A toppled baited hive

May 25, 2019

One of the baited hive fell off from its tree during the night.

Remained in the morning the lever and 4 screws while the box was upside down below. It was not properly secured to withstand medium to high winds combined with heavy rains. The rescue did not go without much loss. The frames had been built by these bees hanging from wedges, they had collapsed in the fall and many bees were drowsy covered with honey or nectar. It was not clear whether I could save this colony. I did not bother to find the queen, it was urgent to place these bees in a safe and proper hive. I moved them into the bee barn right away in the last available Langstroth hive.

One week after the transfer, on May 25 2019, the bees are doing fine and seem to display the behavior of a right queened colony. Furthermore The queen seems to be in the upper box, the lower box is separated by a queen excluder so the bees remain in a 42 liter volume to promote frequent swarming. I will keep on monitoring this colony, I feel better now than when I transferred it.

The Magic Tree

May 25, 2019

The magic tree has been hosting bees for more than a decade.

This red cedar grows on the campus of the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Holly Springs, MS. It displays a long crack on 2/3 of the lower part of the trunk with access to the cavity between 15 and 20 feet high. It is unclear when the bees moved in, but the tree has been busy for more than a decade. It has produced swarms every single year; some had settled in other hollow red cedars of the property, some have moved in the attic or the walls of the Davis House. I have captured one of the swarms in 2018 which has been placed in a long DeLayens hive in Hudsonville. Hudsonville is a 2 miles crow fly from SPAC and the properties almost touch. The DeLayens did not swarm in 2019, it is a strong hive though.

The picture below shows when I placed a baited box in March 2018 to host a swarm of the magic tree. It is the tree on the left of the picture with the crack facing us. The large triangular scar at the top of the crack from a dead branch long gone is through where the bees access the cavity. The Davis house also hosts two swarms from the tree. A swarm moved in the baited box in the first days of May 2018.

The colony swarmed in May 2019. The swarms were visible high up in the trees, some may have moved into one of the small hives we installed in March 2019 about half a mile away. The Video was shot on may 25, 2019.

The Maggie hive

May 25, 2019

The Maggie hive is a small quasi-cylindrical chamber inside a rectangular outside shell.

The small hive project is based on the fact that bees don’t build more than 1 Warre box plus half the other one beneath during the first season, and if left to these two boxes, the colony will swarm the following spring, allowing to better fight the Varroa mite. The construction of the small hives by using reclaimed Warre boxes does not satisfy me entirely, as the almost cubical shape requires to secure strips of foundation on the ceiling and the insulation is not better than in an usual Warre box, meaning that the walls need to be pretty thick (over 2 inches thick preferably) to be efficient. This being said, the heat in winter is diffused in a cube and dispenses energy beyond the cluster boundaries, which is less the case when the shape is a cylinder.

While I was building these small hives, came the idea to build a cylindrical chamber of the same volume, like a freedom hive, but simplify the outer shell to a box made of single panels of white cypress that remained from building the house. The cylinder, actually a 12 sides barrel, is made of red cedar 1 inch thick and is secured to the outer shell by two beams, one in the front and one in the back. The entrances are drilled through the front beam creating a tunnel 8 inches long connecting the outside world to the inner chamber.

I call it the Maggie hive.

The first sketches were drawn on January 13, 2019.

Each of the 12 sides is 6.6 centimeters wide, cut at 15 degrees on each side and assembled with wooden pegs. I glued the panels on the exterior half of the sides, ensuring no glue would get at the seams inside the chamber. The cylinder is 60 cm tall for a volume of 29 liters. For a 35 liter volume the cylinder would be 70 cm tall. The diameter of the chamber is 12.7 cm, so well below the 20 cm in the average tree cavities. The outer chamber is 15 inches on the large side and 12 inches on the short side. The top is sloped to support a roof made of one single panel for the rain. The inner chamber is closed by two lids made of red cedar, the top lid is waxed and prepped with two pieces of comb hanging. Red cedar shaving fills the space between the outer and inner chamber for better insulation.

1- the Maggie hive seen from the top without the wood shaving.

2- the Maggie hive closed.

