There's ongoing debate in the backyard beekeeping community about which type of hive offers the best balance between what the bees need and honey production. From top bar to Warré, there are plenty of different hive designs, each with its benefits and peculiarities. Made with "bee-centred" apiculture and conservation in mind, the Sun Hive is an alternative format for natural beekeepers. Created by German beekeeper and sculptor Guenther Mancke, the Sun Hive is a based on the form of hives as found in the wild.
Made with bees in mindHere's how it works: the Sun Hive is meant to be elevated about 8 feet above ground, under some kind of protective shelter. Made with a wooden frame, woven rye straw and cow dung, there's a platform that allows for the separation of the lower and upper parts. The upper part is formed with removable wooden arches, which is where honey is stored, while the lower part is where surplus nectar can be stored. A waxed cloth covers the top part, to prevent the bees from attaching comb to the inner part of the upper skep. The bees are able to build comb from the top down, in an unconstrained manner, as they do in the wild.
Mancke designed the Sun Hive after having observed a wild bee nest in the woods near his home, which took an egg-shaped form and was covered in waxy skin and propolis. As Mancke explains, the Sun Hive is an "intermediate form between a fixed-comb hive and one with a movable comb system," which allows bees to live more naturally:
The impetus for its development came from the need to free the bees from a principle at once earthbound and cuboid, one that goes against every law of form - we are dealing here with laws that are particular expressions of a creature's life. [..] The new skep we have developed allows the bee to live its life in a way that accords with its being, and on the other hand the system of movable combs offers the beekeeper the means of laying hand to the hive and taking any appropriate action that may be necessary.
Here's a video of how it's built from the beginning:
The results of using the Sun Hive are quite extraordinary. As The Telegraph notes in an article on Heidi Herrmann, co-founder of UK-based Natural Beekeeping Trust, bees raised in Sun Hives are typically happier, more docile, healthier and don't require artificial swarm suppression methods; Herrmann herself often doesn't wear bee suits when handling her bees (see video below).
The underlying idea is that by tailoring hives to bees' natural tendencies, they are apt to thrive and thus, be bolstered against factors causing bee colony collapses. The Sun Hive is meant as a conservation method, rather than for lots of honey production. It's a beautiful, bee-friendly and even bee-therapeutic design, made with the bees' natural inclinations at its very heart. More over at the Natural Beekeeping Trust, and in their PDF on alternative hives, and Permaculture's visual guide to build one, as well as Guenther Mancke's book Sun Hive.