Several years ago, in 2012, a new beekeeper and friend confessed to buying several hive styles because he wanted to see what the differences were and which was the best “for him”. The insightful question was asked, “what did you find?” This is where the evolution began for the Sanctuary Long-box hive. As he explained what his needs were, it was clear the standard Langstroth Deep System was not ideal for him in most respects. One of the hives he tested was a top-bar hive with copper and a few “bells and whistles”. Some of his findings were:
- Due to his height, he always had to bend over around the Langstroth hives was negative.
- The top-bar hive was a typical waist height but he increased the height for his ideal placement.
- The extractor always created a mess and required storage. This was not acceptable in his kitchen and it took days to clean the garage after using it.
- He wanted all naturally drawn wax, no plastics.
- He wanted lids attached to the hive.
- Copper was a nice touch, but he disliked the agricultural appearance of the Langstroth system.
- His home and yard were in an upper-end gated subdivision and his yard was meticulously manicured, so his hives needed to fit the landscape.
- The topbar’s smaller frame was better than the deep Langstroth frames, however, the limits of and challenges with summer inspections with the topbar free-formed comb created continuous problems.
- The topbar hives seemed to vary as he had multiple maker styles. He needed equipment to be uniform like the Langstroth system.
- Cedar was preferred over pine.
- Limits with expanding or supering the topbar made the Langstroth system more appealing but he didn’t like boxes sitting in storage taking up space and the mess they caused with leaking, later bug infestations and how they drew in mice.
- And so, his list went…
Evolution and Features of the “Bee Sanctuary” Long-box Design
As the points were given it seemed a hybrid hive combining the two styles could be made. The negative items were removed and the ideal items were incorporated into a new design. Seemed easy enough but it still took years to test the work-ability of the changes. The result was a horizontal hive that is completely Langstroth compatible with options that allow many frame sizes – deep, medium, or mini comb frames.
Medium or Deep Style – Initially it was decided to make the hive “medium” depth due to weight and challenges with inspections. If the frames were to be naturally drawn then smaller would potentially be better. This new hive would also allow for “any” frame size from the Langstroth repertoire as well as the Eco Bee Box Mini Frame. This was accommodated by adding a support bar and slightly rabbeting the sides of the boxes as well as incorporating an extension for the deep Langstroth frames. Now this hive can be made equally in a “deep” style.
Reversible Base & Stainless Locking Clips – The bottom board of the hive began with plywood but due to formaldehyde used in plywood manufacturing, a full cedar base was developed. The base is reversible allowing it to be rotated 180 degrees so the beekeeper could inspect without standing in the flight-path of the bees. Stainless steel locking clips invented by Eco Bee Box were used to secure the bottom to the box. A further design was added making matching entrances on both sides allowing for up to 8 mating nucs, each with their own entrance.
Flip-up Lid with Covered Porch – The box itself has undergone many changes. The first hives were equivalent to a “triple medium”, with the same internal dimensions as a “double-deep” but lacked top expansion. The flip-top lid initially was less than 3”, then evolved into a space allowing a shallow super (5 5/8”) and accommodating inner lids. The box eventually was shortened to be a “double medium” with space under the lid for two medium supers side-by-side. The challenges with the larger hive centered on issues with shipping. This new lid style inadvertently added a “covered porch” to the hive, a great feature even Lorenzo Langstroth agreed with.
Aluminum Rabbets – Another added feature was the metal/aluminum rabbets. Any long-box that incorporates a long rabbeted edge cut out of wood is only good until the first chip in the wood edge. Once the wood edge is broken the box begins the failing journey ultimately finding the trash pile. The metal rabbets are resistant to such damage.
Copper or Aluminum – Traditionally, corners on hive boxes were primarily finger-joints or a plain box-joint system to joining the corners. There are numerous examples of these corners failing, so aluminum corners by Eco Bee Box were used. These corners can be made of aluminum or copper and act as an inside and outside support to a corner joint. This patented design allows for the corners to be all straight cuts with easy replacement when needed.
Gate Hinge System – The gate hinge system holding the lid was a huge challenge due to size, repeated use, and wind. The standard piano hinge puts too much stress on the edge of the plank and cedar has little over-all strength. During a good wind, the panel supporting the hinge would crack from end-to-end following a tree growth line. A gate hinge was later used but it too would loosen with time. The trick was when attaching the hinge apply either silicone or Gorilla Glue under the hinge and then fasten it. The screw holds the hinge initially but the glue holds it long-term. Hinges can be placed on the rear or on either end, depending on the access needed.
Follower / Isolation / Separation Boards – An item used mostly in topbar hives, the separation board was incorporated into the hive. The ability to reduce the area the bees have to patrol, maintain the elements, and defend makes the separation board a great feature.
