A new hive design: the Drayton hive

A new hive design has just been launched by OxNatBees member Andrew Bax – the Drayton Hive.

Overwintering Drayton hives nestle behind a screening bush

His new design consists of a deep horizontal hive which combines some of the best features of modern apicentric hive design such as excellent insulation and a window for non-invasive inspection, with convenient features like no heavy lifting and (foundationless) frames. What stands out about this design is that you aren’t tied to either interventionist or hands-off beekeeping, but instead you can experiment and find the style balance that appeals to you.

I asked Andrew about his beekeeping experiences and the story behind the hive.

How did you get into beekeeping and how long have you been keeping bees?

One day in 1979 I had a desperate call from a friend whose husband had collapsed in front of his hives. Could I take them away? Two hours later they were in the back of my garden. I had no idea what to do next but, fortunately, I was introduced to an ancient and amazing chap called Carass Topham who became my mentor. In the 1930s Carass kept 100 hives on the Yorkshire moors, which he visited by pony & trap. He was a judge at local honey shows and advised the wartime government on expanding honey production.

I became hopelessly addicted to bees and beekeeping; up to 14 hives (Nationals) in two or three sites and I was soon extracting honey by the hundredweight.

What kind of changes have you seen in beekeeping over that period?

My recollection of beekeeping in the 1980s is one of prolific harvests and abundant swarms. There was no varroa but one of my colonies became infected by European Foul Brood, and I had to burn the hive. Everyone, as far as I know, practiced invasive techniques.

How would you describe your own beekeeping style?

Now I practice natural beekeeping, with one reservation. I believe in ‘sharing’ the honey harvest with the bees and if you do that I think it is morally wrong to let them starve. I try to leave sufficient honey for the colony to survive the winter but give it some fondant if their access to natural forage is delayed by cold or wet weather. I fed fondant to my hives last week.

What hive types have you used before?

The original two hives were cedar WBCs but I soon replaced them by an assortment of Nationals, mostly old and derelict. Then Warres and a hTBH and now – the Drayton Hive.

What problems were you trying to solve with this design?

Lifting hives seriously damaged my back so my first priority was to make that easier. Next, I felt that frames had overwhelming advantages over top bars. Then I wanted to simplify the whole process, reduce the amount of equipment and eliminate the need for storage outside the hive. If I could come up with an attractive design I thought people interested in beekeeping might also like it as a garden feature.

Winter cluster visible through window

How does a Drayton hive differ from a Dartington or Golden Hive which seem to use largely the same principle of standard frames in a horizontal arrangement?

They all have a significantly larger footprint than the Drayton, which can be a factor for small apiaries. I don’t think Dartingtons are manufactured any more and they are relatively thin walled, so the bees need to work harder to live in them and you need a prolific bee strain to keep the volume warm. Good luck finding a Dartington hive to buy in this country.

Golden Hives are like large Draytons but there are only one or two small scale manufacturers, whereas the Drayton hive manufacture is subcontracted and numbers can be scaled to requirements.

There are also some US designs like the Layens and something made of plastic and aluminium from Omlet. Last year I saw a deep-framed horizontal hive with side entrances; it was divided into four compartments and used primarily for queen-raising. What’s interesting is that several designers have converged on similar solutions from different starting points, which tells you something. I have aimed for a balance of features which worked best for me and, I hope, others.

For more information see www.draytonbeehive.com

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