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Wild honeybee hives

Wild bee hive entranceBefore I write about modern beekeeping methods that promote healthier bee populations, let's take a step back and look at the way honeybees live in the wild.  Although some of them will move into the walls of our houses (oops), most feral honeybees prefer to nest in hollow trees.  That means they are quite well insulated from the elements, with thick wooden walls on the sides and an even thicker "roof" above their heads.

 Nest chambers of wild bees are vertically elongated cylinders with a capacity of about 8 to 16 gallons.  To give you a frame of reference, the deep brood box that most Langstroth hives begin with has a capacity of about 11 gallons, and beekeepers generally add on at least one more deep brood box or two shallow supers.  That makes the wild bee hives sound small, but keep in mind that wild bees don't sock away as much honey as we ask our bees to.  Instead, they swarm as soon as conditions in the hive start to get cramped, sending out a daughter colony to make a new hollow her own.

Wild bee hiveWild bee hives are usually at or near the base of a tree and the entrances are generally at the bottom of the hollow.  Entrances vary in size depending on the capacity of the tree, but range from about 4 to 16 inches in diameter.

The bees chew away rough bark at the entrance to make a smooth landing area, then they coat the inside walls with propolis.  Combs are fastened to the top and sides of the chamber, but the bees leave small passageways along the edges to allow them to move around inside easily.  They put honey in the top of the combs, then pollen, and care for their brood below.

Can we develop a hive that allows for human management while keeping as many of these wild bee characteristics as possible?  Tomorrow's post will suggest one possible compromise.

This post is part of our The Barefoot Beekeeper lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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