The Small Hive project

May 18, 2019

The project is hosted at


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      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
  • 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.