One thing we like to do is to always try to improve the hives that we use in our apiaries. If something is difficult or irritating about inspecting, moving, or using a hive, we make a note of it and change the design of future hives. The booklet that we give to people, How to Build Your Own Top Bar Hive, has been revised so many times, we realize that writing it is a job that has no real end.
We have come up with a design that is easy to use, allows us to kill few bees, provides enough space for the bees to expand without being cramped and swarming, etc. etc. The major revisions of our basic top bar hive design have slowed down. But we continue to play with one thing: the material we use to build the hives.
Top bar hives are affordable hives. If you want to grow your hive number, with conventional hives, this would take a considerable investment of capital. If you aren’t able to make or purchase new hives when the bees are ready to expand, you might lose quite a number of swarms. This is like watching your money take wing and fly away. But if you are able to build or purchase hives at an affordable price, you can grow with the bees, expand your numbers, make more money, and realize your potential. Top bar hives trade with purchased untreated pine board cost less than a third of what a conventional hive of the same volume would cost.
If we make the sides of the top bar hives out of an even more affordable material, such as metal sheeting scraps left over from the making of hive covers, the price of the total hive goes down even more. These are still practical hives with a lifespan of many years. We are in our second year with metal-sided hives, and the bees do perfectly well in them. Remember that the sides of our top bar hives are slanted, so they are spared the direct sun that a vertical side would get, and the metal doesn’t get hot.
We ask our trainers to come up with a new idea for hive building materials when they come. Les Crowder gave us the idea to use burlap bag material scavenged from free bags from the market. That material was so breezy, the bees completely tore up the sides of the hive. I think Megan Mahoney gave us the idea to use woven wicker. The beens weren’t entirely happy in that, either. We’ve used heavy cloth with a dense weave (those hives are now in their second year), grass (made by intern Emily Erickson), and Celotex (a kind of thick cardboard or particle board). Tom Hebert gave us, in his first year here, the idea to use woven bamboo.
This past summer, Tom got super creative and made hives from stalks from our harvested corn field, and from the midrib of dried banana leaves.Just for fun, he built another woven bamboo hive. We keep these hives in our training apiary. Not all of these hives are totally practical, as even though the material is free, the making of the hive (the woven bamboo hive, for example) is prohibitively time consuming. Still, when we play with materials, we always learn something important. Occasionally, we get an idea that changes how we make our production hives. And we have fun!
Tom wrote a blog posting about playing with different hive materials. Because I am having trouble uploading pictures, I’m happy that he loaded his posting with lots of pictures of his, and our hives. Please visit his blog; you’ll see our cloth hives, woven bamboo, wicker, etc., including the banana rib and corn stalk hives that Tom made this summer.