Organic Beekeeping for Beginners: Which Hive is Best?

Growing Your Greens/Video screen capture

When I posted an introduction to top-bar hives and warré hives, the comments quickly descended into some pretty heated arguments between proponents of different schools of beekeeping.

The Case for Alternatives Gets Stronger
As a failed beekeeper myself, I make no claims to being an expert in the field. But as more and more evidence stacks up implicating pesticides in colony collapse disorder, and even suggesting that high fructose corn syrup may have played a roll in bee deaths, the idea that we should consider alternative methods of beekeeping based on modeling nature would seem to make common sense.

Harnessing Survivor Genes and Encouraging Natural Behaviors
Tough love beekeeping, for example, focuses on survivor genes, allowing weak colonies to collapse and instead working with swarms that have shown an ability to thrive in tough conditions. Meanwhile other researchers have shown that there are powerful medicinal qualities to the glue-like propolis, which conventional beekeepers remove because it makes a hive hard to work. So designs like top-bar hives, which are often criticized for the amount of propolis that builds up, may indeed allow bees to take care of themselves more effectively and avoid the need for excessive medication/inspections.

John of Growing Your Greens—whose recent video on vertical farming at O'Hare airport proved wildly popular—is in the process of learning beekeeping. Here he talks us through some of what he has learned, including the pros and cons of a traditional Langstroth hive, a top-bar hive, and a rather unconventional looking invention called the Hex Hive.

Growing Your Greens/Video screen capture

Hex Hives Mimic Hives in Nature
Designed to mimic the shape of a hollowed out tree, and using thick anti-fungal cedar for the construction, there's much to like about the concept of the Hex Hive. John tells us that the inside is also left rough to encourage the bees to apply propolis which—given the research mentioned above—seems like a wise thing to promote in the interests of bee health, if not necessarily ease of working the hive.

I should note, of course, that the course on which John has gained most of his beekeeping knowledge is run by Randy Sue Collins of Organic Beekeeping 101 who also happens to have patented the Hex Hive, so we should assess all information and recommendations given with that particular bias in mind. Either way though, this was a nice introduction to organic beekeeping. And I would love to hear from other beekeepers about their experiences with organic beekeeping, or alternative designs like the Hex Hive. Is this reinventing the wheel, or a step toward a better kind of hive? Share your thoughts below.

Tags: Agriculture | Bees | Colony Collapse Disorder | Permaculture | United States