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 Hudsonvillbees.com at that time.