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The Hive body, the material selected and why.

The body of the JHH is constructed out of food grade, carbon impregnated corrugated plastic. Throughout the testing of hives and the development of the JHH we tried a wide variety of materials, looking specifically for something that would allow good insulation, be light weight and could be formed into the precise shape required. This took years and many materials and designs were tested, all with limitations and advantages. Corrugated plastic gave us all the properties we desired, but has the limitation that it is susceptible to fire and will warp or burn if a fire passes too close. Having accepted that, we realised that almost any hive body material we found had the same limitation, without the advantages and thus we realised that its more important to fire protect an apiary than to try find a material that would resist fire.

We ended up choosing corrugated plastic for a number of reasons. The first is its insulating properties with a hollow structure allowing an air gap trapped between two skins of plastic, giving incredible insulation properties for the thickness of material.

That allowed us to keep the cost of production down.

When designing how to fold and form the sheet into a box, we designed a system of keeping the hive cooler and the internal micro climate better. By half cutting across the flutes we can bend the plastic into a perfect straight line at the base of the side wall. By then half cutting on the opposite side of the plastic near the top of the side wall we could form a short shelf to the outside of the hive. This meant that the flutes are running vertically giving immense structural strength while also allowing the flutes to be open at top and bottom. If air warms in the side wall due to direct sunlight it travels slowly upwards (warm air rises) and cooler air enters the side wall to replace it. Thus there is a circulation of almost ambient air throughout the internal structure of the side wall. Not only is air an excellent insulation for the hive, we also managed to cool the air in the side walls.

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The top shelf (which folds over the handle of the hive, protecting the wood) is possibly one of the most important built in features of the JHH. In designing the JHH we not only looked at what was good for beekeepers (the primary basis beehives are developed on) but also what we believe would be better for bees. In taking this premise we started researching and measuring the internal micro climate of a hive. Without being technical the principle of humidity within a hive is of immense importance to the speed of honey production. Nectar sourced from flowers is normally at around 70­80% water, whilst the moisture content of honey is around 20% when ripened. Please bear in mind we are using general reference and accepted approximations. Thus honey bees have to evaporate a high percentage of water in order to ripen honey, and honey becomes a hygroscopic (water loving) liquid in its ripened state. The lower the humidity of the air inside a hive where the bees are evaporating moisture out of nectar to form honey, the faster honey production goes. Bees increase the rate of evaporation by actively removing moisture laden air by fanning. However, if beekeepers try induce active movement of air to help this process bees tend to seal the movement off with Propolis. An active movement of air is detrimental to bees and thus they will only allow a controlled amount determined by their own requirements. What Rupert’s Honey deliberately wanted to achieve was a passive movement of air through the diffusion of gasses. Gasses will always tend to a state of equilibrium by moving from a high concentration to a low concentration and thus we enabled pathways for this diffusion of gases. The short flutes from the fold over on the handle are 20mm in length and 3mm wide. They open directly to the outside ambient air and thus the higher moisture content of the internal micro climate can slowly diffuse outwards, removing humidity from the hive where the bees do not require it. Due to the fact that it is passive movement of air, the bees seem to tolerate it and very little propolising of the flutes occurs.

The black colour is caused by the impregnation of carbon so help stabilise it under harsh UV conditions. The longevity of the hive body means that the hives last well in adverse conditions. The insulating properties of the material means that there is little temperature difference on the internal temperature between black and white materials, and the black materials have a longer life span due to carbon impregnation.

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Corner Clips

In recent years we have die cut the corner section of the hive so that a specially fitted corner clip can be inserted. The clip has an inner and outer section which when clipped together holds the ends and the sides of the hive together in a perfect joint. We have experimented with a number of different methods of closing the gap where the ends meet, and this has been the most successful to date. The corner clips also increase rigidity and gives the hive better stability.

The Frame

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Top Section

The frame consists of a top bar that is 32mm in width which is specific to working with African races of bee. European races, being slightly bigger, require a top bar width of 35mm. The top section is 20mm thick, 32mm width and 490mm in length. The top bar is grooved along the centre for foundation and a notch is removed on each end so that the frame sits and locates well inside the hive body. A 16mm hole is drilled through each end for the insertion of the side dowel. Rupert’s Honey use kiln dried pine which is planed on all sides. Using quality wood that does not warp and good quality wood machinery is of importance as it limits air gaps and Propolis production by the bees. The quality of a top bar in a horizontal aligned hive is of high importance.

Side dowel

The side dowel is made on 16mm dowelling 250mm in length and an 8mm hole is drilled 20mm to the outside of hole on one end. This is for the insertion of the bottom dowel. Small 2mm holes can be drilled evenly spaced along the length of the side dowel for supporting wires.

Bottom Dowel

The bottom down is simply 8mm dowel 440mm in length inserted into the bottom of the side dowels.

Bees attaching wax to the Frame.

