The first three parts of this series have led us to choose a horizontal hive without using foundation and using top-bars rather than frames. That still leaves more decisions to make. Indeed one of the reasons beginning beeks are often discouraged by the old guard from attempting these kinds of hives is the lack of standardization of nearly everything. According to “The Perfect Hive” the beekeeping catalogs of 1890 carried a number of different hive designs of varying dimensions. By 1930 the variety in equipment offered was much reduced, nearly indistinguishable from today’s few standard sizes of Langstroth equipment. The recent interest in non-Langstroth hives is decidedly in the 1890 state with every supplier promoting a design incompatible with other designs if only by a fraction of an inch in some dimension. Then too, many of these hives are DIY built by the beek from downloaded designs and filtered through idiosyncratic preferences, local availability of material, and individual degree of woodworking skill. Indeed we had intended to build our own before life interfered and we decided to commission its construction instead.

1: Straight (Tanzanian) or sloping (Kenyan) sides?

Informal poking on the web suggests that the sloped sides are more popular. Certainly most of the hives manufactured for sale seem to have them. The factoid supporting this choice is that the sloped side discourages bees from attaching comb to it, perhaps because they think it is more a floor than a wall. There are also debates to be found over the exact measure of the angle. On the other hand some beeks who have tried both report that it makes no difference at all to the bees. They attach to the sides or not as they see fit. They do look appealing but a straight-sided box is easier to build. Then too the straight-sided box, properly dimensioned, can accept frames from a nuc or conventional hive. We chose straight sides.

2: How long?

The famous Brother Adam reported that the longest hive he had seen worked was five feet. Most recommendations found are for three or four feet. An overlong hive would just have wasted space and excessive weight, while a too short hive would sooner become crowded and encourage swarming. We arbitrarily settled on three feet.

3: How wide and deep?

We considered these two dimensions together. The bees form hanging chains of their bodies to layout the shape of the comb they are adding. It struck us that a much narrower than deep hive would be begging for comb to be attached to the side. A much wider than deep hive brings no similar objection to mind but the wider the hive the heavier the comb when the bar is removed. That suggests a practical limit somewhere probably proportional to the beekeeper’s length and strength of arm. After much rumination and theorizing we chose an Alexandrian solution and simply decided to make it compatible with the dimensions of a Langstroth deep.

With our straight sides this meant we would have the option of using conventional frames if we chose. We anticipated starting a hive from a nuc and that would almost certainly contain frames. This decision proved wise for although we started with a package of bees, that colony ended queenless and our next source of bees was indeed a nuc of conventional medium frames.

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