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Which Hive?

The purpose of this article is to explain the differences in the hive types available in order that you can choose the hive most suitable for your needs.

Hives are a convenient way of containing a colony of bees and protecting them from the elements and predators, thereby enabling the bees to thrive and maximise honey production without encouraging swarming or in any way being detrimental to the bees. To do this you need to understand the parts that go to make-up a hive, what their function is and whether they are essential or desirable. If you already know the parts of a hive and wish to skip this part click HERE

hive plan

Working from the bottom of the hive to the top you will normally find the following:-

The Floor is a flat board with raised edges on three sides, the remaining open end serving as the entrance.

The entrance can be reduced by fitting an Entrance Block, which is a strip of wood that fits into the entrance. It has a small cut-out for the bees to enter and exit but gives a small "doorway" which the bees can more easily protect to reduce the risk of wasps or other bees entering and robbing the hive.

Next comes the Brood Box which is placed on the floor and contains frames of comb and is the main nest or colony in which the queen resides, lays her eggs and the brood is raised. The volume of the brood box depends on the hive type and the number/size of frames it is designed to hold.

On top of the brood box can be placed a Queen Excluder, which is a flat perforated sheet or metal grill through which the worker bees can pass. The restricted size prevents the larger queen from moving up to the next chamber or Super where the surplus honey is stored. In this way the bees are forced to contain their brood in the Brood Box. Some beekeepers believe that Queen Excluders are disliked by bees making them reluctant to move up into the super in early spring. Also if the bees become over crowded they can expand up into the first super without restriction. If the bees are restricted they may stop the queen laying and reduce the number of bees. Since the more flying bees the more nectar gathered and honey produced this could limit the honey crop and also lead to premature swarming. In the experience of the writer the bees do not allow the queen to lay all over the hive and control her laying area. In the late summer as the brood contracts back into the brood chamber the cells in the bottom of the first super are cleaned out and filled with honey.

Supers are more shallow than the brood box thereby providing a reasonably sized box to lift when full of honey. Some beekeepers use brood boxes as supers thereby allowing only one size of frame to be used throughout. This gives a very heavy load when full of honey and can weigh as much as sixty pounds (30 Kilos) and is not to be recommended for beekeepers with bad backs or a distance to walk over rough ground.

Cover Boards are flat boards with a hole in the top and are used primarily as a cover on top of the brood and super boxes. The boards are also used to separate different parts of the hive, perhaps with a bee escape fitted into the hole or as a support for a feeder which if placed over the hole allows access to the feed but prevents the bees from getting above the feeder.

On top of the hive is a Roof, which fits over the hive and down the sides for about 3 to 6 inches. The hive is covered in thin sheet aluminium or other waterproof material.

Inside the roof is a rail around the inside to give a small air space. Between this rail and the inside top of the roof are ventilation holes with gauze placed over the holes to allow humid air out and stop insects getting in.

Since the discovery of the "Bee Space" and the introduction of removable frames there have probably been as many ideas of what is the perfect design as there have been beekeepers. The "Bee Space" is the gap between and around frames, which the bees will tolerate without trying to enlarge or block off thereby reducing the tendency for bees to stick the frames together or tear down the comb.

National The National Hive is the most popular hive in the UK and because of this it makes life easier for beekeepers to buy colonies on frames or buy or exchange equipment with other beekeepers. The frames have long lugs and overhang the walls of the hive hence the rebate front and back. This rebate serves as a handgrip when lifting the brood or supers. Some think the brood box is too small for modern prolific bees and add a super to the brood box to increase the space for the queen. This is referred to as "a brood and a half". Nice in theory but a nuisance when you have to find the queen. Having flat sides it is easy to strap the hive up for "migratory beekeeping" - moving the bees from one nectar source to another. The supers are the smallest of all hives and so the weight of a full super is the lightest of all hives.

WBC The WBC hive is named after its designer William Broughton Carr (thank you Richard Eades for supplying his name). It is a double walled hive in that the outer part is made up of splayed pyramid sections or "lifts" which protect separate loose boxes inside containing the frames. These are the classic hives of the past that you see on paintings and cards. In theory it is a good hive, cool in summer and warm in winter and ideal for bees. There is a standard for these hives but if you are buying second hand make sure that they are the same size as your other hives as they can vary. The main problems with them are that they are complicated in construction and extremely difficult to move to another site with bees in. In general they are considered old fashioned and many are now sold as garden ornaments and can attract a swarm from the residual propolis and beeswax in the wood. This hive takes National frames.

Langstroth The Langstroth hive is also named after its designer - Rev L. L. Langstroth - and is the most popular hive in the world - but not in the UK. The UK, European and American Langstroths differ in size. The German frames are not much bigger than a UK National and the American Super frames are slightly deeper than the UK equivalent. In addition you can find a Jumbo Langstroth which has a deeper brood frame. That said it is a simple hive in construction and easy to maintain


The Commercial hive, as its name implies, is favoured by commercial beekeepers having brood foundation measuring 16" x 10". Its size is such that it can be operated with standard National supers. This gives the best of both worlds in that you get a large brood area and light supers. Similar in appearance to the Langstroth it is also a single wall hive and is easy to work and maintain.

The Smith hive is of Scottish origin and still popular there, being suited to colder weather and easily moved to the heather. A single walled hive similar to the Langstroth but smaller.

The Modified Dadant is the largest hive in this article. This hive is similar to the Langstroth but with deeper frames and slightly wider spacing. Favoured by many commercial beekeepers it can be very heavy to lift and not recommended for anyone with a bad back!

My thanks to E H Thorne (Beehives) Ltd for the use of the colour pictures

Further information:



Hive Type

Hive Dimensions


Brood Chamber


Bee Space

Full Super



Frame Lug Length

No of Frames in

Brood Box


18 1/8 x 18 1/8



25 lbs.




197/8 x 197/8



25 lbs.




185/16 x 185/16



25 lbs.




20 x 161/4



30 lbs.



Modified Dadant

20 x 181/2



35 lbs.




163/8 x 181/4



25 lbs.



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