Posts Tagged ‘Kenya’

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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Image by Björn Appel (honey bees fanning their wings to circulate and cool the air in the hive)

We have had the busiest “bee” year that we have ever had since we got our first hives in 2007. If you’ll recall, we came out of winter this year with these two hives, both of them super strong and healthy.

This is what we have now…

I couldn’t fit them all into one photo so I had to splice two photos together. We are up to 6 hives, well above our goal for this year!

I’ve mentioned before that our main goal is to get all of our hives converted over to Warre’ hives which allow the bees to make their own comb and is a less intrusive/controlling method of beekeeping. We’ve currently got all but one hive moved over to Warre’ hives, we’ll probably move the last standard German hive over next year.

So how did we get so many hives? Well, it’s a long busy story, but I’ll try and condense :O)

This year P volunteered with the local Swarm Hotline. When people find swarms in their garden, they can call and the nearest beekeeper is contacted and goes to access the situation, either catching the swarm or counselling on how best to deal with the bees.

"The Bee-Mobile"

Over the past month our tiny Renault Twingo has been converted into “The Bee-Mobile” loaded with swarm boxes and containers, veils, bee suit, smoker, branch cutter, a swarm catching bag-on-a-stick, even a special bee vacuum-cleaner attachment for those pesky hard-to-get-at swarms! Anything that he might need is in there. So far P has responded to a dozen or more calls, many of the swarms flew away before he could get there, some were way too high to catch, and one unfortunate swarm apparently had been poisoned and died. Out of all of those phone calls, P managed to bring home 3 healthy swarms…but then the swarming season isn’t quite over yet so there is a chance, if we’re lucky, we’ll get one or two more.

Strange Incident of a Queen in the Morning

The strangest occurrence, which led to one of our new hives, happened about a month ago. P went out to check on the bees early one morning and sitting there all by herself on the side of one of the hives was a virgin queen bee. It was strange because it was still too cool outside and none of the bees were flying yet so what was this queen doing out on the hive-box all alone? Possibly she had been out on a mating flight the previous day and for some reason didn’t re-enter the hive, or possibly she was one of a group of just hatched queens and she left the hive, or was kicked out? Or maybe she wasn’t even one of our bees at all! Who can say… it remains a mystery but P caught her and commenced to making a hive for her.

He put her into this queen cage and then went out to our strongest hive and collected enough bees to give her a decent start.

He put everyone into this Warre’ hive then put them into the cellar where they stayed for 3 days. This gives them time to become acquainted with the new queen and hopefully accept her, they spend a day or 2 eating a plug of honey or candy away from the cage opening which then frees the queen, at which point they are ready to go outside and begin building their new hive. So far this hive is doing really well, it went smoothly with none of the numerous complications that we had last time we tried this.

So that unusual incident gave us our first Warre’ hive of the year!


(Sorry about the recycled photo, forgot the camera this year, this image is from our 2008 harvest.)

Yes, we harvested this year, last time we harvested was in 2008. We don’t harvest every year as a rule, we don’t sell honey and there is only so much honey that two people can eat in a year! We do give it away quite often and still one harvest typically lasts us for 2-3 years. We got a record harvest this year with a total of 100lbs of honey! That was from just 2 hives.

During the honey harvest P shook all of the bees from one of our standard German hives into one of the Warre’ hives which leaves us with just the one standard German hive.

Kenya Top Bar Hives

In addition to all the other bee activities, we also built 2 Kenya Top Bar Hives, which are my official first hives. I will write about these in a separate post.

So to sum up…

1st new hive this year came from our Mysterious Queen Incident

2nd new hive was a captured swarm we learned about from our neighbour who is also a beekeeper.

3rd new Warre’ hive was a transfer of one of our established hives during the honey harvest.

4th and 5th new Warre’ hives came from swarms located through the Hotline.

Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. On the same day that P caught the first swarm, one of our original German standard hives threw a very large swarm which of course flew to the very top of the tallest tree on our property and were way too high to catch, so we lost 1 swarm of our own, but gained 3.

Whew! Did I mention it has been a VERY BUSY SUMMER?

I haven’t even mentioned all the work going on in the garden. I think I’ll save that for another post!

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