The Maggie hive was set on march 23rd, 2019 with Stephanie on the Property of Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Holly Springs, far from the Davis House where the bees colonies are known to live and at the border of a wood with a newly burned prairie in restoration. The entrance orientation is 147 deg East with the coordinates: 34 deg, 50′, 35″ North and 89 deg, 27′, 59″ West.

I could not find the hive any more when I went to check the small hive project on this property. I only found 2 hives out of the 4 we had installed, one of them had bees, the other one empty. It was already a great news that a cubical one had been invested by a colony, I thought that the volume was so constraining that the bees would never  choose such a narrow place, but they did. Stephanie is one of the biologists of the center and she knew how to get to the two other hives, she would venture at the occasion to check the two unfound hives. I received a message from her on the 23rd of May 2019, so exactly 2 months after we had installed the hives.

This was a great news, I had to go and check as soon as I could. Stephanie took me to the Maggie hive on the 25th of May 2019. The activity is still pretty limited but the bees are definitely in.

The Small Hive project

May 18, 2019

The project is hosted at smallhiveproject.eu


The premise of the project is that a colony of honey bees in a Warre hive will occupy the first season the top box fully and half of the box below. If the hive is left to these two boxes over winter and Spring, the bees will most probably swarm in May. What would then be the sustainability of a colony in a hive for which the volume is confined to 1 Warre box and a half or the equivalent to 27 liters? It is well understood that in nature the average cavity occupied by honey bees is about 45 liters with a tendency to go for larger cavities up to 60 liters, therefore a volume of 27 liters is small.

I have been very interested in participating in this project for several reasons:

The first reason is that it allowed me to produce many small hives, easy to set in trees and which could be installed in various habitats. I chose to have 3 in the wild along paths in mixed wooded and prairie areas, one small hive in a tree in a bee yard next to a standard Langstroth baited box, three hives along  the circumference of a 400 yard circle centered on a single isolated hive on a native prairie far from any other known hives and finally two hives in gardens in an urban area.

The second reason is that it created a pretext to create awareness to people in town (Holly Springs) and give a speech on bees and the environment

The third reason is that I was intrigued. For one thing I had come to the same conclusion that 2 Warre boxes are sufficient for the first year, but I had not made the leap that these 27 liters are really snug compared to the general wisdom, so would the bees choose such a hive after all and how would the bees fare in the long run. To me it is very clear that volume and insulation are essential features of a hive: well insulated and small enough hives to trigger swarming allow the bees to better control Varroa destructor by interrupting the brood cycle in an energy efficient environment. If these small hives could provide healthy bees in a cheap and easy set up,  we would install these small hives a bit everywhere and multiply shelters for the feral bees.

The fourth reason is that I had never used a hive with Huber leaves before and  I could incorporate this concept in new designs opening new possibilities.

Finally, I wanted to test a 27 liters hive of a different design for the sake of it.


The first 3 hives are built.

All the elements of the small hives are made with reclaimed wood and old Warre boxes. I decided to build roofs as I was not too satisfied by the design proposed on the web site. A roof has to be water proof for one thing, but it has to increase the insulation of the box. I realized after the first batch that it did increase the weight substantially but also these roofs were so large that it became impossible to properly secure the hives to the trees along the trunk. I had to change this part and build minimal roofs fitting the size of the top of the box including a layer of home insulation sheet.


1- Three small hives next to a small top bar hive of 38 liters. The roof design is similar between the two types of hives. The top bar hive will be set on a stand and the bulkiness of the roof is not a limiting factor while the roofs of the small hives were incompatible with their positioning in a tree.

2- The revised roof is minimal but still insulting and water proof.

I changed the way to secure the hives to the trees and basically adapted the way I secure baited Langstroth to capture swarms. The small hive is bulky and presses against the tree limiting the dangling of the box, even in strong winds while limiting the effort of the lever. This design is simple and well adapted to the shape of the hive which rests horizontally along the trunk. Also as the hive I secured by a hook on a rope, the tree is not hurt by nails and contraptions.

The chambers have been prepped as recommended by waxing to the ceiling strips of comb at recommended distance to each other. The picture shows the main chamber upside down and the insulation of the roof is visible.

A total of 9 hives have been built.

The hives have been installed in 3 distinct batches.

