HIVE: What is a “Jackson Beehive”?

24 November 2014

The Jackson Beehive was developed by the beekeeping Jackson family of Africa to cope with the tropical, humid conditions found in Southern Africa as well as the unique threats posed by Africa’s rather formidable animals and insects seeking the hive’s honey.

The Jackson hive is most similar to a top-bar hive. The hive is composed of a large oblong box. Instead of bars, the drawers with frames slide up and down vertically from the top of the box. Jackson hives became known for their size. The volume of the hive allowed larger frames with more than twice as many frames per hive as the standard Langstroth beehive.

Later versions of the Jackson emphasized size but, in the process, lost one of this hive’s most unique characteristics.  Early Jackson’s were designed to be hung – suspended above the ground from a large tree branch or supporting beams

The idea for a hanging hive didn’t originate with the Jackson family. The large insects and fierce animals of Southern Africa could make beekeeping almost impossible. Hives would be raided, destroyed and the bees killed for their honey. Desperate beekeepers had resorted to hanging hives by narrow lines high from trees to preserve the hive, colony, and honey from predation.

Hanging Beehive (Africa)

Hanging Beehive (Africa)

The Jackson hive was the first hive designed to be hung rather than supported from the ground below. This was, in its time, a major innovation and a feature that made beekeeping in Southern Africa more productive.


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HIVE: What is a “Poppleton Hive”?

20 November 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)      

A Poppleton Hive is a type of long box hive designed and used by O. O. Poppleton of Florida in the first half of the 20th century. A “Long Box Hive” is a single story hive that is arranged horizontally instead of vertically like most modern commercial hives.

You can think of the long box hive as just that — a long box. The top of the box opens or has vertical drawers that may be removed from above. The drawers/frames are arranged sort of like books in a bookcase laying on it back. Each drawer contains a frame to accommodate one comb. The frames are arranged and hive designed to group brood combs toward the center and honeycombs toward either end.

This allows drawers with honeycombs (and, therefore, honey) to be removed, examined or the honey harvested with the least disturbance to the rest of the hive. The broodcombs, in which the queen lays her eggs and the young honeybees are nurtured to maturity, are “doubly undisturbed” by not only being in separate drawers, but in a relatively “distant” and distinct location from the honeycombs.

Poppleton Hive

Poppleton Hive

The Poppleton, like most long box hives, is a deeper hive than the modern vertically stacked commercial hive. So, sometimes, a long box uses proportionally larger frames than the standard commercial hive, but still incorporates the Langstroth dimensions into its frames and drawers to assure one, separate comb to a frame.

A particular advantage was provided by the concentration of the broodcombs in the middle of the long box. During the winter season of honeybee inactivity, the two extreme ends of these hives could be stuffed with insulation materials reducing the total area of hive. This smaller area, limited to the broodcombs, made keeping the hive warm in winter a much easier job for the inactive honeybees.

The Poppleton was particularly popular in the southeastern U.S. in the early part of the 20th century. Then, as now, weight seemed to a primary consideration and the Poppleton was designed with the “older” beekeeper in mind. While a standard commercial Langstroth hive was stacked in vertical modules that could, with combs, reach weights up to 50 pounds per module, the horizontal Poppleton required the beekeeper only to remove individual (and relatively light-weight) drawers from above.

Paradoxically, the light weight and easy access to the drawers did nothing to reduce the weight of the entire long box. As a matter of fact, the greater total volume of the long box made the “whole hive” much heavier and more difficult to move. It was primarily this weight and mobility issue that caused most all long box hives to fall from popularity.

Today, the long box is making a comeback with amateur, if not commercial, beekeepers. Although it remains to be seen whether today’s young amateurs, with the passing of years, will find the weight of the long box an issue, the concern with weight and the (now, the word is) “mature” beekeeper is no less central with light-weight components being a central design feature of both the Dartington modular hive and its manufactured sibling, the partially plastic Beehaus.


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HIVE: What is the “Tanzanian Top-Bar Hive”?

(featured image: Lindsay Reynolds Top Bar Beehive)

13 November 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

If you live in North American, the U.K. or Australia, what you know as the Tanzanian top-bar hive is not so different from the Kenyan top-bar hive. Both hives are basically long box hives with top bars. The Tanzanian differs from the Kenyan top-bar in the body of the hive. The Tanzanian hive has straight sides instead of Kenyan’s sloped sides.

As in all top-bar hives, bars are placed above the interior of the hive to be used by bees to build hanging combs. The advantage of the removable bars is that these allow the beekeeper to inspect and remove individual combs without destroying the hive, injuring the bees or the colony. So, individual combs can be removed and the honey harvested without, otherwise, disturbing the colony or destroying the hive’s combs.

There have been several quite different “Tanzanian” beehives. Before 1960, beekeeping in Tanzania was little different in style than it was in the Southeastern United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Log hives, hollowed out logs, were adapted as hives. Sealed at the top, and otherwise almost inaccessible, harvesting honey meant destroying the hive and damaging the colony.

Then, around 1960, the Tanzanian government promoted the use of two new types of hives. The first was a sort of “long box” hive. The Tanzanian design was in the shape of a box, but differed from the familiar long-box hive in that it was closed on all four sides. In fact, it was something like a log hive turned on its side.

