We started with Langstroth hives that we bought from the local store. For our first couple experiences we wanted to know what was "normal" or "standard" and not give in too quickly to my penchant for experimentation. To tell the truth, I am kind of proud of myself for doing so! They came in a nice kit, look good sitting in the apiary, are easy to expand and generally worked without a hitch.
This year, however, we will be using mostly Top Bar hives and I want to explain why so that when YOU have to choose what kind of hive to use, you can have at least SOME information about both kinds.
Top bar hives are a) simple easy to make and b) CHEAP! You can pay hundreds for a kit but really, they are completely make-able at home. Bees will fill whatever space you give them. In langstroths they build down, then you give them more space and they move up and build down again. In a wall they build up down and sideways. In a fallen tree they build sideways. In an old bar-b-que they build around all the stuff inside and in a top bar hive they build from one end to another. So, to a bee, shape is not all that important.
One of my goals is education. I enjoy it, I believe in it and I am (reasonably) good at it. One of my other goals is sustainability. When we expanded from the planned 2 hives to 8 last year, the financial investment was STEEP! It will take me more than 3 years of renting out a hive just to pay for the physical parts of it and that is not including the bees themselves. That is not sustainable for us. Nor is it sustainable for the majority of people out there.
When we bring a top-bar hive out to people, they will have the option to copy the design and build one for themselves. Doing it this way, you can have a hive of bees for not much more than the cost of the bees themselves, rather than for the bees + a bottom board, 2 deep boxes, 2 medium honey supers, an inner cover, a top cover, and entrance reducer, a hive stand, etc. etc. etc. The list goes on and one!
So making affordable homes for bees is one advantage to us, so is educating people about a way they can build a hive for themselves. But a third advantage has to do with the honey produced! Top bar hives will, on average, produce a little bit less honey than a langstroth. BUT: most of the honey will be comb honey. You can crush and strain it to get wax and pure honey, or you can cut the comb out directly and eat it in the most delicious way possible - comb and all.
I found a REALLY good discussion of the different kinds of hives HERE and I encourage you to read further. Both kinds of hives work and we will continue to use both while also experimenting with adaptations of our own.