  • SPAC I, SPAC II and SPAC III are three hives placed on the property of Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Holly springs, about 5 miles away from Hudsonville. These three hives are reported under the names Hive 11, Hive 12 and Hive 13 on the site smallhiveproject.eu.      I know three feral bees colonies on this property, one in a hollow red cedar I am told occupied for more than a decade and two colonies in the attic of the Davis house I have known for 4 to 5 years.
  • Miti I, Miti II and Miti III, placed on the bird sanctuary of the mitigation property in Hudsonville. I have installed a Warre hive on top of the hill 4 years ago and it is the only colony I know over there. There used to be feral bees in an oak along the RR track that died 5 years ago. These hives are coded as hive 14, hive 15 and hive 16 on the site small hiveproject.eu
  • Hive 17 is located on Bee yard II in Hudsonville and a swarm from the yard moved in on may 15th 2019.
  • Hive 18 is located on the yard or Amanda and Phillip in Holly Springs, their house hosts a colony of feral bees in the attic.
  • Hive 19 is located on the yard of Dotti in Holly Springs, there are no known bee colonies in the surrounding.

SPAC I as we installed it and as the bees show on May 19th, 2019

Miti II as it was installed and with the bees in on May 18, 2019.

Miti III as it was installed and how it looks with bees on May 19th, 2019

Amanda and her small hive reported on the web site as Hive 18. This hive has been visited several times by scouts but the bees did not choose it, we will persevere and maintain it on this yard.

Hive 19 by Dotti’s. I have no news to date about this hive located in Holly Springs.

Hive 17 is located on Yard II in Hudsonville. Bees moved in on May 15th, 2019. The swarm moving in the hive is on video.

Jane and Tom’s hives

May 17, 2019

Jane and Tom stopped backyard bee keeping with standard Langstroth’s 3 years ago. Not that they had disruptive beekeeping practices, they mainly left the bees  in peace, and their property is a very large stretch of native prairie with woods in Hudsonville, but the mortality rate was too high to be any sustainable. Something had to change, but what?

There is not one unique solution and it usually stems from a set of issues:

1- the hive is not adapted: the walls are too thin and the bees spend a lot of energy controlling the temperature. The volume is too big (85 litters with two deeps of Langstroth) and the bees don’t swarm, the varroa mites thrive in an uninterrupted season of brood. The frames come with wax foundation of unknown quality and set printed cells, the comb is constrained, the gas and heat exchanges constrained, the organisation of the hive constrained. A thick walled hive in which the bees build freely (even if there are top bars), with an optimal volume of 45 liters (one deep) to 60 liters max, with one or two entrances correctly positioned will make a determining difference to the health of the colony and its capacity to resist to disease.

2- the environment is not adapted: This was not the case for Jane and Tom, to the contrary, the bees could enjoy a full season of diverse forage from early April till late September. It is a pretty exceptional place for bees as the diversity of plants ensures a continuous pollen and nectar production, beside a 2 to 3 weeks dearth period during August in some years. Furthermore agriculture is not really present in Hudsonville, so there is limited to no crop protection spraying going on.

3- the bee genome is not adapted: it is common practice in the US to receive bees in a cage through the mail to jumpstart a bee yard. The bee package is an assemblage of an inseminated queen with a retinue placed  among workers collected in reserve hives. My experience has been that  the mortality rate of these colonies is about 50 percent, the colonies that make it to the second year in general supersede the queen, and I would say 1 hive out of 6 makes it to the third year. As most of the backyard beekeepers set 1 or 2 to 3 hives, they have no bees the second or the third year latest. Stabilizing a bee yard from packages requires several seasons (5 to 6 seasons) and will have much defect. There are better ways to start a bee yard than importing the bees, either through nucs produced locally (even though not always so good) or capturing a swarm. I highly recommend swarms, it is not an obvious step for beginners. Beginners need a mentor to help them with the bee procurement. The swarm can be collected and placed in an adapted hive or a hive can be set empty and a swarm will move in it spontaneously.

