Andrea’s new hive

Oct 31, 2020

Andrea’s log hive was not functional any more. It was time to replace it. As swarms move spontaneously in her part of Holly Springs, another hive hung in a tree of her garden made perfect sense. I did not want it to be too long, but larger and shorter than a Maggie hive for example. This can be done if the boards are larger than 12″. I used a board of 15-1/2″, which was just long enough for the back and made the front in the shape of a barrel.

Andrea’s log hive (ref. previous article on Andrea’s log hive on this site) could not be used by the bees any more. We took it down the tree and realized how porous it was. As I tried to salvage it, the core broke in parts.

The brood chamber contains 41 liters and is made of red cedar. It is glued and pressed. The exterior shell is round in the front with straight sides connecting to the straight back.

The bottom is tucked inside the exterior shell and a proof access allows to peep and reach inside the brood chamber. The bottom board is covered with a 4″ piece of foam.

The brood chamber is secured to the exterior shell with boards in the front and in the back. The pressure of the the walls is sufficient to secure the position of the inner chamber onto the outer shell without any screws.

A layer of insulation is added between the two shells and covers the top board of the brood chamber.

A large roof completes the build. The entrance holes, one at the bottom and one at the top third of the brood chamber, are drilled through the walls and board separating the two shells.

Andrea’s hive is finished.

Spirit Hill Farm

Oct 27, 2020

I installed in 2019 a freedom hive in a walnut tree on Spirit Hill farm along one of the many fields Sheryl and Bob are busy restoring to native prairies. There were 3 main reasons to do so:

  • I knew bees were on the property as swarms were moving into the old log house.
  • Sheryl and Bob approach to conservation is compatible with a bee centric stewarding.
  • They are nice people.

The success of this first hive has triggered a larger project to be deployed over several seasons.

The first hive installed was a freedom hive that had been built in November 2018 for the 2019 season. The volume is pretty large for my usual builds as it is a 60 liter brood chamber in red cedar within an exterior shell of same shape in white Cypress.

The hive was set in an upper field on April 24 2019,  freshly sowed with native flowers. As it was already late in the Mississippi swarming season,  it remained empty for the first year.

On April 21 2020, a full year after the installation, I got a message from Sheryl, which triggered the project on Spirit Hill Farm.

Below is a picture sent by Sheryl three months after the bees had moved in the freedom hive.

Preserving the local wild honey bees is always a good project. I have not identified any beekeeper in the area, I have not seen any backyard beekeeping anywhere close within 5 kilometers. The odds are high that feral bees are present on the property. The density in the wild as estimated by Dr Seeley (in Southern New York State) is 2 to 3 colonies per square mile, which is ballpark equivalent to one colony per 200 acres. The project will grow over the years and we will start with 3 additional hives for the season 2021.

The design chosen for the hives needed to satisfy the following features:

  • a volume of the brood chamber at 40 liters to incite yearly swarming
  • excellent insulation of the brood chamber for our scorching summers
  • the weight of the hive needs to be below 100 pounds so it can be carried over the property and pulled up in trees on my own
  • the hive needs to be simple to build and built several times over the years, the property could easily support twelve hives
  • the hive needs to be inconspicuous to blend in the natural habitat
  • the hive is to be set high in trees

I have chosen a model derived from the Maggie hive design (ref. article on the Maggie hive on this site) as its volume is 40 liters and is light enough to be carried and pulled up in the trees. It uses standard 12″ boards so it can easily be built again. The modifications to the original Maggie hive are:

  • the backboard is extended so that the straps securing the hive to the tree trunk run over and under but not across the body
  • the hive bottom is tucked inside the exterior shell to remain dry in rainy seasons
  • a proof hand hole allows to check the bees from the bottom of the hive without any tool

The picture below shows the first test of the prototype hive at low level.

The brood chamber is a cylinder of oval section made in red cedar. The exterior shell is in cypress. The 12 ” cypress boards condition the whole shape:

  • the section  of the exterior shell is a rectangle of 11.25 ” * 9 “
  • the brood chamber is of oval section to optimize the volume occupied within this exterior shell the small diameter is 23 cm and the large one is 30 cm.
  • as the dimensions of the oval are constrained by the exterior shell, the height of the hive is such that the brood chamber cavity contains 41.4 liters, which is an average cavity in nature.

