Brainstorming: Bees

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24 hours in, and I can’t help myself but put some thoughts up before heading outside for the day – I’ve been reading up on bees at the very informative beekeeping.com and have come up with a few ideas I’d like feedback on.

Hive Management seems to come in two common flavors, leave it alone and collect honey as available” or Manage your hives, combining weaker hives to produce fewer stronger hives, and then splitting them up again when they grow beyond their capacity”.    Here’s a quote from the beekeeping article

Honey bee colony growth and well-being are dependent upon:

  • The queen’s capacity to lay eggs;
  • The supporting worker population’s ability to maintain favorable temperatures in the brood nest and to feed the brood (i.e. size and age structure of worker population);
  • Availability of nectar (or honey stores during the dearth period) and pollen;
  • Space in the proper section of the hive for expansion of the brood nest and storage of honey (Productive Management of honey bee colonies, C.L. Farrar, American Bee Journal, vol. 108 nos. 3-10. 1968)


Many poorly-managed colonies = weak colonies = less honey


Fewer well-managed colonies = strong colonies = more honey

The advantages of actively managing your bears bees are manifest, and many – So how can we make it easier to achieve?   Well, lets look to nature for the answer…  This is from Hex-Hives:

Bees in nature work with gravity. Given the natural space of, say, a hollow tree they will start at the top and draw the comb down. This realization has been fully incorporated into the  design of the Hapiary hive. The hives are installed with all of the pods in place from the beginning. True to this initial observation, the bees start drawing comb from the top of the hive. This allows the Queen to always follow the cleanest, newest comb as it descends within the hive.

So that gave me an idea.   Right now, the mechanism to attach the modular beehive units to each other is by a nesting shaft located centrally, but that has a big problem.  It means that in order for us to remove any one or several sections, we have to totally disrupt ALL the units above it, which need to somehow be supported and lifted… Frankly speaking, it’s just not going to work.

We know the hive will be filled in from the top to the bottom as expansion needs manifest, so it makes sense to start with a full size unit – What about using a self-supporting frame out of a material like Makerslide, then designing the modules to be removed from the top and loaded in from the bottom (probably some kind of ratcheting mechanism).  You start the hive, the bees work their way down, and once they have the structure 75%+ full, you remove the top 50% of the modules entirely for honey retrieval and cleaning.  Then you load fresh units in from the bottom so the hive has clean expansion space again, while still having enough energy from the remaining 25% undisturbed but full-of-honey modules.   You could build the unit on a scale, and after the first collection you could use weight as a criteria for knowing when to check the hives for expansion needs.

I will mock this up when I have time, if you’d like to help and know how to 3d model I encourage you to take a swipe at it!

The Bee Blower - We can do better with design

Bee Suppression System without smoke

I always thought you needed the smoke to convince the bees to leave,  but watching an episode of a “how the natives survive” show recently, I saw how some african cultures that collect wild honey just gently blow on the bees, which is enough to make them peacefully evacuate.  They were wearing no protective gear, group of about 7 people (plus whatever cameramen) huddled around a hollowed tree and there were maybe two stings suffered.

So, obviously smoke isn’t required.    Looking more into this, I came across some… creative… mechanics for removing bees.

Hi Dan, I just use a leaf blower and operate it at about half speed. You will get the hang of it after a while. I just set the super up on it’s side in the hives lid. Work on one side then the other and back to the first side and do this over again till they are out. Then I take the super away and put the lid back on the hive.

It’s not a bad idea, but the restrictions of convention beehive design & manufacturing make this way more disruptive than it needs to be.   Since this project is based around additive manufacturing (3d printing in its various forms), we have all the advantages previously mentioned – Among them, Complexity is free!     Why not build each modules walls with a “bee suppression system” that allows you to plug a can of compressed air (or similar) into the side of a given module, and have the hive be flooded with low level disruptive but not debilitating, irritating but not dangerous downward biased crosswinds that strongly encourage the bees to lower levels?   Obviously this would need some tuning, but the goal would be to start at the top and herd the bees into the lower levels, allowing for removal of the upper stories with no bee removal.       This could be as detailed and intricate as is helpful while actually reducing manufacturing costs.

I think when I test that, I’ll wear two bee suits.

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3 thoughts on “Brainstorming: Bees

  1. denise says:

    FIRST of all, if you go to Randy Sue’s Thank Nature Bee Class, you will hear that smoke is unnatural and unnecessary. When you smoke bees, it does not calm them, but simply puts them in a state of emergency/anxiety, where their natural instinct is to gorge on honey before evacuating the hive. It is very stressful to the bees.
    On the other hand, if a beekeeper cracks the propolis on the hive, and waits a moment for the bees to settle, it is rarely necessary to use smoke at all. If the beekeeper is behind, or to the side of the hive so the guards in the front are not alarmed, they will go about their business.
    Additionally, part of the benefit of the design of the hex hive is to eliminate the energy the bees expend going from one level to another. Her hives have entrances for the workers on each level to conserve their energy for production instead.
    It has been 25 years since I have kept bees, but from my experience, I think Randy Sue is definitely on the right track.

    Interesting article, interesting blog! Keep the discussion going!

    • Makes a ton of sense about the honey gorging – If they think the hive is on fire, they try to save what energy they can. So then are you saying that no “calm down, or convince the bees to leave” system is neccesary? Could you just remove the full modules one by one from the top, then place them somewhere away from people but also away from the hive (they are small, each one should weigh 2-5lbs even full)

      Perhaps the bees would leave the module and return to the main, newly expanded hive by themselves if given a few hours?

      I agree, Randy Sue and the hex-hive folks definitely are on to something – I just think that there are still assumptions in place about the limitation of hive construction that frankly no longer apply.

  2. […] An installation would be two 4′-7′ legnths set 2′ or so in the ground, with the wheel grooves on both facing inward.  Those seem pretty ideal for the type of ratcheting “insert Clean unit in the bottom, remove Full unit out the top” system I mentioned in the brainstorm post. […]

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