First of all I need to say that I have yet be successful in over-wintering a beehive, however I did start from nothing in my beekeeping experience so if you are a completely new beekeeper my trials may help you. Let us consider the types of beehives and my suggestion will be at the bottom.
Langstroth – This is the most common in the US and is what you see most beekeepers using. This hive consists of movable frames that go into a hive body that holds either 8 or 10 frames with 10 frame hive bodies being the most common. The height of the hive bodies come in different sizes, called deeps, mediums & shallows. Being the most common you can easily buy all the parts you need from a variety of places. I have been keeping bees in a couple of Langstroth hives for several years now and have been thwarted by mice finding their way into the hive in the winter and eating the honey and, I think, the bees. This type of hive is really designed for the commercial beekeeper that needs to maximize honey production and have the ability to easily move the hives to new locations to provide pollination services. In fact many commercial beekeepers make more money off of pollination contracts than from selling honey. One thing to keep in mind the hive bodies can be very heavy, up to 90 lbs for a deep full of honey.
Top Bar Hive – When I first started beekeeping I tried a top bar hive. A beekeeper in the UK by the name of Phil Chandler strongly recommends them as a better way for the hobby beekeeper to keep bees. Plus the can be built yourself with only the most basic of tools for a low-cost. Thus they have also become popular in Africa as a way to enable those without much money to start a beekeeping business and better their life. You can read about this type of hive at www.biobees.com with full plans available. However the problem I ran into the two times I tried to install a package of bees in my top bar hive is the bees just left. It is not easy to find someone else with a top bar hive that can sell you a nuc (more about nucs later) so unless you already have bees I was not able to get a hive started in a top bar hive. Others haven’t had any problems. A top bar hive can need more tending as you have to make sure the bees to not fill up all the space you have allocated to them. However honey harvest can be easy and done in small amounts, perfect for the home beekeeper. These are available to buy but I think shipping will hurt, so look for a local builder if you don’t want to build it yourself.
Warre Hive – This is called the “people’s hive” because it is very easy to build with plans also available on the biobees site. The philosophy behind Warre beekeeping is very much hands off and you work the hive at the box level, not at the fame level like the Langstroth or Top Bar Hive so it can be less work. However adding to the hive requires lifting the whole stack of boxes and adding a box to the bottom, this can mean lifting well over 100 lbs. Because of that Warre beekeepers have designed and built various lifts to make this task easier, but building such a lift is not particularly easy for one with limited building skills. Honey harvesting is usually done in the fall by taking boxes off of the top and generally the comb is crushed to extract the wax. This provides a natural rotation that means the oldest wax (which can be contaminated by chemicals and pesticides) is removed from the hive. Some beekeepers feel this is of value, others feel it is making work for the bees requiring them to build new comb. There is a “fact” out on the internet (so it must be true) that it takes 8 lbs of honey to make 1 lb of wax so when you use a beekeeping style that removes the honey comb from the hive (Like the Warre or Top Bar) you are loosing a lot of honey while the bees create new comb. However I have not been able to find clear proof anyplace that this is true and personally do not believe it and even if it was true I would still take whole combs as I have use for bee’s wax. This is a very old method of beekeeping and many of the beekeeping supply places sell Warre Hives.
Perone – A Perone is like a super-sized Warre in that it is frame-less except it is much larger. Also you create the large bottom brood chamber and never go in it again, you put shallower boxes on top for you to get honey. Oscar Perone developed this hive in South America and I have followed a few people in the US that have tried it but none of them have been particularly successful.
Horizontal Hive – This is like a cross between a top bar and Langstroth hive. There a frames like a Langstroth, but each frame is much bigger and deeper and you only have one box, you do not stack them like a Langstroth or Warre. I have not found many people who are using this method of beekeeping even though the site claims there are a million of these hives in use. This is I’m considering as I move forward with beekeeping. You will have to build it yourself as I do not believe anyone makes these commercially. This does address the biggest problem I have with Warre or Langstroth, you only lift one frame at a time which is much less weight. However the whole hive has to be hundreds of pounds, but since I wont be moving my hives very often, if ever, I don’t see this as a problem.
Slovenian Bee Hive – I have recently discovered the Slovenian or AZ Hive and am very intrigued by it. I really like the concept of a bank of beehives to help keep each other warm in the winter and being build into a shelter. Further you work the hives a frame at a time, again eliminating any heavy lifting. I will be following the Facebook Group and see if this is something I want to take on. The construction of this type of hive is much more complex and tends to be a more permanent structure and is not mobile unless build onto a truck or heavy-duty trailer. Since I have no intention of becoming someone who moves hives around every year it is appealing to me, you have your bee hives and honey shack in one structure. I think there is one or two people building them in the US so this would be a build project for me and I have too many other projects right now.
Skeps – These hives resemble a upside-down basket and is the really old school style of beekeeping. We do have much of a history of this style of beekeeping in western hemisphere as when Europeans settled in this part of the world wooden box hives were the way to do things.
My Suggestions – If you are a completely new beekeeper (in North America) I recommend you start out with a Langstroth hive with all medium 8-frame equipment. When it comes to getting bees the best would be an over-wintered nucleus (nuc) hive from a local beekeeper and install that in your equipment. Make sure when you talk to the beekeeper that it is a nuc on medium frames if you do get all medium equipment. A nuc hive is 4-5 frames of a fully functioning colony with a laying queen, worker bees, a couple of frames of brood and a couple of frames of honey. This gives you the best chance of getting started. You can also put up a swarm trap in the spring and hope to catch a swarm, if you do this is considered by many the best way to start a new hive. The reason I suggest starting with Langstroth is I have only seen nucs for sale on Langstroth equipment. Also I should mention that this advice might not be the best for folks in other parts of the world, I know the UK has several types of hives not available here. Basically buy the type of hive you can get a nuc to go into.
I would be interested in hearing from others on their experiences on getting started in beekeeping