This long box hive’s innovation was a construction that caused the bees to build broodcombs near the inaccessible center of the box. The broodcombs are where the worker bees care for the queen’s eggs and nurture the young bees to maturity. Just as the hives encouraged the bees to build broodcombs in its center, the same construction caused the worker bees to store honey and pollen in combs near either end of the hive. Unlike the old log hives, the ends of these long boxes could be opened and the honey harvested without disturbing the colony or its brood. So, the colony and the hive could survive unharmed for many seasons of honey production.

The second design was, again, a long-box, but one that opened from above. Unlike the top-bar hive, in which bars are placed on top of the long open box, this hive’s open top was simply covered with a removable plank. The bees would build combs hanging from the top plank rather than on individual bars. The whole plank could be removed to inspect the combs and, hopefully, to harvest just the honeycombs with minimal damage to brood combs.

Then, the “Tanzanian Transitional Hive” was designed by G. Ntenga in 1972. This hive is called “transitional” because it replaced the plank top with bars. This new type of hive was now a top-bar hive. But, otherwise, it is quite distinct in terms of size and design from other types of top-bar hives.

Again, the modern “Tanzanian Transitional Hive” is distinctly different from the “Tanzanian” hive familiarly marketed in the North America, the U.K. and Australia which is, basically, a Kenya top-bar hive with straight instead of sloped sides.

What is the importance of a straight-sided top-bar hive in contrast to one with sloped sides. There are differences, to be sure, but I suspect the choice of the name, “Tanzanian,” has more to do with marketing than with the traditional hives of the nation of the same name.

After all, if variety is spice of life, it’s also the spice of beehive ownership. As the owner of “Tanzanian” beehive, you can do more than tell your friends about your new hive. You can confuse them with over-technical descriptions of its specifications and impress them with your specialized knowledge of an exotic tool of African apiculture.


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HIVE: What is a “Kenyan Top-Bar Hive”?

6 November 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

The Kenyan Top-Bar Hive is a variation of the horizontal top-bar Hive. The Kenyan’s name is often abbreviated with the acronym, “KTBH.”

In nature, a colony of honeybees will build a structure, a shelter, called a beehive. When bees are “kept” by “beekeepers” for commercial purposes, special pre-built hives are provided for the bees. For many centuries, commercial beekeeping was devoted to honey production. But over the last 40 years, the market has changed.

Now, beekeepers rent the services of their honey bees as pollinators. That is, honey bees pollinate flowers so that the blossoms will produce seed. This seed, in turn, will produce the next year’s crop.

Seasonally, many beekeepers transport their hives over long distances to areas in which pollination services are needed. So, commercial beehives must be easy to move. The Langstroth hive is the most popular with commercial beekeepers because it offers convenience in honey production and mobility

The Kenyan Top Bar Hive isn’t mobile. So, this hive is of little interest to commercial beekeepers renting out their bees for pollination.  But, the KTBH is an extremely popular design among commercial beekeepers exclusively engaged in honey production as well as with amateur beekeepers interested in honey for their own personal use.



The KTBH is basically a long wooden box. But, unlike the typical commercial hive, which uses frames that slide in and out like drawers, the KTBH hive uses bars. Wooden bars are inserted so that they extend across the top of the box. Honeybees will use the bars to build honeycombs (and brood combs in which they raise their young).

The bees use the bars as a base from which they build downward. This produces honeycombs hanging from individual bars. When the bees have built a full comb and stocked it with honey, the bar holding that comb can be removed and the honey harvested. Then, the empty bar is replaced, and the bees will begin to build and restock another comb with honey.

The KTBH is quite different from the ancient Greek style of beehive, but many have compared the two because both use bars. Each of these hives, the Greek and KTBH, has an entirely different shape and dimensions requiring quite different maintenance practices. But each uses removable bars in a similar way placing them above the open container holding the bee colony. In both, bees are encouraged to build honeycomb’s hanging from the bars. And, the bars will, later, be removed to harvest the honey.

The history of the KTBH is a bit of a surprise. The prototype of the Kenyan hive was developed entirely in Canada. Dr’s Maurice Smith and Gordon Townsend of the Canadian University of Guelph developed what is now called the KTBH under the sponsorship of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

How did Kenya get into the act?

The actual hives were first used in a project in Kenya. Popular and successful, the “Kenyan” hives gained their reputation while they were exclusively used in that country. Kenyan fans of the new hive raved about it in the media. And . . . one can’t help wondering if this didn’t help the early marketing of the hive in North America and Europe. After all, who wants a hive developed down the street, when you can own a strange and exotic beehive from Africa?

The hive changed in a number of ways during its first use in Kenya. There are more than a few mean and aggressive animals in Africa who like honey every bit as much of as the American and European honey bear. So, the KTBH was designed to hang from trees or poles. This made it more difficult for the largest honey robbers to reach the hive and, also, protected the hive from invasion by a variety of large and aggressive ground-crawling insects.

But, you don’t have to hang this hive. Different versions use legs. Other versions change the shape and dimensions of the original KTBH. Custom designed and built hives are extremely popular particularly with first-time, amateur beekeepers.

After all, a custom built hive can allow the owner a degree of personal expression. The ideal, individual design can accent the appearance of the owner’s home and landscaping. That is why so many ignore a piece of good advice: buy mass manufactured KTBH hives of a standard size with standardized parts.

A warning.

Custom built hives are wonderful, until a necessary part breaks in the middle of a season. Then, the original builder, or an artisan of equivalent skill, must be found to hand-make a replacement. Custom parts are expensive and, when they must be built very quickly, the buyer is put in a poor position to negotiate the best price.

In other words, those who can’t resist custom designs would be well advised to take up a second hobby after beekeeping – carpentry.


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