The Cathedral Hive
The next evolution in top bar hive design
A whole new hive design and approach to top bar beekeeping
The Cathedral Hive is a high volume hive with high potential honey production.
The Creation of the Cathedral Hive
The Design Process
By Corwin Bell
I asked myself several years ago, what would improve the current top bar hive designs. I thought, “If I could ask the bees what hive design they would prefer, what would be the ultimate hive for them to prosper within? what would they say about its construction?”
One of the main design criteria that I held tight to during the design process for the Cathedral Hive was, how do we create a hive that can weather the NEW weather!? The environmental anomalies that we are now experiencing and those of the future to come, are and will continue to impact our bees survivability. Shouldn't we begin to look to the future and see if there is something we can innovate in hive designs that will help the bee colony survive extreme fluctuations in temperatures and the new seasonal changes that are occurring?
After a long and challenging design and prototyping phase the Cathedral Hive is born.
I believe that this is one of the biggest advances in bee centric hive designs to materialize in a very long time. The design process was quite unique in that we included “input” from the bees. We set up design criteria in a way that allowed the bees to demonstrate preference. We then carefully adjusted the hive design and its' features to support how we observed the bees responding to the structure with their nest building behaviors.
Over the last 5 years we let the bees determine how the hive was created. We made several hives per year in order to test numerous variables and modifications and then by observing how bees interacted with the modification, we adapted the architecture. With each successive hive we made, we either included or abandoned the previous modification depending on the response from the bees.
This spring we started several swarms in the newest Cathedral Hive design. It was heartening and at the same time astonishing how the bees built out these new Cathedral Hives. We watched carefully as the bees interacted with our redesigned travel passages and top bar ventilation slots.
Corwin and Bee Guardians viewing the Cathedral Hive combs
Unique features of the Cathedral Hive
Three sided hexagonal top bar structure
-Allows for superior comb stability
-Greater potential for straight comb
-Zero to no attachment
-Fully drawn out honey combs weigh 9-10 pounds
-Very attractive Hexagonal combs!!
Integrated top bar feature we call the "Super Highway"
-Specially designed top bars that improve the bees efficiency, health and overwintering ability
Colony Regulated Venting System
-Carefully engineered ventilation design that allows the bees to regulate air flow
Views into the bees world
-1 viewing window
-Offer greater learning and monitoring of the bees health
-Allows bee guardian to track progress
-Enjoy observing the bees world without disturbing them
Innovative Living Roof
-Helps bees to regulate critical hive temperatures
-Cuts down on UV from the sun
-Reduces electromagnetic radiation and outside noise
A joy to work the hive!
-Access any comb in the hive like a framed hive
-Bees use the passage holes to move out of the way when removing combs
-Use the same great top bar hive tools
Key design features of the Cathedral Hive
There are considerable advances in the Cathedral Hive over the flat top bar hive designs. I think you will be impressed by how much thought and research and 'love of bees' went into the Cathedral Hive design. Take some time to understand the key design features. I think you will see why we believe that The Cathedral Hive is the next evolution in the top bar hive. We did listen to the bees and the bees got heard, maybe that is why they seem so healthy and happy in the Cathedral Hives!
Three sided hexagonal top bar structure
We created the first triangle or wedge shaped top bar, that has now become a standard in most top bar hive designs. Now we have extended what we have learned and incorporated the same wedge shape bar into these new hexagonal top bars. We have reinforced the corners with spline joints, so that they are very strong and durable. The hexagon lower segments rest on a support ledge attached to the hive body. The combs built in the hive have zero or minimal comb attachment. The top bars may be removed from the middle of hive without clearing attachments, much like frame hives.
We feel that the hanging comb is much better for the bees rather then making a hexagonal frame around the comb. It is kind of hard to explain, but basically it allows the bees to manage the space from the comb to the hive walls, along the bottom where disease can develop.
The hexagonal bars do not need spacers. The bees seem to make some magical calculation of total comb volume verses area of the bar to support attachment, that determines the total fatness that the comb can be created. The bees learn to naturally taper the comb toward the bottom of the hive resulting in a comb that is a perfect weight for the hexagonal top bar.
Three sided bars give superior support to comb when working the hive.
Hexagonal bars encourage beautiful hexagonal shaped straight comb.
Hexagonal top bar Passage Holes...we call “The Super Highway”
This design feature is amazing for the bees in several ways. It came from students questioning me about why some bees create holes on the comb right in the center just below the bar. For a long time my answer was simply “I don't know”. Then at a dinner party in Olympia WA. after a bee workshop I met Ernie Schmidt, who presented me with a drawing of a warre frame with a “bee highway” and a theory about the mysterious comb holes. Now after several years of observation and a few experiments I believe I understand.
This behavior seems to be mainly present in the feral bee colonies with intact survivor genetic behaviors. I noticed that these holes in the comb were very intentional. When I incorporated them into the top bars, all of the bee colonies used these holes in the bars. You can see from the picture that the bees not only kept the holes clear, they have made connective wax tunnels from bar to bar.
Wild or Feral bees preserved a common behavioral trait to aid in survival.
In the process of making the Cathedral Hive, I learned about making passages from the feral or wild bees. I witnessed the feral swarms we caught in remote areas making these holes in the comb. So based on what the feral bees were doing, I created 3 holes in the top segment of the Hexagonal top bar. The bees overwhelmingly agreed with vigorous use of these holes. What was surprising is that the bees who did not naturally create passage holes in the combs, when given the top bars with holes, they all used the travel passages with intensity.
Passages in the top bar allows for horizontal ventilation
in the top of the hive cavity.
How do we create a large volume hive, while at the same time avoid the crooked comb that is always associated with big volume hives? I think “ The Super Highway” is the answer we have been looking for.
I have made and worked with many large volume hives and inevitably when the hive gets to a certain design length the bees construct curved comb to ventilate the back of the hive or in the case of a side entrance hive, the ends of the hive get the “crooked” or curved ventilation comb. The length of a top bar hive should end just prior to where the bees would normally begin to curve the comb. Who wants to deal with curved comb?
Cathedral Vented Top Bars
Ventilation in the top bars
In this prototype we gave the bees 4 passages per segment of top bar. After careful observation we determined that the bees ignored the passages in the side segments of the top bars. So that is why our final plans call for only four passages in the top segment of the top bar.
Interestingly 4 passages seems to be the number the bees want because when we made only 3 equally spaced passage holes in the top bar, the bees made paths on the comb surface to move about the comb.
With the four holes in the top segment of the top bar, the bees walk up the side segments of the top bar and pass through one of the 4 passage holes at the top of the bar and move to the next comb. Because of this sophisticated “Colony Regulated Venting System” we use in the Cathedral Hive, the combs are typically straight to the very back of the hive.
The top bar 'Super Highway' provides efficient movement of the colony throughout the hive.
The top bar passages allow for efficient movement throughout the hive. This creates an alternative pathway through the hive without bustling through the already very crowded floor space. We studied the bees movement through the hive by creating tiny plexiglass windows above the passages in the top bars. Here we could observe how many bees were using the passages throughout the season. The bees used the passage so much that they left non-honey filled trails on the surface of the honeycomb leading to the holes. (see picture above)
Paths on comb show heavy use (three passageway prototype).
The bees apparently leave the paths honey-less, so as not to walk on their food supply. Here you can see the path splits into a “Y” leading to two separate holes. When we added additional passages in our later experiments the bees stopped making the “paths” on the surface of the comb and instead walked around the hexagonal edges to access the passages. Because the bees can efficiently move throughout the hive, there was a noticeable increase in nest build up, health and productivity.
The 'Super Highway' improves survivability in winter.
One of the most important uses of the passages that the feral bees demonstrated, was superior over winter survival. The colony must be able to move through the honey stores in the winter to survive. I have seen so may dead-outs where one could clearly see that the bees died while traveling to the cold sides to “get around” the combs in an attempt to reach more of their honey stores. I also observed feral colonies that showed no passages going into the winter, but in the spring had chewed passages through the comb, increasing their ability to over winter in the face of multiple below zero days. With the Passages the bees don't have to break their cluster, they move from comb to comb as necessary by flowing through the passages located in the warmer top of the hive. The bees are able to stay in a tight cluster when migrating through the honey stores because of the multiple passage holes.
Joy of working the Cathedral Hive
If you have been following along with our newest methods of working with the bees, rather then against them with smoke and other strange beekeeping practices, you would have seen how we use a technique we call “herding the bees”. Rather then brushing bees off into the air or back into the hive, we move the bees to different parts of the hive that we are not working. We do this with a “herding tool”. This is such a gentle technique that the bees are much more calm when working the hive. With the passage holes in the top bars, when we begin to herd, the bees actually run for the holes and disappear into the hive, rather then collect in masses on the top or sides of the hive. Wow, where did all the bees go?
Colony Regulated Top Bar Venting System
Colony Regulated Ventilation System
The Cathedral Hive is a very large volume hive, with a single comb weighing in at nearly 10 pounds. The passages all line up so these tunnels allow heat at the top of the hive to move and dissipate out of the hive, but at the bees discretion. What I mean by this, is that the bees can fan these tunnels in the heat of the summer or not fan in the cold winter. The hot air can also move vertically, completely out of the hive through the “vents” in the top of the bars. (more on the vents below) The bees will propolize the vents in the Cathedral top bars as needed
Top vents allow the bees to determine how much venting they want, they can self regulate the movement of air, by closing off vents. The vents are cut into one side of each top bar and are only big enough to allow air to flow, but not allow the bees to get through. This is the same with most top bar hives. The vents allow air to move vertically out to the hive, but only if the bees determine this is helpful. If the bees don't want the vents then they close it with wax and propolis. In the picture above the entrance and the brood nest is on the left side. The bees have closed the vents here, but toward the back of the hive away from the entrance they have left these vents open, now they don't have to curve combs to vent the back of the hive. As winter approaches the bees will close up the remaining vents. Just as good feral bees do with the entrance, in the spring the bees will chew back out the vents to allow for increased ventilation. It was great to see the bees implement this venting system. Depending on location of the hive, sun or shade or from micro climate to micro climate, the bees can adjust, as needed the amount of the vertical dissipation of heat.
The Cathedral Hive body and design incorporates multiple ventilation architecture
There is a space beneath the roof side panels where heat that is generated by the sun hitting the side panels, flows up and out of the top of the hive. There is also space to slide “pink board” insulation sheets into the space beneath the side panels. The long oval vents in the front and back panels provide cross ventilation over the top bars, so with the addition of the vertical venting in the bars themselves, this creates an efficient way to for air to flow freely. Four circular vets in the upper section of the hive (not seen in this picture) provide air flow even in the event that the air is still, with no breeze. The whole ventilation system is determined by how much the bees open or close the inner top bar vents.
Views into the bees world
Full Sized window offers greater learning and monitoring of the bees health, progress and enjoyment without disturbing the bees.
The Cathedral Hive Ventilated Roof (seen here sitting on top of the Cathedral Hive top section)
The Cathedral Hive Additional Features NOW AVAILABLE!
Glass false back for viewing (additional feature)
The Cathedral Hive with the engraved front entrance panel (additional feature)
Innovative Living Roof (additional feature)
The living roof is one of the key and unique features of the Cathedral hive. The living roof helps bees to regulate critical hive temperatures by cutting down UV from the sun, electromagnetic radiation and outside noise.
The concern that environmental anomalies that we are now experiencing will continue to impact our bees survivability. This concern was the inspiration for the living roof. Shouldn't we begin to look to the future and see if there is something we can innovate in the hive design that will help the bee colony survive the extreme variations in temperatures and the new seasonal changes that are occurring?
SOME AMAZING FACTS ABOUT A LIVING ROOF FOR THE BEE HIVE AND INTERNAL TEMPERATURE REGULATION.
A LIVING ROOF is capable of reducing electromagnetic radiation penetration by 99.4%, reduce sound from outside by 40 decibels. The light absorbed by vegetation would otherwise be converted into heat energy. With respect to hotter summer weather, green roofing is able to reduce the solar heating of a structure by reflecting 27% of solar radiation, absorbing 60% by the vegetation through photosynthesis and evapotranspiration, and absorbing the remaining 13% into the growing medium.
