We were inspired by our visit to Pertwood farm and their support of a traditional honey bee lifestyle. (see here). After reading Jonathan Powell’s guide to tree bee keeping (get here) we thought that Oxfordshire could also host some of this practice. But it is difficult to get people to agree to this type of project; perhaps it takes more time?
Anyway the beech tree in our garden is not large enough; another 50 years and it will do fine… Fresh inspiration came from Matt Somerville (freedom).
Surely making something like that would fit up our tree? And so, after a lot of staring upwards at our tree and making hand gestures, a prototype was started.
This was made from some pallet wood initially – it’s a prototype. Some quotes for western red cedar turned the prototype into mark 1. £250 seemed a lot for something that might not work.
The design is as simple as possible. Two 12 sided barrels, one mounted in the other by spacers. The volume of the inner barrel is roughly 50 litres.
The entrance is approximately 2/3 of the way up from the base. There is a 2nd hole about halfway up. This was to allow the bees to decide how to arrange their life. At the last minute I jammed a small stopper in the hole; this was to stop great tits etc nesting in the box.
At the moment the bees sometimes use this as an auxiliary entrance. They may block it with propolis later. The hive was finished and mounted in late April.The inside had been primed with some old comb and a few drops of lemon grass oil. As I took it up the tree the smell was pleasant but a bit strong? We watched it often during the next week but saw no interest. Thinking the lemon grass may have been too much – I went back up to the hive with an electric paint stripper and applied some heat to the spale that was still ‘lemony’.
Coincidence or not, the next day we saw some bees around the hive. They spent a lot of time going in and out the hive and round the tree. It is very difficult to determine whether it is the same bees on a long visit or whether we had a rotating shift of shorter visits. Or possibly bees from different swarms? This pattern was repeated for the next 2 days (which were quite cool and dull).
The next day, 10th May, was warm and sunny. At around 4:00 pm we heard the swarm arriving.
They appeared from the south at about the height of the hive and definitely ‘knew’ where they were going. They started moving into the entrance immediately with none of the dithering you see when you send bees up a ramp to a warre. Here is some video, video2 and video3. After 30 minutes they were all in and calm returned.
10 days later we had a look inside – the bottom plate is quickly detachable. Lots of bees and comb.
The entrance is at about 2 o’clock as you look up from below in the above picture.
The inner barrel is mostly board I cut from some old roofing joists (next door’s building project). This is approximately 100 years old and still very resinous. The rigging was done with paracord; the roof canopy is Faith’s customisation of a camo tarp. There are 4 mounting handles to lash it to the tree. The bottom spale is an old cricket stump hollowed out to take a temperature sensor. The plan is to try and collect some data via a Raspberry Pi setup (work in progress). Lots more ideas for a production hive – all suggestions welcomed.
This hive can be as hands off as you like. If you don’t look up you, or the neighbours, wouldn’t know it’s there. If you do look up you can spend ages staring at a different pace of life. The difference in watching these bees and the ones in hives on the ground is more than just the angle of one’s head?