Another Revolutionary Beehive

Edmonton Journal Headline google stories

Revolutionary Headlines

Ah, yet another revolutionary beehive. You know, it’s more suited to the needs of the bees, yet better for the beekeeper. In this case, an Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) designer has come up with a beehive that holds 8 frames instead of 10 and uses a 6-and-5/8-inch box instead of the deeper standard super. So, it’s narrower and shallower. It looks a lot like a hive that’s been around for over a century.

The 6-and-5/8-inch equipment has long been known as the Illinois-depth hive. It was invented by the Dadant company, in Illinois, about 100 years ago.  8-frame boxes have been around even longer. When I was a lad, I worked for a fellow who ran 1,200 colonies – all in 8-frame equipment with shallow Illinois-depth frames. That was over 30 years ago.

In 1894, the beekeeping journal Gleanings ran several issues describing the benefits of using 8-frame equipment – they listed 24 key advantages.  I suppose that the Edmonton designer of the revolutionary hive, Dustin Bajer, knows that 8-frame equipment has been around for a long time. Bajer is also aware of the Illinois-depth box and frames because he calls them by that name on his equipment information web page.

The 8-frame Illinois box can be purchased from nearly all the larger bee equipment makers. Bajer claims to have “tweaked” existing equipment to come up with a hive which he describes as “bee-centric”,  using shallower, narrower boxes that are more like the bees’ natural home, the tree trunk. This is exactly how the beekeeper I had helped 30 years ago described his system.

The Edmonton Journal says Bajer has a “novel hybrid hive design” which is better suited to our northern climate and better suited for urban beekeepers.  Bajer seems to have taken existing equipment (plus a Warre section and a sloped lid) and presented it as the next big idea for northern urban beekeepers. Maybe he’s right.  I certainly admire his salesmanship.

Narrow, shallow hive with sloped roof - at my cousin's home in Europe. In use for hundreds of years.

Narrow, shallow hive with sloped roof – at my cousin’s home in alpine Europe. In use for hundreds of years.

This leads to an interesting point.  Old ideas are recycled over and over again in beekeeping. The top-bar hive (TB) is a good example. Aristotle described top bar hives 2,000 years ago. They were in continuous use in Greece for millennia. Yet most people think TBs are a recent invention.

Combining 8-frame Illinois-depth boxes, sloped lids, some Warre hive bodies and a screened bottom board may be the third-best idea since sliced bread, but such equipment is not new. However, it may be a unique fusion, like adding fried eggs to sweet potatoes and seasoning it with curry.  The fused hive may be exactly what Edmonton’s beekeepers need.

Want to give the Edmonton equipment a try? Here is a link to Bajer’s site. He offers handmade equipment, which I assume means no power tools were used in their manufacture. The site lists 8-frame Illinois-depth boxes, “Integrated Pest Management” bottom boards (they include screen mesh), and sloped hive lids. Bajer seems to make and sell other bee supplies as well. I have not seen any of his output first-hand, but it all looks neat and sturdy.

The equipment to set up one hive is listed at $200 (plus tax and shipping) and does not include any bees, wax, or frames. For $200, you get the IPM bottom board, a Warre section, a Warre lid, and four 8-frame Illinois boxes (without frames). That seems pretty expensive, but maybe not – four 8-frame Illinois boxes from Dadant in Illinois cost $60 US, plus shipping. So perhaps Bajer’s handmade boxes, bottom, and lid are priced about right.

old bike

Dustin Bajer, the promoter of this equipment, seems like a nice guy. For example, he told the Edmonton Journal’s reporter, “My ideal day is sitting on the deck with a glass of wine, just watching the bees go back and forth.”

I get that. My ideal day has a lot more activity, but I realize not everyone is me. However, I am not comfortable with the promotion of a 100-year-old idea as an innovative tweak of existing bee equipment, newly designed for the northern urban (Nuppie?) beekeeper. Maybe someone will design a 2-wheel human-powered vehicle with pedals and chain and tweak it by making one wheel bigger than the other. You say it’s been done?  In my mind, rebranding 8-frame Illinois-depth boxes as a new design is not too much different. (Even if it includes a cute sloping roof.)

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
This entry was posted in Culture, or lack thereof, Hives and Combs, Save the Bees, Tools and Gadgets and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Another Revolutionary Beehive

  1. Stewart Staudinger says:

    Ron, as a rancher who has shamelessly copied Dustin Bajer’s hive, I think you’re being a bit disingenuous. He only claims to have added a Warre vented roof and quilt box to an 8-frame Langstroth hive. I can find no one else who has done this.

    His movable entrances are rare but also not unique.

    I, like Dustin, like the Warre hive for natural beekeeping but understand it’s limited by being a top bar hive with no frames. Some companies have added frames to the Warre. Good idea except that it compromises two of the main strengths of the Warre, ‘simple’ and ‘cheap’.

    Dustin’s idea gives you a hive that can be managed as a Warre or Langstroth, has the superior ventilation of the Warre and uses cheap Langstroth boxes and frames (cheaper than a semi-custom framed Warre). He never claims to have invented a new hive, hence his use of ‘hybrid’, it’s his combination of parts that’s unique. ‘Beecentric’ probably better describes the Warre but it’s already got a name so Dustin adopted it in favour of ‘Good for the bees but also handy for the beekeeper’ hive.

    To come full circle, I got 8 frame Dadant mediums, built my own quilt and roof(s) and added a top entrance fixed to my quilt box. I improved on Dustin’s hive by adding Warre box handles so I can use a lift. Even my Illinois supers are ‘hybrid’, but as I’m not selling them, I have no use for a catchy name. If that changes, perhaps ‘Honeybee Hilton’ would do.

    Jesting aside, Dustin is doing something different and it works well enough that he’s run off his feet building hives. And I’ve copied him. Good on him, I wish him well!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ron Miksha says:

    I think my alarm was sounded when I saw the newspaper account that implied that the 8-frame medium-depth hive was a revolutionary new idea that had been invented in Edmonton. This is not and indictment of the quality of the craftsmanship, which I’ve heard is outstanding.


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