Beekeeping, first steps, which hive?

Sometimes the hive comes with a property, or way before any thought of bees or beekeeping. If you are able to plan , and chose the hive best suited to your, and the bees’ needs, you will all be happier!

I shall discuss the various types and their purpose.

Hives for honey

National Hive

If your priority is to extract honey from your bees, then the number one recommended hive is the ‘National’. Most hobby, and semi commercial beekeepers use this hive for convenience, affordability and availability. Most beekeeping groups recommend it as you are most likely to be able to borrow or share parts with fellow beekeepers, however, with disease and cross contamination, I don’t recommend this as a reason for choosing this hive.

The National hive comes with a brood box and shallower ‘super’ boxes where the bees store the honey. The idea is that the bees live mainly in the brood box, and as they expand, they place their honey stores above in the supers. Queen excluders are placed between the brood and supers to prevent the queen from laying in the honey stores.

The National is mainly used in the UK, European and honey producers globally use a similar design, but larger hive called the ‘Langstroth’.

WBC Hive

WBC hive

The William Broughton Carr or WBC hive is basically a National, with additional outer boxes, ‘lifts’, which add an extra layer of insulation to the internal hive. This hive is the most familiar looking hive as it’s most often used in images of traditional beekeeping.

I like this hive because of the additional protection, and the landing board making it easy to manage and observe the bees as a beginner.

This was my first hive received as a birthday gift from my husband, and is still full of bees eight years on! It is produced by Caddon Hives in Cumbria as a flat pack, which my husband then put together. Made of Western Red cedar, it doesn’t require any treatment to the wood. This was an important factor to me as I am only too aware of the toxic fumes produced by paints and wood preservatives.





Warre Hive
Warre Hive

This hive was designed to be more bee friendly, mimicking the size and height of a tree hive. The idea here is that each new box is placed beneath the full brood box with the assumption that bees will build their comb downwards, rather than above as in the national hives.In practice, I have found that it is extremely difficult to lift more than two warre boxes full of bees, and then place an empty box beneath them. You need at least one other helper, and I have found the bees get irritated with being lifted en mass, rarely without tilting!

Using a Warre

When using these hives, I place new boxes above the full ones. The other major difference is that the frames inside the boxes are simple bars that the bees attach their comb to. This does mean that the bees also then are able to attach their comb to the interior sides of the box, making it almost impossible to lift a full frame of comb out of the hive!

An advantage to this hive is that often it is designed and made with observation windows in the side. This is wonderful for keeping an eye on your bees and learning about what is happening inside. I use these hives for taking natural comb honey, or no honey at all and leaving them as pollinating bees and swarm sources in our orchard.


Natural hives

Freedom hive made by Matt Somerville
Freedom hive made by Matt Somerville

Bees naturally live in trees, so if you don’t have a wild colony living in a tree in your garden, you can either hollow a tree and make a Zeidler Hive, or attach a log or freedom hive to an existing tree.

Matt Somerville makes these hives in Andover Uk, his website is:

Matt also runs courses around the country so you can make your own.

A tree hive specialist is Jonathan Powell of the Natural Beekeeping Trust. He has set up Zeidler hives all across the country and also runs courses around Europe and the uK.


Golden Hive

golden Hive Frame with bees
golden Hive Frame with bees

Another hive designed and made by Matt Somerville is the Golden Hive, currently my favourite of all the hives. Based on a natural colonies size and shape, the Golden is a modified form of top bar, except that the top bars are actually very deep frames. There is no need for foundation as the bees will quickly fill with their own wax comb. A dummy board allows you to shrink or enlarge the hive size, moving the board across as the colony grows. he has found that the honey frames are on the outer frames making honey harvesting a possibility, should you wish, and the bees allow!




straw skep used to catch a swarm
straw skep used to catch a swarm

Straw hand made skeps have been used for thousands of years by beekeepers around the globe and are still used by many today. Most beekeepers will have a skep used to catch swarms. A great teacher of skep making and an expert in keeping bees in them is Shropshire based Chris Park.








Sun Hive

Paula's Sun hive
Paula’s Sun hive
Inner Sun Hive frames
Inner Sun Hive frames
Looking inside a sun hive
Looking inside a sun hive

A modified skep, also woven from straw, the sun hive differs as it is made using two baskets, creating an egg shape, separated with a board, open in the centre.  Beautiful curved frames, or top bars placed on top of the board are covered by the top skep. This allows for frame removal or lifting to observe the bees or remove honey comb. Designed using biodynamic and Steiner principles by Guenther Mancke.





I have discussed various hives in more detail in my book ‘Artist to Bees’ available here


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *