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.
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.
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.)