Practical hive making

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Practical hive making

There are many possibilities of hive options. For beekeeping to make a meaningful contribution to poverty alleviation, it must be accessible to a large number of people with limited financial means. Ideally even a small-scale beekeeper should aim to have something upwards of 10 colonies. To establish a beekeeping operation at home or in the forest, beekeepers need to pursue an appropriate investment programme. This must start with constructing or aquiring the hives at a reasonable cost. Traditional forest beekeepers, for example, tend to construct great numbers of fixed comb hives made out of freely available local materials and more hives leads to greater total honey harvests.  There are many different designs of hives and a wide range of materials from which they can be made. Only a few types can be considered here. However, in general it should be considered that frame hives are not be easy for an ordinary beekeeper to construct and this fact can potentially encourage dependency or debt.

Bark hiveNepali log hives

The picture on the left shows a fixed comb bark hive made using the same methods for hundreds of years. These traditional African hives can be made of other materials such as grass and basket work. The picture on the right shows log hives being used for Apis cerana.




Top-bar hives

Top-bar hives offer some management advantages and can be made relatively easily by the beekeeper. If they are made out of wood they are very expensive to construct and unless the beekeeper understands the principle of constructing the top bars at the correct size (3.2 cm) and managing the development of the new colony so that the bees build one comb on one top bar the advantages are lost and the extra expense may not have been worth the investment. Making top-bar hives of local materials is a tried and tested technique.  It is up to beekeepers to look at the types of materials that are available locally. They need to be durable enough to last for a few years and allow the beekeeper to earn enough money to pay for the hive and a replacement and make a profit. Some suggestions are made below. 

The hives should be made to a standard size. This means that the top-bars can be moved easily from hive to hive. This makes it possible to establish new colonies through division. To achieve this, a standard design should be followed. The attached plan is one that uses sizes commonly used throughout Africa.

 (PDF of hive plan to be inserted)

To make a top-bar hive from wood

  1. Cut selected timber to size. Measure carefully to ensure the correct sizes of all the parts. Use the plan.
  2. The wood may need to be planed to give a neat fit. Two shorter pieces are nailed together to make the gable ends.
  3. Use a template to measure the gable shape. Measuring from the middle ensures accurate angles.
  4. Saw the rough gable shapes to the correct size and shape.
  5. Cut an entrance in one of the gable ends. It should be no more than 8mm (the thickness of a 'biro' pen ) high to keep out pests.
  6. Attach the side pieces to the gable end using 2 inch nails. Then attach the floor.  

Planing KTB sides

 Nailing gablesCutting the endEntrancePutting togetherInside hiveHanging hive

Top bars need to be cut. This is the most difficult and expensive part of the process. They need to be cut accurately to an exact width of 3.2 to 3.3 mm. A bottle top measures 3.0 cm but by the time the line has been drawn it will be the correct size. It is a convenient measure to check the size of the top bars.  

Cutting top bars

Waxing top bar

If soft materials such as raphia palm, bamboo or straight sticks can be found that can be cut or whittled to give a good straight edge then these will be cheaper. They must be strong enough to hold the weight of a whole comb.  





Alternative hive materialsClever hive construction

Mudding stick hives

Other materials can be used to make the hives cheaper. The one on the left is made of straight sticks plastered with mud.

The one on the right is made of raffia palm and uses no nails in its construction.   


 Basket hiveThis Nepali hive is made of basket work.





All hives made of local materials should be 'mudded' to seals the cracks, keep out pests and keep the hive dark inside.  Because the joints of top-bar hives made of local materials are not as strong as wooden hives they should be hung in a frame. This also makes management techniques such as dividing hives much easier. This one is made of four lashed sticks.

Hive hangerBamboo and plank roof

 Roofs can be made of inexpensive materials and of different designs.


Our top reading selection

Gregory, P. 2009. Basic African Beekeeping Manual. FERA. UK. available free on application. click here to request copy of book.

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  • Author Bees for Development
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  • Published Date October 2016
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