to err on the side of caution when purchasing a beehive. Small hives are best to start with, but you may need to add onto the hive as the bees create honey.

If you want to build your hive, there are beehive plans online to help you create the correct dimensions. Again, bees require specific things to be happy in the hive. When building a hive, pay close attention to the specs so that you can keep your bees safe and healthy. You can also choose to supplement a DIY hive with purchased top bars that are hard to make. Again, you have to be precise to create a beehive that will be successful.

3. There Are Different Ways to Supply Bees

Purchasing your bees is both an exciting and odd experience. You can order them online and have them shipped to you in the mail. However, shipping is very stressful for bees, and they can be less adaptable if shipped to a new climate. Local bee suppliers in your area will start to take orders for bees in early winter.

We have also seen bees for sale on local sale websites that may require you to drive a few hours for pickup. You can also attract your swarm of bees with a little bit of patience and a lot of luck. However, most beginner beekeepers purchase their bees from a local supplier.

4. You Have to Find the Right Spot

You can’t just stick your beehive anywhere on your land. Bees require special care, and the hive should be properly placed for the best results. Face the entrance of the colony away from areas of people on the homestead as this will be the busiest part of the hive. The opening should also face away from winter winds which could make the hive too cold during the winter. Many beehives do well under shade trees that see the sun in the winter but are cooler in the summer.

5. Common Hazards to Beware

As a beekeeper, it is a fair assumption that you will get stung no matter what kind of protective clothing you wear. Bees are docile when placed in a hive but quickly become protectors of their home. Even if you cover from head to toe in protective gear, you may still have a determined bee who stings to protect the rest of the hive. When you have a beehive, you are introducing a large number of bees into your environment. Keeping bees with someone on the farm that is allergic to them could be dangerous or even deadly.

6. Hives Need Lots of Attention

Not only is getting bees into the hive a big job in the first place, but beehives require a lot of attention throughout the year. You’ll need to check the colony regularly for signs of trouble as well as make sure that the production of honey is going well.

Bees are quick to make themselves at home in a hive, but that doesn’t always mean they are okay. Many colonies do well throughout the spring and summer when pollen is available.

7. Success Is Not Guaranteed Even if you do successfully get a swarm into a hive, it doesn’t mean that you won’t still have issues. Bees have declined in recent years due to disease, parasites, and toxic chemicals. Many of the blooms that bees feed off of are not the same quality that was once available in past decades.

There are several reasons why bees become ill, and an entire hive can die. We’ve seen colonies die due to a prolonged winter and not enough honey to sustain them. Late springs also hurt bees who require plenty of spring blossoms to feed off of.

Keeping bees on the homestead is a great idea, and we encourage those determined homesteaders to try it. Beekeeping can be a vital addition to a healthy homestead, but it is also not without its risks and rewards. Consider these important things to know before starting a beehive this year.

General maintenance requires periodic inspections during the warm months to make sure your queen is laying eggs, your workers are building up honey stores, and your colony has enough space to expand. In the cold months, the colony clusters and eats through their honey stores, only emerging when the temperature is above freezing to eliminate waste. Inspections are discouraged during this time to keep from releasing precious heat from the hive. Management time will depend on your climate, your hive style, and your particular bees.

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