4- the beekeeping common practices are not adapted: inspecting by cracking the hive open to see the queen or to check whether there are eggs or larvae or honey is not a good practice. Leaving the bees alone and deriving from their behavior at the entrance their health or state of development is good practice and establishing a diagnostic by observing a closed hive is sound beekeeping. Collecting honey and replacing it with sugar syrup end of autumn or in April is not a good practice. A non interventionist practice as long as the bees have access to forage and the hive is adapted to the bees needs prior to the beekeeper needs is good practice. The feeding of the bees is a very controversial topic, it can happen that the nectar season has been poor and the winter has been cold, not feeding in this case can have dire consequences as shows the picture below. This is a colony of Italian bees, early starters, in a Langstroth hive after a moderate winter in Mississippi. The honey stash was not sufficient, the bees starved and died in a matter of hours, a similar hive next to it was fed when the problem was discovered and this colony still thrives today for the 5th season with no further feeding since then. It is critical to check the weight of the hives if it is at all possible during the last leg of winter, most of the time a stabilized bee yard will not require any feeding. The picture was taken on one of my bee yards.


Tom showed up one day in autumn 2017 and handed me his hive components and other beekeeping gear, he was done with it. It was too painful to see bees dying and not being able to improve. Came the idea to build a freedom hive. As said, Jane and Tom large property covered with native prairie and woods is perfect for pollinators. A super insulated hive of 60 liters that one does not need to manage and in which no honey would be collected seemed to be making sense. Furthermore we would set the hive on a tripod so Jane could see the bees from her kitchen window.

1- Building Tom’s hive over December 2017.

2- The state of the hive on Christmas Eve. I wanted to have the hive ready as a Christmas present, but I could not build quick enough.

3- Finishing Tom’s hive early January 2018.

4- The hive is finished.

The hive was installed mid March 2018 and baited accordingly, a swarm may move in. I like the new owners to set the telescopic roof on as a form of appropriation.

I found a swarm on April 25, 2018 and called Tom to help and collect it for his hive. I have found every year at least one swarm at this exact spot coming from on of the Warre hives on bee yard II.

Tom sealed the telescopic cover as the bees had been poured in from the top.

On May 17th, I visited the hive for the first time after the installation.

On June 3rd, 2018, the bees are thriving and thrive since then.

The success of this first freedom hive on a tripod combined with the capture of a swarm in a baited hive installed in one of the oak trees on Jane and Tom property pushed us to install another freedom hive. It was built entirely in red cedar to get a lighter weight to lift up in the tree. We installed this hive on march 24 2019 and baited it with lemon grass and two pieces of comb waxed up to the ceiling of the chamber. The hive volume is again 60 liters with thick insulation and double top and roof.

we were pretty satisfied with the work.

On April 21st 2019, a swarm had moved into the hive.


3 log hives.

May 11, 2019

Carving log hives with Manfred.


Manfred was visiting from Europe and these three logs collected after a particular strong storm, were still in the barn waiting for some action. We decided to give it a shot and come up with hive bodies to be completed at a later stage.

Looking for the right tree.

A circular groove is gouged with a router and the chainsaw cuts within this shape.

We got visit, we got warm but we finished.

Three hives were eventually completed not without tentative roof designs that had to be revised. The simpler, the better. The walls are between 3 and 4 inches thick, they feature a double top and a double bottom in white cypress. Each hive has now its own life in its own tree, each has been chosen by bees in very different locations. As 2019 is the first season, definitive conclusions cannot be made just yet, but the colonies seem to be thriving. Each hive  is the object of a specific article.

A swarm at the City Hall

May 11, 2019

Sandy from the City Hall of Holly Springs called as a swarm was right outside the door.

The weather was calling for rain and I did not have time to go back home and get equipped, the bees could have been rained over, so I used a carton box I happened to have in the car. I called Suzanne, who is one of the citizens of Holly springs with a freedom hive in her garden, she wanted to learn how to collect a swarm. As the bees progressed in the box, the civil servants trickled out and shared their surprise how orderly bees were marching in. Mister mayor took a few videos. Finally we had our picture on the front page of the South Report of Holly Springs.

A swarm at the City Hall

May 11, 2019

The swarm is doing very well on May 19th, 2019 or 2 weeks after it moved into the hive.

From the swarm to the hive.

May 11, 2019

A swarm is transferred into a Gum hive.

The video was shot with a phone on May 7, 2018. The swarm most probably came from the bee yard #I, which is on the other side of the little wood. Our pig was the first one to spot it and gave the alert coming quickly back home. The swarm settled in the lower branches of a bush in the understory, it was easy to collect and transfer to a Gum hive through the man hole on a white sheet.