Bees are commonly kept in what is called a Langstroth hive. These are a made up of a series of boxes inside which are suspended the frames on which honeycomb is built. Boxes can be stacked into quite tall units – these are the sort of hives you often see around and about.
A Langstroth hive has a box at the bottom – called a ‘Brood box’ – in which the queen is housed and where she lays her eggs to produce more bees (or brood). Sometimes a hive will have two brood boxes at the bottom. Above the brood box, or boxes, are what are called the ‘supers’ or ‘honey supers’.
These upper boxes have more frames hanging inside them and it is here that the workers make comb and fill it with honey. The queen is restricted from accessing this part of the hive by a ‘Queen excluder’ – a metal grille that has thin bars placed close enough together to prevent the queen from getting through but with enough room for the smaller workers and drones to pass through easily. So no eggs are laid in the cells and beekeepers are able to take off frames that are filled entirely with honey. The hive is weather-proofed with a wooden or metal lid.
An alternative to the Langstroth is a ‘Top bar’ hive where bees build their honey comb more naturally from a series of wooden bars in the top of a large single chamber. Top bar hives have an ancient tradition and are common in poorer countries with little access to expensive beekeeping and hive making equipment. They can be made from virtually any container – an old draw, packing crate, steel drum will all work as long as they have a weather-proof lid. The comb hangs down in thick wax ‘curtains’ and can easily be inspected by removing the lid or, as is the case with many purpose-built Top bar hives these days, by viewing through a glass window in the side of the hive. Top bar hives are becoming increasingly popular in the developed world because of their more natural form of construction and methods of beekeeping.
The Warre hive is an adaptation of the Top bar hive by a French Abbot Emile Warre in the late 19th century. The Warre hive combines a similar structural layout as a Langstroth hive with the principals of a Top bar hive. The bars on which the bees make their comb are hung across the top of a series of boxes that are removed when they are full of comb and honey. Both Warre and Top bar hives are generally subject to less maintenance than the Langstroth hive.