All three hives end up to be a little bit different as some constraints of the wood or some wider boards in the stack allowed to increase the diameter of the brood chamber and make the hive shorter, but by and large they are very similar. The brood chamber sides are glued together and it rests within the exterior shell as shown in the pictures below.

The bottom of the hive is tucked in the exterior shell to prevent any rain from soaking the bottom board, a hand hole is added to peep or access in the hive from below. Recycled styrene is used to insulate between the exterior shell and the brood chamber.

The second hive shows the same build in the pictures below. The third hive is not any different.

The hives will be installed beginning of February 2021 to be ready for the swarming season. More to come  on this project in at that time.

La ruche Anatole part II

Oct 23, 2020

The colony that lived in la Ruche Anatole for three years died. You may refer to the article about La Ruche Anatole on this site for background information. I took the opportunity of this interruption to improve the insulation and the looks of the log by layering clay/dung/straw mix on its surface. Below picture shows how the comb had been built by this first colony.

The first step consists in brushing off  the accumulated dirt in the cracks of the surface of the log to improve the adherence of the prime. The prime is a plain fine clay runny mix that penetrates all the fine asperities and allows the first layer of clay/dung/straw mix to stick to the body of the hive.

Once the prime is dry it is best to wrap it with natural yarn to increase the grip of the first layer. In this particular case I did not use any yarn and I pressed the first layer directly onto the prime as the grip between the two layers was very strong. I got lucky with the clay I collected, it was really mineral with no presence of biological debris.

It is best to sculpt protuberances around the entrance holes to further prevent any dripping water to enter the holes.

The first layer does not significantly increase the thickness of the wall, but it does increase significantly the insulation.

I wrapped this first layer in yarn to press the second layer in, which contains a higher proportion of straw. The additional straw increases further the insulation and  absorbs better the tung oil brushed on the surface to make it water proof, for a couple of seasons maximum.

The surface is smoothened with the wet fingers and palms.

The hive has been outside for the past two months and shows so far no sign of weakness under the rain. It is located in an area which should have it inhabited in April with a spontaneous swarm, the hive will be baited by mid-March with lemon grass and a couple of pieces of combs secured to the top board.

Delta Wind Hive

Oct 22, 2020

Jason was interested in a bee hive for the Sky Lake Nature Reserve in Humphreys county, MS.

The property consists of cypress-tupelo wetland and adjacent woodland, open water and sometimes mudflat. The reserve is open to the public for nature enjoyment every day of the year. Water levels in Sky lake fluctuate widely. When the lake is at flood stage, most of the reserve is under water, when the lake is at normal levels, the forested area of the reserve has a very open understory.

The hive needs to be very sturdy and set high in a tree so that the humidity of high water levels does not perturb the homeostasis of the colony. The shape and size also need to be conspicuous for the public while the bees would remain at safe distance. I chose a double hull oval shaped hive with a large exterior shell.

For more information about the association and the property check at


The brood chamber is a cylinder of oval section for a total volume of 40 liters. It is made in red cedar, as I usually use. Red cedar has a good insulation coefficient, is light and easy to cut, presents a rough surface  bees will propolize and does not rot. This chamber is assembled without nails or screws, it is glued together under pressure. The absence of metal close to the bees seems to me important to mimic the cavities they inhabit in a hollow tree. The exterior shell is made of Cypress, like the trees on the property. Cypress is extremely stable in humid environments. The exterior shell is just above 1 meter long with a large hat roof making it conspicuous even to an inattentive visitor. The various parts and angles are calculated in the spreadsheet below.

The interior and exterior shells next to each other and within each other.