Testimonials from Bee Guardians who have experienced the Cathedral Hive:
"From the moment I peeked through the back of the Cathedral Hive, I was mesmerized. There was an order and calmness about the hive that I had not seen before. The bees hummed a beautiful sound that I had never heard. It's the easiest hive design I have ever worked with. You can see into it without moving any bars and when you do move bars, it is simple and clean because there are no comb attachments to the sides of the hive. The combs are super stable on the hex-shaped bars so there is no worry about breakage and dropping. It’s much bigger than my Golden Mean hives which will give my bees the room to create bigger, stronger colonies. I will be using Cathedrals for all of my future hives." ~ Matt S., Louisville, CO
"I LOVED the Cathedral Hive and desperately want a few. While the hexagonal shape was appealing because of comb shapes, it didn't exactly translate for me into a shape for a whole hive that the bees would necessarily gravitate to (I never saw a hexagonal bee tree.)
I was wrong. We looked at a bunch of Corwin's hives, and the Cathedrals were both the best. While certainly some of it could have been queen related, these hives had beautifully drawn comb, dense brood, and great pollen and capped honey, even when most of his other hives were almost starving because of the horrendous rains. You know how you have to (consciously or unconsciously) be very careful when handling laden top bars, (and while to be on the safe side, you should be with these, too), the cathedral bars (three wooden sides of the hexagon), made for a very substantial frame that was much more solid and protected, despite the fact that the volume of comb on each was bigger than on standard top bars. The holes cut in the bars were clearly used by the bees, helping them communicate and travel. I have made about ten of Corwin's golden mean hives, and can't wait to make a few of these cathedrals once the plans are available. Just as with the Golden Mean bars, however, which I found much harder to make than I liked, I am hoping he makes the Cathedral bars available for purchase so I don't have to try to make them. I don't know if he has done it yet, but the idea of the living roof is so cool!" ~ Dr Mark S., Pennsylvania
Credit for the Cathedral Hive
New truly bee centric innovations are rare these days and if they are fully realized, they are usually born of the passion and commitment of many individuals with sensitivity and creativity. Rather then feeling that I am launching a product, I feel more that we are launching a concept or an art project. So I want to do a call out to everyone who helped to create the Cathedral from the initial ideas to those who stuck with me and helped to perfect it.
I would like to thank the Bee Doctors who came to our retreats and worked the Cathedral Hives in total secrecy, : ) while sharing their ideas, observations, their joy and amazement, which inspired me to finalize the design and get it out to the world. Yay! This years' colonies in the Cathedral Hives have done so well, that I finally felt we hit the mark and are now ready to offer this most endearing hive design to others.
Dave and I have worked together on anything wood, including a couple of wooden sea kayaks we built together. Dave builds all our hives for backyard hive, along with an occasional elf around Christmas time. Dave and I have spent years and countless hours perfecting the Cathedral hive and Dave has put up with “can we just build another quick prototype to test this” or “sorry I just put bees in the demo hive, I couldn't resist” and “can you make up another one for my workshop this weekend?” Dave is a great designer that knows wood, is fun to work with and loves bees, so how could you ask for more ?
Ernie Schmidt, thank you for your amazing incites into the mysterious holes in the comb and the idea of how one might incorporate these holes into the combs of the bee hive.
Karen, as you might know makes everything happen at Backyard Hive. She is the Propolis that seals and heals our virtual hive, she fills the cracks and holds things things together. Karen, has the ability to, at the perfect moment, when we were totally baffled on some way to do a hive feature, calmly comes up with the solution.
During my early in my pursuits of creating a new Hexagonal hive, I found inspiration from several others who had experimented with Hexagonal hives. Thank you Marco Lamm, your inspiration helped to create a wonderful hive that bees and Bee Guardians are really going to enjoy for years to come. I would also like to thank Gunter Hauk and Toni Wilkinson for creating the first Hexagonal hives that I had seen almost 10 years ago, that got me thinking and exploring.
A happy Bee Guardian enjoying the New Cathedral Hive!
More Links to The Cathedral Hive:
The Cathedral Hive - Buy Fully Assembled
The Cathedral Hive - Buy Un-Assembled
The Cathedral Hive - Buy Hive Plans and Cathedral Bars
The Cathedral Hive - Building Tips for The Plans
The Cathedral Hive - Assembling Cathedral Hive Parts
The Cathedral Hive - The Gallery
The Cathedral Hive - The Design
The Cathedral Hive - Installing Bees into