Friday, July 27, 2012

The Sun Hive

     The "Sun Hive", designed by German sculptor Guenther Muncke is a combination of skep weaving and circular inner wooden frame.  The inspiration for the hive design came from observing a wild bee's nest in a forest near his home, with it's combs covered in a protective layer of propolis and wax.  Below is a drawing he made of this bee's nest.

     The photo below of a wild bee's nest is a possible inspiration for the shape of the Sun Hive.

     Based on years of bee colony observation the unique hive is designed to fit the natural comb building tendencies of the honey bee.  Similar to the Warre Hive the Sun Hive allows for unconstrained downward vertical comb building (Natural Hive Comparisons).  It is built in two segments which allow for expansion where the two meet.  The segments are constructed of woven straw similar to a traditional skep with a wooden dividing board and platform in the middle (D below).  The entrance is at the funnel shape bottom of the hive (N below). The hive is designed to be installed at a height of 2.5 meters (8 ft).

     The wooden arches of the upper segment act like top bars from which the comb is built.

Here is a video showing how to make a Sun Hive.  It takes about 14 hours. 

How to cover a scep hive with cow dung.

     Below is a video showing the comb building progress of a swarm after four weeks in the "Sun Hive". The inner cover over the wooden frames is cloth coated in bees wax and the outer cover is coated in natural, organic cow dung.  The hive was made at a therapeutic institution for autistic children in Germany and was made of biodynamically grown rye straw.  

     "The Sun Hive/Haengekorb outlines the outer, invisible "skin" of the "Bien", the wholeness and single entity of the bee. It reveals the innate round shape of the "Bien". It's true nature becomes palpable, through the gestalt and it's position in space. The Haengekorb shows, how everything within the colony is round. The shape of it speaks with a pre-verbal-language. And the shape can share the living processes within. All together a "flower garden" for the eye and the heart."

       To maintain your Sun Hive you must build a shelter to give it protection from the wind and rain, treat your exterior wooden parts with an organic paint or varnish, give your straw skep a haircut, decide whether to cloam or not with cow dung and replace your covering cloth.  This is explained in detail here.
       As a beekeeper I find the Sun Hive design to be both beautiful and natural to a degree (in the comb building sense).  However, most European wild hives are built in enclosures like hollow trees (provides protection from the elements) without the freedom of comb construction like Guenther's drawing above.  Open, wild bee's nests rarely survive weather or predation.  I believe the maintenance of the hive would be labour intensive and require previous beekeeping experience and knowledge (not for the novice).  The Sun Hive has a focus on the health and welfare of the bees not maximum honey production.  I think one or two would be a beautiful addition if one has the time, knowledge and space.

     A book in English about the Sun Hive is now available which includes detailed plans on how to make your own Sun Hive. To open a preview of the book click here.  The book and Sun Hive components may be purchased from the Natural Beekeeping Trust in England.  In North America the book is available through Gaia Bees.
     For more information on natural beekeeping check out the Natural Beekeeping section of our Beekeepers' Library.     


Marcia said...

I love these hives also and hope to have one made - I am also working on going to the Natural beekeeping Conference in the UK if they run it again next year !! I think the sunhive is such a beautiful home for honeybees plus it looks wonderful hanging in the garden.

Danielle said...

I agree. These hives seem more natural and aesthetically pleasing. Still not sure about applying the cow dung.

David Cockburn said...

Don't know why the cow dung bothers you; it's traditional and natural.
The Sun hive looks to me like a practical way of keeping bees that would work well though I can see some problems in treating for varroa. Your bee inspector wouldn't be happy if a hive in the neighbourhood had EFB and he had to inspect this one.

Apis said...

I was joking as I have shoveled more than my share of cow dung. It would definitely be more difficult to inspect but I could see treating for varroa with maps or oxalic acid fogger. However, the concept of the sun hive is that it is a component of "natural" beekeeping and true natural beekeepers do not treat for anything including varroa. Although I do admire the concept of natural beekeeping I am at present not natural but "organic" in my approach in that I do treat for varroa.

blainenay said...

There is always somebody who thinks they can design a better hive than the Langstroth and similar designs. But none of the presumably "natural" designs even come close to the bee-friendly ease of management and beekeeper-friendly interchangeability and durability of a box with standardized frames.

It's unfortunate that the people most likely to be suckered into these "natural" hives and "natural" treatment-free methods are beginners. The result is typically a bad experience and a very short, discouraging time in the beekeeping craft.

But, "natural" beekeeping does sell books and classes. If that is their aim, then they are successful.

Apis said...

I agree Langstroth are the easiest to manage and that the Sun Hive could not replace Langstroths. I also agree new beekeepers are often attracted to these alternate hive designs. This design would be much better for an experienced beekeeper to try as they may try a Kenyan Top Bar or Warre.

John Dwyer said...

USAns are rich in cow (and all other kinds of) cow dung.

Ken Beagley said...

Is it possible to transfer a colony of bees from a national hive to a sun hive?

Apis Mellifera said...

I've not seen a method described of transferring bees from a framed hive. The shook swarm method (described on pg 52 of the book preview above) could be employed and I suppose a creative person could find a way to attach natural top bar comb to the middle divider board.

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