The dimensions of the frame of 32mm, 16mm and then 8mm were not simply a division by half each time, they are calculated with specific reason. The 16mm dowel going into the 32mm top section means that when the bees draw their combs for filling with honey, pollen or brood, the cells extend well past the 16mm side dowelling. This makes decapping of comb easy, and large degree of wax is removed in the process, effectively harvesting wax and honey. This means that all cells are quickly decapped for extraction, if centrifuges are being used. The other reason we choose this dimension was to allow the bees space to work around the dowel and incorporate part of the dowel into the wax structure. This gives immense strength to a drawn comb of honey, and we were experimenting with wireless frames which can be extracted, or comb cut out of. The 8mm bottom dowel was again designed with this hope in mind, and the bottom dowel is lifted off the floor to give space for bees to cluster beneath the frame and work wax over the dowel. As with most good human intention and bees, they don’t do this willingly, however and will stop comb slightly above the bottom dowel if left to draw comb downwards from wax ‘starter strips of foundation.’ If wax foundation is placed so to be touching the side and bottom dowelling, bees will incorporate the dowels to a good degree. How much of an advantage this has proven to be, is a little debatable, and we often saved wax and used half sheets of foundation in a deep frame, which means that the bees generally don’t incorporate the bottom dowel as was the hope initially.

Rupert’s Honey have been successful with non wired frames and extraction systems that do not require electricity (working in rural areas has meant that electricity is not always available.) However for modern extraction internal support.

The Handles and Cross Bar

The handles are 20mmx40mmx1000m.

The cross Bar is 20mmx40mmx500mm.

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The handles and suspension of the hive.

The weight baring aspects of the JHH are designed to be taken by the wooden handles. The handles are 20mmx40mmx1000m. this means that the handles extend slightly past the hive body and act as handles for carrying (two people required), as points to suspend the hive, or points upon which the hive can be placed on a stand. The hive is not designed to be placed on the ground, pallets or bricks as the weight of the hive will cause the plastic to bend, after a while. It is best to bare the weight on the handles. With 40mm of wood to rest 32mm of frame on, the weight of the hive is evenly distributed and the handles maintain the weight of a full colony and honey easily. Indeed the handles have so much built in strength that hives can easily be stacked upon each other for transport and a grown man can stand and even jump (an empty hive without bees is best if you want to test this) on a JHH with its frames in without breaking the handles.

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Rupert’s Honey often suspends the hives at an ergonomic height to work without bending and not so high that your arm lifts above shoulder height when lifting frames out. In areas of extensive vandalism (South Africa for example) we created a platform on the back of vehicles and suspended the hives to be worked from these raised platforms, keeping them out of reach of animals and humans. In most other areas this is not required, but the horizontal alignment means that the hives are not top heavy as in a langstroth with honey above a brood chamber. Thus the hives suspend well from trees or purpose buildt structures and are away from predatory insects, termites, vegetation, and almost always have an air flow of are around them. All of which are advantages to bees and thus beekeepers.

The entrance and smoke hole

Rupert’s Honey have designed and cut the entrances slightly raised from the floor and on the short end of the hive perpendicular to the directions of the frames. Only one side of the JHH is an entrance. There has been much discussion about having entrances on the short side (as in the JHH) or on the long side as in some Top Bar hives. The short side is preferable for a number of reasons, and is the way bees in the wild generally align their colony in relation to the entrance.

Generally speaking bees will store their honey as far from an entrance as possible as that is the easiest for them to protect their stores. Brood is placed as close to the entrance as possible. This is the primary reason you find brood at the bottom of a hive and honey at the top in a vertical aligned hive type. By having the frames perpendicular to the direction of the frames we reduce the movement of air in or through a brood chamber. The internal micro climate around a brood chamber is of immense importance to bees and they have the ability to regulate the temperature, air quality and size of a brood chamber depending on many factors. By having as static air as possible around the brood chamber (as opposed to air flowing through the brood chamber) we find that the bees regulate the micro climate with more ease, using less energy and bees to maintain it.

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The entrance is cut out of the same material as the hive is made from, thus if needed can be increased in side or decreased depending on the colonies strength. The cut out entrance also acts as a landing board for returning field workers heavily laden with nectar or pollen. If the hive needs to be moved, the entrance can be closed and taped for transport and is a prefect fit so no bees escape in transport. The fluted ends (more about that in the what material we choose) allow for gas exchange and thus the bees always have new air even when entrance is closed, although care must be taken to open the entrances after bees have been placed in their new locations.

Smoke door

On the opposite short end from the entrances (basically the back of the hive) is a purposely cut smoke flap which remains closed unless the bees are being inspected. When inspection comes around, light smoke is placed outside the entrance of the hive so returning field workers fly through the smoke and take the scent into the hive. Smoke is then applied directly into the back chamber through the smoke hole at the back. This allows smoke to go directly into the honey section, where most of the unripe honey is being stored and any bees in this area move forward away from the smoke. Once a back frame is lifted and the hive is opened this smoke leaves the hive very quickly.

Smoke is then applied as deemed necessary, with the frames being removed one at a time going forward from back to front. This is a very gentle way of applying smoke (as opposed to blowing smoke through the whole brood chamber and up into supers as in a Lanstroth) and allows the bees to stay very calm by comparison. Also bees will have the tendency to move towards the darkened area ahead of where the beekeeper is working and thus away from the beekeeper, again allowing for an easier inspection of the colony. The smoke hole is closed after the inspection, and is one of the reasons that the JHH is such an easy hive to work.

The smoke hole is cut off centre so that if hives are placed on a stand the smoke hole is still easily accessible.

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The Lid

A cover made out of the same material as the hive body is designed to wrap over the top of the hive and be attached permanently to one handle and removable with holes cut and clipped over screws in the opposite handle. The lid is basically a weather cover, keeping rain and sunlight off the top of the frames and also causes a air gap above the frames, improving insulation from the top. The lid is double hinged so that it can be folded back to expose the whole top of the hive while working the bees.