The bottom of the hive is tucked within the exterior shell so that rain does not soak it. This is the way most bird nesting boxes are built for greater results. It makes the construction a bit more difficult but it is worth the hour additional of fitting. I stacked two boards of cypress on top of each other for this bottom and installed a water proof hand hole used in sailing boats for dry compartments. Jason will be able to access from below and peep inside the hive without carrying any tool and as the hole surface is very limited the bees are disturbed to the minimum and bear no stress. I have used this type of bottom on previous hives and I highly recommend it.

Beams maintain the shells at set distance while reinforcing the whole structure. The entrance holes are drilled through the walls of the shells and through the front beam. I used the insulation of food shipping boxes (Purple carrot). It is a great way to recycle a food grade insulation usually thrown away after a single use.

A plain top board of cypress to which the bees will hang the combs and a large roof in the shape of a baseball cap complete the construction.

The cap is brushed with 2 layers of boiled linseed oil for good order sake. The hive will be set in February and the project will be complete when a swarm has settled in. So more to come about the Delta Wind hive.

The Jenny hive

Oct 20, 2020

The Jenny hive is a modification of the Gilbert Veuille hive, also called Ruche Chalet, which original design can be found in the book by C. Locqueville “Ruches Refuges“. You can also consult the related article on this site. The Ruche Chalet has a large base and a narrow top funneling the cluster in a snugger space as the bees progress upward during winter. It is more energy efficient in the cold period and the new brood starts in a space easier to heat right prior spring. However, the square angles may let excessive moisture accumulate and the 3 cm thick cypress boards I use are not sufficient to insulate the hive in summer triggering frequent bearding and wasting energy to cool the brood down . The Jenny hive is a wooden construction of circular section at the top with a larger oval base covered with a mix of clay and dung. It respects the general idea of the Veuille design, but removes the angles and improves the insulation. The body of the Jenny hive is complex to build while the Ruche chalet is very simple.

The circle at the top is 27 cm in diameter and the long side of the oval base is 41 cm for a total height of 45 cm. This shape creates a cavity of 34.3 liters. The colony population will dwindle early in Fall and will swarm early in Spring limiting the varroa propagation. The quasi-cylinder has 10 sides, angled at 36 degrees (therefore cut at 18 degrees), each half cylinder meets a triangle cut at square angle with a base of 14 cm as the bottom sketch shows.

As the front half-cylinder leans backward against the triangular shape, each of the 5 sides needs to be cut at angle top and bottom. The front board is cut at 90 degrees with a 17 degrees transversal cut. The two following boards on each side need to be cut at 80 degrees with a transversal cut at 9 degrees and the far sides need to be cut at 70 degrees with a rectangular transversal cut. The inclined cylinder becomes horizontal at the top and bottom. This is the most delicate part of the construction.

The pictures below show the construction assembled and secured with temporary zip bands.

The wooden construction is covered with three layers of clay and horse dung. I did not add any straw to the mix. It takes about a week to 10 days for each layer to dry out. The prime is made of plain clay and is covered with a natural yarn for a better grip of the first layer. It is dry in a couple of days.

Once the prime is dry, the first layer of clay/dung mix can be pressed.

Second layer over another round of yarn.

The third and last layer: the dung and clay wall is 7 cm thick against a 1cm red cedar chamber.

I decided to build an eco box for the bottom. It is made of a recycled Langstroth deep covered with a cypress board cut to provide a wide rim inside the cavity leaving the litter exposed at the center. The eco box remains a vast field of investigation. I cannot assure of its actual benefits and a full exposure to the litter is not what I observe in Nature: old hives are always very clean at the bottom and even display a very thick layer of propolis. I will test with this inside rim, which combines the concept of the eco floor while maintaining a surface the bees can propolize.

The hive top is a straight plain cypress cover to which the bees will start and hang the comb. The board will be sealed to the body with additional clay at moment of installation of the swarm. It is covered with a telescopic top in the form of a Russian hat, adding insulation and limiting access to other insects.

A first short cone is added to the Russian hat. It is filled with insulating wool and secured to the hat with pegs. A second cover in the form of a long cone freely rests on top of the first cone providing additional proof and insulation.

The finished hive is brushed with a few layers of boiled linseed oil easily absorbed by the clay. It will be installed in February ready for the first swarm of the season.