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Types of Hives

Types of Hives

Types of Hives

There are many types of hives, of all shapes and sizes all over the world! Let’s explore the pros and cons of a few of them.

While our research on sustainable habitats and bioclimatic houses is in full swing, it is natural to wonder: “Is there an ideal hive?” This exploration must take into account many factors such as the climate, the type of bees, the material and financial resources, and the accessibility of the site.

In rare cases, bee colonies set up their hive in open air. In this picture taken in Bulgaria (by Antony Croft), we can see the egg shape of a natural honeybee nest. Let’s remember this spherical nature when considering creating hives that best suit the bees needs.


There is a very simple logic to the preference of bees for living in round spaces: sharp corners are really hard to heat! The air does not circulate as well in a cubic space. Humidity gets stuck in the corners, encouraging mould and other undesirable occupants in the nest.

Therefore, the Sun-Hive is a 5-star hotel for bees. Made out of straw and wood, it is one of the most bee-centric hives that exist.

Unfortunately, it requires a lot of skill, time and specific materials to build. It also requires a stand or a protected place to be hung.


The design of the Top Bar Hive allows the colony to expand horizontally. Bees can build their combs naturally, following the guideline of the bars at the top (hence the name). The wax combs have a trapezoidal shape. It is possible to extract honeycombs from the sides without unsealing the delicately balanced inner atmosphere of the nest area, thereby reducing disturbance during harvest.

The Top Bar Hives that we use are featured with an observation window and listening holes, inviting intimacy and safe contact.


Inspired by the Portuguese tradition to build beehives out of cork, Annelieke has developed several models of hives based on this material, in collaboration with an ecological cork processing company. We use natural cork, untreated and not agglomerated. When cork is heated to high temperature, its cells expand, which increases its durability and insulating value. The soft and rough surface of the cork is ideal for propolisation of the inner walls of the hive. Our octagonal cork hive can be attached to the founding branches of a tree without requiring the use of metal spikes, nor hindering its growth.


The cob-cortiço is an experiment using a cylindrical core of cork rendered with thick layers of cob (mix of clay and straw). As a heat accumulator, cob absorbs heat from the sun during the day, and releases it at night. This type of material is well suited for areas with hot days and cold nights. Note that the insulating value of cob is low, making its use unsuitable for cold regions, and clay can potentially absorb heat from the colony itself, and tire her out.

Our video on cob-cortiço making.


In Portugal, we have many old hollow oak and olive trees with openings that are too large for bees to create a cosy nest in them.

Using cob and other materials, it is possible to reduce the opening to a suitable entrance size for bee colonies to use the tree as a home.

Our video on cob-cavity making.


The Warré is a vertical Top Bar hive that uses bars from which the bees build their comb. A French monk, Abbé Emile Warré, designed this hive in the 1920s after 50 years of research. He liked to call it ‘The People’s Hive’ as it was easy to build and maintain, compared to the conventional hives at that time.

Instead of placing boxes for honey production on top, new boxes are added from the bottom. The bees reorganise in their own pace, without stress of empty space above them. Old comb gets naturally replaced over time when honey harvest is done from the top.

We have adapted Warré hives with extra layers of cork insulation.


This is a good option if you have large trees locally available, with wood that won’t split when drying. If they are rare in your region, consider alternatives, as these trees are invaluable.

Log hives are very heavy, this is an important consideration for placement. Do you have the muscle power and transportation to bring the hive to its desired location?

Log hives reproduce many of the natural conditions offered by hollow trees. They provide good insulation, and the tunnel entrance helps protect the nest from intruders. Hornets, for example, are more easily repelled.


These are the most widely used hives in the world today. They are designed to facilitate honey harvest in conventional beekeeping. They are cheap, easy to obtain and convenient to handle during transition periods, but we are aware that they are not ideal for the bees’ needs.

When we do use them, however, we enhance their comfort:

  • A piece of cork to reduce heat build-up in summer or dampen the sound of rain on the metallic roof
  • Entrance reducers are added in winter to keep out unwanted visitors and reduce heat loss
  • Elevation from the ground to reduce humidity


Conventional square hives are large in volume. Research has shown that in temperate climates, bee colonies living in the wild are generally small in size and prefer to choose cavities with a suitable volume.

We are experimenting with different techniques to recycle conventional hives, and reduce their volume with locally resourced materials. The box provides structure and impermeability, while the cork provides insulation. Great upcycling!

BeeWisdom | Network of Bee Lovers