I know what you are all thinking. That winter is a time when beekeepers put their feet up and merrily scwaff their way through their large mead stash, eating honey on toast and reading beekeepers digest. While it is true that I have only made short and sporadic visits to the apiary since October I have well and truly had my nose to the grindstone. Winter is the time when you get out your overalls and get building hives. Since November I have been steadily working through a list of tasks (admittedly a list longer than it need be, due to my over-enthusiasm) with half an eye firmly set on mid april when swarming season begins and all must be ready. Theo, who has patiently been supplying safety goggles as well as intermittent technical support requests, has taken our regular invasions of his workshop with remarkable good cheer.
This year we are building more Warre hives as well as branching out our horizons with a Horizontal Top Bar hive. This is a development that is generating much excitement amongst the Bee Team here. I must admit that it is somewhat of a travesty that it has taken us so long to get here. The Horizintal Top Bar hive is a classic of sustainable hive design. It’s simple design makes it accessible for those of us with less than perfect carpentry skills (and tools!) and it also is a perfect candidate for using reused or sustainably sourced materials. I like this hive design because it finds an elegant balance between the human needs of the beekeeper and the needs of the bees for a healthy, warm home. Beehives are are wonderful example of how the objects we design and build subtly reflect the values we hold. As beekeepers it is very easy to inherit these designs without ever being given a space to reflect upon whether the values implied in our hives and methods really chime with what we believe and how we feel is right to be in relationship with honeybees. Thankfully times are changing in the beekeeping world and increasingly there are a multiplicity of hives to choose from. I intuitively feel more comfortable with a wide diversity of hive designs rather than a monoculture, it seems to me this mimics more closely systems in nature. In diversity there is resilience.
However this can be taken to far. Beekeepers are renowned for there tendency to tinker. I’m not sure if it is beekeeping that turns people to tinker or vice versa but one thing is for certain the beekeeping community holds a extraordinary high number of tinkerers. Rarely does a beekeeper feel they can rest without introducing some novel modification or other. Warre warns against this tendency – “Do not try to experiment”. Yet he himself was a precocious tinkerer, running several experimental hive simultaneously. I must confess that I too have succumb to this primal beekeeping urge and made a few minor modifications to Phil Chandler’s classic design I console myself that these modifications are based on my conversations with fellow beekeepers with more experience of the pros and cons of this particular hive design. Secretly however I am resigning myself for the life of a restless, excitable tinkerer.
Here’s some images of what we’ve been up to.