Everyone is familiar with the most famous of eusoical species of bee; the European honeybee (Apis Mellifera), and for good reason. Humans have been harvesting honey from honeybees for approximately 10,000 years and it’s believed we’ve been keeping bees for as long as 7000 years ago. There are so many interesting ways in which past humans kept hives but the most recognisable and popular is the traditional hive box.
Besides the hive box, there are a many other ways in which humans today keep honeybees and in Australia our native species of stingless bee Tetragonula carbonaria. From modern takes on the tradition hive box, to more historical top-bar hives, to native hive boxes and even to bee hotels which are used to attract solitary native bees, humans love bees and love providing them with homes.
Traditional Hive Boxes
There are a few traditional hive box designs widely used globally and are similar in that they use moveable frames, have honey supers, brood boxes, a crown board and a queen excluder. They typically look and function very similar with some differences in number of frames, dimensions and where they’re used.
1. The Langstroth Hive
The most widely used hive box and common hive box (especially in Australia and the US).
Designed to encourage a large volume of honey in the supers and is used by commercial honey producers.
3. Dadant Hive
Very similar to the Langstroth hive but is used in France and parts of Spain.
4.The National Hive
Also similar to the Langstroth hive and is most commonly used in Britain, Europe and in the US.
5. WBC Hive
Not a very popular hive due to it being hard and inconvenient to dismantle, they have a more unique shape then just the tradition box and are used in Britain.
Alternative Honeybee Hives
1. Top-bar hive –
The top-bar hives are a modern take on the traditional honeybee hives and promote the natural shape of the honeycomb cells, allowing for larger cells that produce a larger economic yield of honey and bees wax. This is especially useful for beekeepers that have only a few hives.
The top-bar hives therefore resemble what the hive of wild or feral honeybee colony look like.They are also designed with the main body of the hive to be long and trapezoid-like in shape: like below.
A viewing window or door is sometimes added onto the side of the hive too. This hive was designed with being easy to construct and inexpensive for the modern bee keeper. As well as producing a more natural sized-cell as opposed to framed hives.
Single bars of wooden frames are simply placed along the top of the base of the hive. The bees will then begin to fill the frame downwards like so, creating these beautiful circular frames that mound to the shape of the hive. A queen excluder is also added about half way in these hives, to separate the honey super part of the hive to the brood part of the hive.
2. Warré Hive-
Designed by Abbé Warré in 1948 Warré took the idea of the top-bar hive and designed it into a more traditional hive box. Warré published the designs in his book
“Beekeeping For All” in which he advocates for far less interference with hives and bees when it comes to beekeeping.
Instead of the use of frames this hive simply uses single bars of wood like the above top-bar hives installed in the hive-body boxes that can be stacked into towers if the colony requires more space. The top of the hive is fitted with a roof and a box with cloth and wood shavings to keep the hive insulated.
3. Log hive –
Some beekeepers believe that hive boxes are too restrictive for the bees and impacts on their health. They’ve therefore turned to a more natural form of keeping bees, in hollowed out logs!
The honey is typically stored to the back of the log hive away from the entrance. Keepers harvest this by installing a back opening or door and allows them to cut out the raw honeycomb without disturbing the bees or the brood.
4. FLOW hive
The FLOW hive is an Australia invention with the goal of harvesting the honey without having to open the hive and manually remove the frames of honeycomb.
FLOW works by having frames of built-in combs, the bees are able to fill these with honey. Once full the beekeeper can turn a level to turn the honeycomb frames into the below shape. This allows the honey to flow down to the honey super, before it can be collected from the tap, all without having to open the hive and harvest the honey manually.
This hive is an efficient method of collecting honey and makes beekeeping more accessible to hobbyists and amateurs.
However it raises a few issues and risks. Mainly the use of plastics. Bees tend not to like plastic, hence why most hives are made from other materials. Plastic reduces the wax they can use to build their hive; that changes temperature and vibrates at a resonant frequency (230-270Hz) that match the bees’ sensors, allowing bees to communicate across the hive. Wax also holds the history and memory of the chemical signals used by bees.
In colder climates the honey within the hive may also
crystallise blocking the FLOW hive and requiring the frames to be removed and cleaned. It was also found that the FLOW hives produced low estrogenic activities in royal jelly.
Reducing the contact humans have with their bees can also be of negative consequences. Any disease, illness or parasites in the hives may go unnoticed if the beekeeper is not opening the hive to monitor their colony.
Native Bee Hives
1. OATH – Original Australian Tetragonula Hive
2. Solitary Bee Hotels
Solitary bees make up the largest percentage of bee species. With 90% of all the 20,000 species of bees being solitary. As such solitary bee “hives” aren’t really hives at all but nests, sometimes called bee hotels. These “hives” contain separate holes that allow for females from solitary species to barrow and lay eggs in.
There are a few different genus’ of solitary bee that will use these hotels including and not limited to; carpenter bees, green carpenter bee, reed bees, resin bees, masked bees.
The hotels are simple in design; made from holes drilled into wood or separate holes using bamboo or other hollowed out wood.
There is no need to a queen separator (as solitary species have no queens) or for brood or honey supers. As solitary bees do not produce honey. These “hives” therefore require no real keeping or maintenance and are kept primarily for encouraging native bee species and pollination (as native bees are often better at pollinating native flora species compared to honey bees!)
This is a great post. How long did it take you to make this? I just like appreciating the work behind quality content.
I wrote most of it up almost a year ago and forgot about it in my drafts until today, quickly finished it and posted it! So technically over a year.