Dancing with Bees

With spring coming along steadily we thought it might be time to diversify our beehives into a more natural and sustainable medium. There are a number of designs available, but we wanted something simple and as natural as possible.


Beekeeper working a typical Langstroth apiary

Traditionally, the Langstroth design is a popular one, used mostly in commercial beekeeping. It has a bottom to top vertical arrangement, meaning the queen is in the bottom box and the extra boxes, or supers, are added on top. It also has removable rectangular frames making them easy to inspect and handle. The boxes can be stacked easily and loaded on trucks or pallets for long distances. Boxes can come in different depths, which make lifting a full box of honey much easier. The frames, which can come 8 or 10 to a box, are usually wired and have a wax foundation sheet attached. This begins to resemble more of an industrial agriculture system than a natural hive but can be productive, nonetheless. This is currently the design we use, but we’re curious about other alternatives.


Typical Warré Hives

The Warré design is also vertical and has a bottom entrance, similar to the Langstroth, but the boxes are added to the bottom, keeping the queen and the brood at the top, or furthest from the entrance, following the bees’ natural behaviour. In addition, the frames are given a wax strip along the frame, encouraging the bees to draw out the natural comb on their own. There are some great courses being offered through Milkwood here that teach the Warré beekeeping method.


Kenyan Top-Bar hive in the apiary

The Top-Bar hive is a horizontal design with plain bars instead of frames. The frames are identical to the Warré design with natural comb being built. The hive has a side entrance and no excluders are used to isolate the queen. This design has more resemblance to a hollow log. Traditionally, because of its simplicity, it is used in low socio-economic, less developed nations but is becoming more popular in urban areas of developed countries for hobbyists and backyarders.


Truck back at home after a pickup

Looking to start with something simple, we chose the Kenyan Top-Bar design and followed the plans from Phil Chandler, found here. We started collecting as many recycled wooden pallets we could find around and putting them to use.


Pallets being disassembled

Then we got a hold of the Biodynamic Research Institute in Victoria for some information about their standards with regards to solvents and adhesives. The Institute actually sent me to the minimum organic standards here, which have to be met first. They told me that I would have to exclude glues or solvents to meet biodynamic standards. So we followed Phil’s external coating of 20:1 raw linseed oil and beeswax heated in a double boiler and left out the wood glue.

The Dancing with Bees project is just getting underway and we hope to keep plenty of records of how the bees react, their productivity of honey and fighting pests and disease from different living spaces. Ultimately, we hope to find what is the most bee-friendly, sustainable, productive and practical design available, while still being managed by a human being. The dance with bees continues as the symphony of thousands plays in our ears.