Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


Domesticated honeybees are kept in beehives. The bees use the hive space to raise brood and to store honey for the coming winter. A location where beehives are kept is known as an apiary.

Table of contents
1 Traditional beehives
2 Modern beehives
3 External sites and References
4 Deseret

Traditional beehives

Traditional beehives provided an enclosure for the bee colony but little more. Because there is no internal structure provided for the bees to start from, the bees fill the space in the hive with comb. The comb is 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. Harvest generally destroyed the hives, though there were some adaptations with extra top baskets which could be removed when the bees filled them with honey. These were gradually supplanted with box hives of varying dimensions, with or without frames, and finally replaced by Langstroth equipment.

Honey from traditional hives was typically extracted by pressing - crushing the wax honeycomb to squeeze out the honey. Because of this harvest method, they typically provided more beeswax but far less honey than a modern hive.

Skeps and other fixed-frame hives are no longer in wide use (and are illegal in many countries) because the bees and the comb cannot be inspected for disease or parasites without destruction of the honeycomb and usually the colony.

There are three basic styles of traditional beehive; Tile hives, Skeps and Bee gums.

Tile Hives

Clay tiles were the customary homes of the bees around the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Long cylinders of baked clay were used in ancient Egypt, the Middle East and to some extent in Greece and Italy. They sometimes were used singly, but more often stacked in rows to provide some shade, at least for those not on top. Keepers could smoke one end to drive the bees to the other end while they harvested honey.


In northern and western Europe, baskets made of coils of grass or straw, called skeps, were used. In the simplest form, there is a single entrance at the bottom of the skep. There is no internal structure except what the bees build themselves.

Bee gums

In Eastern, particulary southeastern USA, sections of hollow trees were used up until the 20th century. They were called "gums" because they often were from red gum trees.

Sections of the hollow trees were set upright in "bee yards" or apiaries. Sometimes sticks or crossed sticks were placed under a board cover to give an attachment for the honeycomb. As with skeps, harvest of honey from these destroyed the colony. Often the human bee "robber" would sulphur the bees, killing them all, before even opening their nest. This was done by inserting a metal container of burning sulphur into the gum, an act that modern beekeepers find abhorrant.

Modern beehives

There are two modern types of hives in common use: Langstroth hives and Top-bar or Kenya-type hives.

Langstroth hives

Langstroth frame of honeycomb
with honey in the upper left
and pollen in most
of the rest of the cells
Named for their inventor, Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth, these hives are typified by removable frames which allow the apiarist to inspect for diseases and parasites. Movable frames also allow the beekeeper to more easily split the hive to make new colonies. Langstroth presented his design in 1860 and it has become the standard style hive for 75% of the world's beekeeping.

Langstroth hives make use of the discovery of bee space, a characteristic of European honeybees which causes them to propolize small spaces (less than 1/4 inch), gluing wooden parts together and to fill larger spaces (more than about 3/8 inch) with wax comb but to hold the intermediate space open for traffic channels for the bees. His cleverly designed hive makes use of this bee space so that frames are neither glued together nor jammed up with burr comb.

Langstroth hives make use of standardized sizes of hive bodies and frames to ensure that parts are interchangable and that the frames will remain relatively easy to remove and inspect without killing too many of the bees. Langstroth hive bodies are rectangular wooden or styrofoam boxes that can be stacked to expand the usable space for the bees.

Langstroth frames are thin rectangular structures made of wood or plastic and which have a wax or plastic foundation on which the bees draw out the comb. The frames hold the beeswax honeycomb formed by the bees. Ten frames side-to-side will fill the hive body and leave exactly the right amount of bee space between each frame and between the end frames and the hive body.

Langstroth frames are often reinforced with wire which makes it possible to extract honey in centrifuges which spin the honey out of the frames. The empty frames can be returned to the beehive for use next season. Since bees are estimated to use as much food to make one pound of beeswax as they would to make eight pounds of honey, the ability to reuse comb can significantly increase honey production.

Top-Bar Hives

These hives were developed as a lower-cost alternative to the standard Langstroth hives and equipment. They are used by some devotees in the US, but are much more popular, due to their simplicity and low cost, in developing countries. Top-bar hives also have movable frames and make use of the concept of bee space.

The top-bar hive gets its name because the frames of the hive only have a top bar, not sides or a bottom bar. The beekeeper does not provide a foundation (or only provides a fractional foundation) for the bees to build from. The bees build the comb so it hangs down from the top bar.

Unlike the Langstroth hive, the honey cannot be extracted by centrifuging because a top-bar frame does not have reinforced foundation or a full frame. Because the bees have to rebuild the comb after each harvest, a top-bar hive will yield more beeswax but less honey. However, like the Langstroth hive, the bees can be induced to store the honey separately from the areas where they are raising the brood so that far fewer bees are killed when harvesting from a top-bar hive than when harvesting from a skep.

See also: bees, diseases of the honeybee

External sites and References


The beehive had been used as a symbol of industry for the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as represented by the word Deseret, which is explained in the Book of Mormon as an Adamic (pre-tower of Babel) word for honeybee. The beehive (represented as a skep hive) is also the official emblem of the state of Utah.