Commercial beekeeping with the Jackson Horizontal Hive.

Commercial beekeeping with unsupported frames is possible, but adjustments to the overall beekeeping system needs to be made. Rupert’s Honey ran 1500 hives with unsupported frames which proves it can be done, but this was due to the constraints on not having electricity or potable water in the area of operation. Given the choice, a supported frame and a centrifuge allows for faster, cleaner and easier processing of the honey. If a centrifuge is to be used then supporting the frames with wires is advisable and modifications to the basket the frames will sit in the centrifuge needs to be made. The frames are ‘deep frames’ holding a fair amount of honey when filled and thus a secure bedding in the centrifuge is advised.

JHH are easily transported, with or without supported frames. We will speak generally about unsupported frames as there are a number of things one needs to do in order to prepare and pack hives for transport if unsupported, while with wired frames one does not have these constraints.

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If hives are to be migrated, we always removed any frames with a significant amount of honey. Any newly built comb with stored nectar or half-filled old comb was left in the hive. This is because the weight of honey without the additional strength of having been brooded in will cause the combs to swing slightly in a frame and weaken the wax leading to dropped honey combs. If the bees have attached to the side dowels of the frames, transport was generally on over good roads (tar or good gravel roads) but rough roads, rough driving or sudden stopping would still be a problem. Brood comb can be transported without supports so long as the hives and frames are correctly aligned in the vehicle.

If one packs the frames so that the combs are aligned with the direction of travel, that’s to say the hives are placed with the long side facing the direction of travel, things go well. If you have the frames perpendicular to the way you drive, the starting and stopping of driving causes movement in the comb to swing forwards or backwards slightly, weakening in the comb and this leads to breakages. Combs collapsing was caused more due to the small movement of incorrectly aligned combs that from bumps in the road.

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With commercial beekeeping ease of production and speed of production helps in the efficiency of the operation and is very important. With hobby beekeeping if things take a little longer, are a little less organised and are a little messier its not such a big deal. But everything with commercial honey production needs to be planned and efficient. The working of a JHH is fast with practice. The supported frame, brood chamber management and honey harvesting goes quickly.

A common argument against having a horizontal hive system is that you cannot remove a box of honey at a time. However with single large frame removal its quicker and easier to remove any bees on the comb (it’s a tap and shake and the bees are gone) and once you have removed approximately 3 or 4 frames the same weight of honey is removed as opposed to a standard Langstroth super. And with blowing bees out a super etc., the time lag between the two systems is negligible.

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With well-practiced staff honey removal went extremely fast with JHH, with calmer bees (a major plus in Africa) than with Langstroth systems in the same apiaries. One does not have to be as gentle and careful with combs as many people believe so long as certain techniques are maintained.

If the frames are wired (which they would most likely be in a commercial operation) then the de-capping, centrifuging and processing the frames are all similar to doing Langstroth style frames. The only difference is that the equipment needs to be adjusted to fit the frames. With the frames being approximately the size of ‘deep brood frames’ one is harvesting a large amount of honey at a time. The frames side walls are deliberately only 16 mm which leads to combs to be drawn well past the side of the frames and thus de capping is easy as no capping is found below the outer limit of the frame. Indeed a fair amount of wax is harvested at the same time as honey production, bringing wax production in as a viable secondary product to the hive.

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Naturally once honey has been removed from the frames, the processing of it and the wax is the same as in any other beekeeping practice.

One aspect where JHH were preferable over other hive systems was in the niche markets of producing cut comb and chunk honeys. The larges frame was easily de-wired and cut into size, getting more usable units of comb per hive as there was less unusable sides or uncapped areas than in smaller Langstroth frames. This made cut comb honey a very viable product with JHH’s.