Inner Half Lids with Top Entrance and Stainless-Steel Entrance Reducer – Next was making a ½ inner lid to cover the frames. The larger the lid the more area of the inner hive that is disturbed when inspecting. The hive already has a top cover which prevents 100% moisture, so allowing smaller inspection areas was a nice feature. Each lid was incorporated with a top access/vent with the Stainless-Steel Entrance Reducer by Eco Bee Box. This reducer allows air to flow if the bees want it to flow but swings open to allow bees access.
Adding Supers – Two medium supers will fit comfortably side-by-side under the lid and still close.
Extensions – For those using the “medium” size, ½ box and full box extensions are available allowing the use of a “deep” frame in a “medium” hive.
Inner Half Lids with Top Entrance and Stainless-Steel Entrance Reducer – Upper and lower entrances give better ventilation both during winter and summer. Half lids allow specific inspections without disturbing the entire colony.
Cedar Embellished for Beauty – Cedar is the wood of choice as it holds up well in the elements. For shipping purposes, cedar weighs less than all other woods. Cedar is an attractive wood for a beekeeper and presents well for those visiting. Interest begins with “catching the eye” of those looking.
How to use the Sanctuary
The versatility of the Eco Bee Box “Bee Sanctuary” brings all hives together into one universal system. Envision a hive that can utilize topbar frames, standard deep frames, medium frames, mini frames, flow-hive frames, to any degree the beekeeper wants? This hive does all that with elegance and ease.
This is a hive that can perform as the beekeeper chooses and to any level desired. Options are up to the beekeeper;
- Naturally drawn frames or plastic?
- 19th-century honeycomb frames or 21st-century spin-and-extract?
- Honey production or queen rearing?
- Traditional or Flow-hive?
- Front access or rear access?
- A hive that can hold multiple colonies.
- Ground hive or up on a stand?
These options and more exist, giving the beekeeper full freedom to lean towards one or the other.
To limit a full-scale discussion on many methods, the focus here will be on brooding with a side-line of sustainable natural queen rearing.
Initially, it needs to be decided how bees will populate the hive?
- Baiting may take a while, depending on availability, location and bee preference.
- Adding a nucleus (Nuc) can be done with a topbar frame filled with eggs, young larvae with the nurse bees. These are added by cutting them off the top-bar frame in portions similar to the inside dimension (or less) of the mini frame (6”x6”) and with an elastic band. Remember to keep the comb right side up. Deep or medium frames with eggs, larvae and capped brood. Usually, 3-5 are used at once, with or without a queen. A frame extension is used if the hive is medium size and deep Nuc frames are acquired. This extension is 3” high, by 8 1/8” wide, and 20” long (a true ½ box). Or, using at least 2 mini frames with open brood with eggs, larvae and nurse bees.
- Adding a package, typically 3lb or variant size. This has a group of bees with a mated queen that has just been introduced to each other.
- Placing a swarm with undrawn frames set with starter/seed strips. Some swarms do not have queens, so be prepared to add one if no eggs show up in 3-5 days.
- Relocating a cut-out from some structure like a tree or wall with their existing free-formed comb. Try not to mess honey all over their new hive as this can create a robbing frenzy after the relocation.
Once the hive is populated the method suggested here will be to move or expand the bees onto mini frames where they draw them out with white wax. With the use of the separation-board, the colony will have a confined area equal to their mass. ¼ expansion is given only when the frames have begun to be capped with pupae, at about 8-10 days later population will soar. Each deep frame has 7000 cells, each medium frame has about 4600 cells, and a mini frame has about 1500 cells. A 3lb package had about 10,000 bees. If 3 frames have bees about to emerge a possibility of 21,000 (deep), 13,800 (medium), and 4,500 (mini) bees will appear pushing out the older nurse bees.
During the second round of eggs being laid into the newly emerged bee cells, 2-10 frames are placed beyond the isolation board to begin a new colony and raise a queen. The original colony will have room to grow and jobs due to the frames being moved out. Other frames will be almost full with nectar and honey. Up until late summer remove all capped honey allowing growth and recycling out of old frames. The harvesting of honeycomb is done until late summer and stopped so the bees can store more for winter. Key, bees are more aggressive in fall due to the need to keep honey stores so leave them be.
This system with mini frames enables the beekeeper to remove filled capped frames all season. If the frame has brood it is then left. If it is all honey then it is harvested, which gives the bees room to rebuild. This rebuilding during the season uses up bees for “chaining” or “festooning” which generates new wax. Once harvesting is stopped, the bee population is focused entirely on winter storage.