Horizontal Hive: History, Pros, Cons & More

horizontal hive
The horizontal beehive, similar to the Langstroth hive, is a commonly used hive type that offers both advantages and disadvantages. While providing the beekeeper with easier access and less weight to lift, this hive type still has some disadvantages like limited space for hive growth and less stability.

History of the Horizontal Hive

The horizontal hive goes back hundreds of years. It arose as a solution to the problem of overcrowding in traditional vertical beehives.

In this new method, hives are built horizontally with the honeycomb or frames suspended sideways.

The earliest known written record of horizontal hives dates back to 1804 when a German geometer named Mathias Foreke published a manual on beekeeping that included instructions for creating them.

Later, Italian scientist author Cesare Everardo Bernardo experimented and wrote about the advantages of horizontal hives in his 1818 work Le Apiatiche Scientifiche: Discorsi Apici Ragionati (Bees Scientifically Discussed). Since then, the technology has been adapted and improved by countless beekeepers.

Horizontal hives are common throughout Europe, North America, and South America. Thanks to easy assembly and high yields, the practice has seen adopters from commercial and hobbyist apiculture backgrounds.

Types Of Horizontal Hives

Long Langstroth Hive

This is the most common type of horizontal hive modeled after the Langstroth hive. It uses the same type of vertically hung frames, but instead of multiple boxes stacked vertically, there’s just one long horizontal box housing the frames. 

Top Bar Hive

This is a type of foundationless hive that uses frames (usually called ‘top bars’ in Warre hives and horizontal top bar hives) without an interior foundation made of plastic or beeswax. The bees build their honeycombs attached to the bars, and the queen has free roam of the hive. This natural beekeeping method is the closest to how bees build combs in the wild. Bees can build the comb in the shape and size they need. 

Layens Hive

The Layens hive, developed by French botanist Georges de Layens, is similar to the horizontal Langstroth hive. It typically uses frames with foundations, but the frames are longer and deeper. The idea of the deep frame is to mimic a hollow tree trunk. This helps bees overwinter, as their natural tendency is to move ‘up’ the comb to retain warmth in cold weather. 

Click here to review the most common types of beehives.

Pros & Cons of the Horizontal Hive

The horizontal hive often called a “long hive,” is an exciting alternative to the classic vertical box hive often used by beekeepers. It offers some attractive advantages and disadvantages that should be understood before starting this hiving system.

Pros of Horizontal Hives

No Heavy Lifting

In vertical hives, heavy boxes must be removed and opened from the top to inspect the frames. A box full of honey could weigh up to 80 pounds! A horizontal hive remains stationary, and all of the frames hang in a single row. You only lift one frame at a time to inspect it. 

Efficient Space & Size

The comb in a traditional vertical box hive must be filled lengthwise from one end to the other, leaving unused space on either end. The design of the horizontal hive allows for the comb to be built in rows, making it easier to fill all available space without leaving any room for empty chambers. This minimizes the amount of equipment needed and reduces labor on the beekeeper’s end.

Less Equipment

A horizontal hive is one long box filled with close-fitting frames. Depending on the design you choose, a long hive could fit up to 30 frames. Standard Langstroth vertical hives fit 8-10 frames per box. 

Faster Hive Inspections

In a horizontal hive, all frames are visible at once without having to move up and down each story of a vertical hive box.

Better Air Circulation

Because the frames aren’t enclosed in individual boxes, horizontal hive designs tend to have better air circulation. This helps ventilate the hive and regulate temperature. More on this important topic below! 

Happier Bees

The horizontal hive was designed for better distribution of bees throughout the frames, resulting in healthier bees, less swarming, and increased productivity of honeycomb cells.

Cons of Horizontal Hives

Less Stability

The disadvantage of a horizontal hive is that it can provide less stability overall due to its design. Since there are no walls around and above each frame as in a traditional vertical box hive, bees can become overcrowded or experience too much vibration when frames are inspected. 

Cross Comb

In a foundationless hive, new beekeepers have to keep a close eye on the hive in the early days to prevent cross comb. Because bees can ‘freestyle’ their honeycomb shape, there is a possibility they will build it ‘across’ the frames instead of staying within the frame. If a comb spans multiple frames, it’s impossible to cleanly harvest it. 

Transfer Challenges

Because of the one-box design, beekeepers may have more difficulty during nuc transfers or when combining bee colonies for the winter season.

Limited Space

With a vertical hive, you can always add more boxes. If you want to grow your colony in a horizontal hive, you will have to build or purchase additional structures.

Horizontal Hive vs. Langstroth Hive

The traditional Langstroth hive remains popular among beekeepers today. However, due to its easy management and access, the horizontal hive has seen a spike in popularity.

Langstroth Hive

The Langstroth hive is composed of several vertically-stacked boxes. Each box holds 8-10 frames for bees to build their comb on.

Its design makes it easy for beekeepers to open up one box at a time and inspect the honeycomb without disturbing other boxes which house larvae or provide extra space for bees to move around freely.

The Langstroth hive has been designed with efficient honey production in mind while keeping colonies healthy without much intervention from beekeepers.

Horizontal Hive

The horizontal hive consists primarily of one long box with up to 30 frames suspended inside.

This design allows beekeepers easier access as combs are horizontally arranged. It’s also easier to manage since you don’t have to remove entire boxes when harvesting honey or inspecting for pests/diseases before treatment.

Horizontal Hive Ventilation

When the top of the hive is removed to access the frames, it provides an opening through which warm air can escape and cool air can enter.

A horizontal hive can improve ventilation and reduce the chances of condensation forming within the hive during hot summer days. Lack of ventilation can lead to diseases like American Foulbrood, caused by spores that thrive in damp conditions.

Some materials are better suited for improving airflow than others. Plywood and corrugated plastic are common materials used for constructing horizontal hives as they allow for more even airflow around the hive body.

Additionally, some beekeepers may add mesh screens along any open sides or sections within their hives for improved air circulation and protection from pests.

Horizontal Hive Queen Excluder

A horizontal hive queen excluder is an essential piece of equipment used in beekeeping.

It is placed between the brood boxes and super boxes, allowing beekeepers to effectively raise queens and prevent them from laying eggs in the honey-filled honey supers. A horizontally mounted queen excluder can also limit wax moth damage by allowing the bees to deny access to moths looking for a hiding spot.

The queen excluder had existed since the late 1800s when the Langstroth hive was first invented. It made it possible to separate honey production above the brood nest, reducing labor and allowing beekeepers to produce sweet and clean honey.

Modern horizontal hive excluders are made of steel or synthetic nylon mesh in various replaceable pieces, making it easier for beekeepers to adjust their shape or size.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are horizontal hives better?

A horizontal hive is designed to provide more space for honeybees and make it easier to access their combs and honey. This type of hive has become increasingly popular with beekeepers as it provides better access to the hive and can help to reduce stress on the bees.

Will a horizontal hive work with a swarm?

Most horizontal hives are larger than a single box in a vertical hive. Strapping it to a tree branch and using a swarm trap isn’t very practical, but you can use a nuc box to trap a swarm. Once the bee colony is established, you can transfer it to your horizontal hive.

Beekeeper Paul

Hello there! I'm the beekeeping hobbyist behind HoneybeeHobbyist.com. I'm fascinated by all things bees and I'm fueled by the honey I get to enjoy from my very own hives.

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