The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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Plain Talk Beekeeping

The Old Craft of Box Hive Beekeeping: a bygone minimalist bee management technique

- May 1, 2024 - James E. Tew - (excerpt)

Here’s the truth
There is a staggering amount of beekeeping lore and instruction on the internet. The recent addition of archived books, pamphlets, catalogs and publications has gone even further in adding to the stock of bee information — information that is both old and new. I have long since learned that the web has the answer — it’s the question that I must find.
In all my years of writing for bee publications, this is my first effort discussing box hives. The truth is that I stumbled into this old hive topic. For several years, Joe Wigton and I tried to coordinate the transfer of an “old hive” to the Honey Bee Equipment Museum at The Ohio State University. Covid got in the way of everything. Finally, last March after several years of coordinating, the transfer happened and I came into possession of the hive as we had grown to call it. It has an interesting provenance that documents that this hive was built in 1853. Astoundingly, this bee box is 171 years old.

The ambience of old beekeeping equipment
Time and again, in previous articles, I have told you that I was a woodworker long before I was a beekeeper. Not that I am a cool and interesting guy, but I appreciate and understand simple wood construction.
An immediate characteristic that is noticeable about most old hive equipment is the wood is much thicker than today’s comparable wood dimensions. Most modern hive components are 13/16” thick. Additionally, the width of various boards used to wall the hive is much wider that can be readily acquired in today’s lumber supplies. Poplar was a common wood used when wide boards were required. Interestingly, in 1829, Geliéu1 said that hive wood should be 1 ½” thick. If that is true, then our current hives are made from wood that is only half the thickness of some earlier hive designs…