HIVE: What is a “Dartington Hive”?

23 October 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

            The relatively new, Dartington Hive was designed in 1975 by engineer Robin Dartington as an ideal hive for beekeeping on the roof of his London home. The Dartington is not a commercial hive, but was created to combine the most ideal design features for honey production with the most ideal design features for the convenience, health and comfort of the non-commercial beekeeper.

The Dartington has a large brood box (or area in which the queen bee lays her eggs and the young bees are nurtured). This allows the bee population to grow with little restriction. The idea of more bees seems like a good one. After all, the more bees, the more honey – right?   But sudden population increases cause “swarming” – a queen bee will leave the hive with a large number of worker bees to create a new, separate colony – in a new, wild hive.

One of the Dartington’s most remarkable design features turns even the bees’ urge to swarm to the keeper’s advantage. The hive is built to allow the use of a division board that can be inserted into the body of the hive – dividing it into two separate areas. With the careful use of an extra honey box, a new queen can be introduced to the “new” and “separate” colony created by the division board. The bees are, more or less, fooled into believing that they’re in a new hive with a new queen. In other words, the bees believe they’ve already swarmed!

The Dartington hive is also unique for its attention to the comfort and health of, not just the bees, but the beekeeper. The Dartington has a stand that raises the hive to waist height – the ideal level to allow the beekeeper to comfortably inspect their hive. The hive is divided into modules of sizes that are easy to handle. Most remarkably, each module was carefully designed to weigh no more than 16 pounds – the weight designated by the UK Health & Safety Executive as most safe for the lower back of the beekeeper.

As I read Robin Dartington’s own description of his hive, I was struck by another feature that deserves a bit more attention. Many an amateur beekeeper is delighted when, as their first, they find a beautiful, custom-designed hive.   But, after a few years of easy success – time, wear, and tear – take their toll. A vital part breaks suddenly, unexpectedly, and at the worst possible moment. Then, finding the maker (or another equally skilled craftsman) to hand-tool a replacement is difficult. Even more, the part will, often, prove especially expensive because the replacement is an emergency, which puts the buyer in a poor position to shop for, and negotiate, the best price.

The Dartington hive is designed (and patented) to specifications that allow the use of BS frames. “B. S.” refers to “British Standard” – a set of standard size specifications for hives and hive components adopted in the U.K.  The use of “standard” hives and components by commercial beekeepers allows the manufacture of highly affordable standard hive components. Also, the Dartington’s emphasis on convenient, modular sizes and strict weight limitations on hive components further assure that suitable replacement parts can be found easily and at affordable prices.

The Dartington Hive – Robin Dartington’s PDF

Bee Source: Dartington Long Deep Hive

Bee Source: Q & A about Dartington

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