Two types of beehives
When it comes to your actual hives, you have two options. Both offer benefits and challenges, and hives can thrive in either one. The choice is up to you.
Langstroth hives are basically stacked boxes. As the hive grows, the beekeeper simply adds another box to the tower. Each box contains ten frames, which hang in the box like files in a cabinet. Langstroth hives are very common—most beekeepers use them, so information, equipment, and advice are easy to find. If you’re joining a local beekeeping club, most members will have Langstroth hives.
The downside of Langstroth hives is that the boxes become very heavy. At the height of summer, these beehives can weigh up to 100 pounds each. To inspect the hives at the bottom of the tower, you’ll have to lift and move the ones on top, which can be difficult.
Top bar hives
Top bar hives are shaped typically long and rectangular and allow for horizontal beekeeping as opposed to Langstroth’s vertical system. As the hive grows, more frames are added to the back of the hive, so bees build out rather than up. The design is very simple and is considered less invasive, which the bees appreciate. Top bar hives also don’t require frames. Empty bars are placed in the hive, and the bees build comb from scratch, just as they would in the wild.
Top bar hives present their own challenges. Because there are no frames, the comb will be a bit more fragile and can break apart during inspections if you aren’t careful. While fairly cheap to build (you can make your own for about $100) there are no standard measurements, and many recommended measurements are too small. This is an easy mistake to make, especially for beginners.