Posts Tagged ‘hive’

I mentioned the other day that P had built two beehives for me, so I thought I’d show them and share some of the process with you.

These long trough-shaped top bar hives have been used in Africa for a very long time, the design is really simple and the hives can be built relatively inexpensively. You can use regular lumber, even scraps that you’ve got laying around the house, so long as the wood is untreated. There is only one measurement that needs to be exact and that is the width of the top bars themselves (I’ll explain more about that later.).

Another bonus is that there is no heavy lifting with this system, something I definitely find appealing. With conventional systems there is alot of lifting and while those little boxes may not look it, they are really HEAVY! Having to move those boxes around multiple times is not really something that I want to do.

With this system there is only one big box and the only thing you lift is the individual combs.

Of course there are some disadvantages with this system (although not everyone considers them to be disadvantages!)

  • There is less honey produced and the honey can’t be extracted in the usual way, by centrifugal force.
  • The system is not standard so you can’t swap parts with other hives or buy extras from your local beekeeping supply shop
  • They are harder to move once they are full of bees
  • Not as many beekeepers have experience with this system so it might be harder to find advice or help when needed (of course there is plenty of information on the net so not really a problem)
  • The local beekeepers might look at you in a strange way
  • You might be considered a bit of a rebel


  • No heavy lifting
  • instead of just the honey, you get real honey-in-the-comb of the highest quality :O)
  • easy to build and maintain
  • the bees build natural sized cells
  • not as much equipment is needed
  • no foundation sheets or frames to fiddle around with
  • less supplies and equipment needed = lower cost
  • The local beekeepers might look at you in a strange way
  • You might be considered a bit of a rebel ;O)

Ok, so how do you go about building one of these hives…

Well, first of all you download and print out the instruction booklet which you will find here on Phil Chandler’s site

His site is full of great information about natural beekeeping so you might want to have a look around while you’re there.

The booklet will tell you all you need to know to build the hive.

P used wood that was up in our attic, it was left over from when we remodelled our house.

The wood we used was about 4″ wide by 1″ thick and cut to 4 ft. long. P used 3 pieces of wood glued together to form the front and back pieces of the hives, which ended up being 1 ft. tall.

Then he pressed them together with clamps until they were dry.

He built up the side pieces the same way.Here are all of the pieces ready for assembly. Unfortunately I was otherwise occupied and so I didn’t get any photos of the actual assembly.

All of those short slats in the front are the top bars, those are the strips of wood where the bees actually build their combs. As I mentioned, this is the one measurement that needs to be exact. The slats are all 1 3/8″ wide, because that is how wide the bees need them to be to build the comb properly and still have room to move between the combs. P cut 30 for each hive, including some extras. On one side of each of those slats, I glued and stapled a small triangular strip of moulding down the center. This is done to show the bees where they should begin building their comb. Onto each triangular strip I painted a thin stripe of beeswax as a starting point for them.

This is the assembled body of one of the hives, standing on end.

The bottom of each hive is enclosed with a strip of heavy-duty plastic mesh. The mesh-covered bottom aids in ventilation and also, it allows the varroa mites to fall out of the hive while keeping other things from crawling into the hive.

In the middle of the front of each hive, P drilled three 1″ holes, these are the flight holes. These hives are built to allow the beekeeper to make splits right inside the same hive. There are partition boards which are added on the end of the hive and at the back of the hive there is one hole drilled to allow the splits to fly. But all of that is in the instructions if you’re interested.

I didn’t get photos of the making of the legs but you can see that they are similar to the legs of a sawhorse. The bottoms are painted with tar to help keep them from rotting.

It’s a good idea to build these hives at least a few months ahead of time if possible so they have a chance to air out. Bees are pretty sensitive to smells and they would probably not like the “new” smell of freshly made hives. We are keeping these outside and probably wont use them until next spring.

So here is the hive with top bars and everything in place.

When the hives were finished, P painted the outsides with a mixture of linseed oil and beeswax to help protect them from the elements.

And this is a view of the inside with most of the top bars removed. You can see the hole I mentioned at the back of the hive designed for a split.

