11 September 2014
The Short Answer (TSA)
When you talk about building a beehive and, then, hear the words mud and clay, you might think of a natural beehive built by the wild honeybees. But the “Mud and Clay” beehive is actually the most ancient type of hive built and used by commercial beekeepers.
Throughout the Mediterranean, including ancient Egypt, the Middle East, Greece, Italy, and Malta, unbaked mud, straw, clay and dung were shaped into a long tubes — something like the modern baked clay tile. These tubes provided hives for domesticated honeybees with the bees building their combs in the tubes.
The ancient, and some modern, beekeepers stacked the tubes to provide a dense neighborhood of hives. Both ends of the tube-hives were left open. When the time came to harvest the honey, the beekeeper would “smoke” one of the open ends of the tube to drive the bees to the other end. This allowed the keeper to harvest the honey.
This method is still used, today, throughout the Mediterranean. But, today, baked clay tiles have largely replaced the unbaked mud, straw and dung tubes. In many areas, clay pots, like those used for garden planting, are pressed into beekeeping service. The pots need little preparation beyond knocking out their bottoms to form a short, stout tubes.
The mud and clay beehive was one of the first practical solutions to some of the problems with early beekeeping. But the mud and clay hive had the disadvantage of requiring the honey-harvester to remove and destroy some of the combs that, with modern hive arrangements, might have gone undamaged. The less unnecessary damage done to the hive during honey harvesting, the more time the bees can devote to gathering more honey instead of repairing and restoring damaged or removed honeycombs.