When we want to offer the bees a comfortable home, the first question we may ask is, “What is the best hive shape to suit the bee colony?”. There are rare cases where bee colonies set up their hive in open air. This situation allows us to observe the natural egg-shape of the bee nest, as shown in the picture on the left (Bulgaria, photo by Antony Croft). In Alentejo, Portugal, honeybees naturally dwell by choice primarily in hollow trees.
Logically, bees prefer to live in round spaces. Indeed, sharp corners are difficult to heat. The air does not circulate as well in a cubic space as in a spherical space. Humidity becomes stuck in the corners, encouraging mould and undesirable occupants into the living space. Therefore, the ideal cosy home that a bee-tender can offer to her ‘tenants’ is a round-shaped hive.
Top Bar Hive
The Top Bar Hive is one of our favourite hives, as it offers many advantages both for bees and humans. Easy to build, its design allows the hive to expand horizontally. The combs have a trapezoidal shape. It is possible to add frames and optionally extract honeycombs from the sides without unsealing the preciously-balanced inner atmosphere of the nest area, thereby reducing disturbance when the hive is opened.
The Top Bar Hives that we use are featured with observation window and listening holes, inviting intimacy and safe contact. If you would like to receive support to install a companion-hive on your land, click here (In Portugal only).
In order to support the bees in their healing process, it seems important to us that some colonies are left alone to embody their own, natural way of being. The Log Hive design mimics the natural nest of honeybees in hollow trees. Compared to thin-walled beehives, the better insulation that Log Hives provide reduces stress and energy consumption, maintaining warmth during winter and helping to prevent overheating in summer. The Log Hive is mounted on legs, corresponding to the general inclination for bees to choose elevated cavities and allowing for the hive opening to be located at the base.
We currently sell Log Hives in Portugal, and we are soon going to offer Log Hive workshops, where you can make your own…!
The Sun Hive is a 5-star hotel for bees. Made out of straw and wood, it is one of the most bee-centric hives that exists, meaning that it focuses on answering the needs of the bees before the needs of the beekeeper.
It is a very beautiful hive, but it requires a lot of skill, time and specific materials to build.
An Octagon Hive offers a compromise between a circle and a square. It is a beautiful option, but it requires quite some work to build.
The traditional Alentejano hives are called ‘Cortiços’. Made out of cork oak bark, they imitate the natural bee dwelling spaces found in hollow trees.
To offer a similar feeling of living in a tree cavity, we started to experiment with adding several layers of cob to the traditional Cortiço Hives. The extra cob layer adds insulation, making the hives cooler in summer and warmer in winter. It also increases the structural stability of the hives, due to their larger base area and added weight. In addition, it is thought that it may create a change in acoustics that might serve the hive communication.
In this video you can see our first CobCortiço Hive prototype receiving a swarm.
In Alentejo, we have many old oak and olive trees that have cavities with openings that are too large for bees, therefore the bees cannot settle in them to live in communion with the tree. We learned a basic technique to close such a cavity with jute and cob (a mixture of clay, sand and straw) in a workshop in Spain. Since Autumn 2019 we are experimenting in trees and refining this technique.
We work with flexible wood sticks, wax and propolis to create the inner space where combs can be fixed. The gelatinous liquid obtained from Barbary figs (Opuntia ficus-indica) gives strength and flexibility to the cob. In a final layer with fine clay, this liquid acts as waterproofer. Some powdered shungite crystal is added, as this stone offers exceptional protection from electromagnetic radiation.
This video shows the making of a CobCavity in a centenarian olive tree and us bringing a swarm to her.
A Warré Hive is a vertical Top Bar Hive that uses bars instead of frames, from which the bees build their own comb. A French monk, Abbé Emile Warré, designed this hive in the 1950s after 50 years of research. He liked to call it ‘The People’s Hive’ as it was easy to build and maintain, compared to the conventional hives at that time.
Conventional hives, mostly used nowadays all around the world, are square and designed primarily for honey harvest. In Portugal we have two types of Square Hive, each of different depth, called Reversivel and Lusitana. We aim to use this type of hive less and less. They are cheap, easy to obtain and practical for transition times. We customise them in order to make them more bee friendly: for example by using wax starters instead of full foundations, cutting the lower part of the frame, removing the metallic components, and reducing the entrance size depending on the weather and colony size.