And the finished hive complete with roof. The roof is just a strip of heavy plastic roofing material. The roof is only there to help keep water out, the top bars are flush so they actually form the true roof of the hive, this is just an additional covering. In the winter we will probably lay a packing blanket or something between the top bars and this roof for added insulation. The roof can be designed in a number of ways, every hive like this that I have seen has a different style roof. We may change this one, but it was fast and easy and cheap and so we are trying it out, we just needed something to keep the water off. This roof is held on with two long bungee cords.

For further inspiration, look around on the net for different body styles, roofs and building materials used. That is the nice thing bout these hives, the possibilities are endless. Here is a Google image search that I did to get you started.


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We’ve been anxiously awaiting one so that we could begin establishing the new hives that Peer built

Sunday was our lucky day!

Hives tend to swarm on warm dry days between 11am and 2pm, at least they do around here. Peer noticed the swarm beginning to build around 1:30pm. They fly in something like a funnel shape, round and round, directly above the hive until most of them have gathered. At that point they flew straight up and onto a branch at the very top of a 100 ft oak tree…just perfect! No way we can reach them way up there! So we thought we had lost them. We walked away disappointed and went about our business.

About 10 minutes later, Peer sticks his head in the doorway and tells me there is another swarm forming! Yay!

We stood on the porch and watched them, but they gradually seem to be dissipate…”how strange!” we thought. I had a pair of binoculars and started looking around the tops of the branches for the first swarm…it was gone! Well, that meant that the swarm we thought was a second swarm was really the first one, but why did it return to the hive? Then it dawned on us. We still have one of the original queens that we bought last year. She has a wing clipped and can’t fly! So when the swarm left, she simply fell out onto the ground and then crawled underneath the hive. The swarm didn’t realize this at first but then they found her and gathered with her underneath the original hive….some of you might remember that this is the same thing we had happen last year.

So here they are, all crammed up underneath the hive…

It’s hard to see exactly what is going on from this picture so here is a front view of the hive…

The only way to get them out is to move the whole hive, which is REALLY heavy!

We waited until about 6:30pm when the hives were slowing down for the night. Peer had a friend come over and help. He’s a friend who is thinking about getting into beekeeping so we thought this would be a great experience for him :O)

They’re getting ready; putting on veils, lighting the bee pipe, etc. They wear light colored clothing because the bees are not as disturbed by lighter colored clothing…I of course chose dark blue for the occasion…lol! They only chased me off a few times, but none of us got stung…Jens, Peer’s friend, did get some nettle stings which are actually worse in my opinion.

The first thing Peer does is spray the bees with water. This gets their wings wet and they can’t fly until they are dried off again.

They can’t move the hive all in one piece, the honey room on top is full again and so the whole hive is way too heavy, especially for trying to lift it in the ackward position that it is in, so they move it in sections.

First the top, which is the honey room.

Then they move the main 2 rooms…looks easier on the picture than it really was!

Now that the hive is out of the way, Peer sprays them down again…

And dumps them into a plastic container.

Once he has the majority in the container, he dumps them into their new home.

There is really no easy way to get the bees into the new box properly. He dumps them into the upside-down wooden box, but then he has to turn that box right-side up again. Anyway, it is really hard to do without squashing some bees no matter how carefully you do it, you just have to hope you aren’t also squashing the queen. After this first time, Peer has an idea for how he might do this part differently next time.

And so, here they are after inverting that top box, everyone is in and it’s time to close up this hive. Before the roof goes on, there is a smaller box which is full of wooden packing material, this acts as a layer of insulation.

Then comes the roof.

The bees are doing their little dance, with butts raised high in the air and wings vibrating which is their way of telling other bees that the queen is here.

This picture shows how different this new hive is in size and shape when compared to our old ones…personally I think it’s really cute and if I was a bee, I’d want to live there :O)

And so, here is the hive a full 2 full days since we moved the swarm in. By the way, this isn’t the complete hive, there are 2 additional boxes that are added to the bottom. As the hive grows, the bees keep building downward. As they go, they fill the top boxes with honey and move the living and hatching areas into the lower boxes. This is opposite of the way it is done in more traditional style beekeeping systems, but it is the way the bees do it in the wild. They seem to be taking to their new home very well. They’re quite busy, flying in and out, doing their thing just as they should be :o)

It will be interesting to see over time, how this system works for us, we’ll keep you posted!

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