The architects hive

NZ beehive02

Many, many years ago I studied photography in New Zealand. During one semester we were given the assignment to photo document a building of our choice. The goal was to get a better understanding of perspective and visual control. A view camera to make the appropriate adjustments to correct these images is a necessity. Unfortunately, I arrived late at the equipment room to obtain a view camera so I had to contend with a smaller medium-format Mamiya RB7 monstrosity to do my project. Perspective control was now out of the question so I had to come up with something to make an impression. What would be better than the Parliament building, locally known as the Beehive because of its shape? Surely this central city edifice housing the country’s top intellectual thinkers would be appropriate. Some quick phone calls (they were obviously needing any PR they could get!) and I was given unlimited access to the building from top to bottom. Many of those photos are now lost and thankfully forgotten but three black and white images did manage to survive my garbage bag editing process.

NZ beehive01

NZ beehive03

Built over a period of ten years, the official opening occurred in 1977. Designed by Scottish architect Basil Spence, the building resembles an old style straw “skep” beehive. At ten stories above ground and four below the building is over constructed, perhaps because it sits on an earthquake fault line, as most of the capital city Wellington does. Most circular buildings I have seen have an enormous amount of wasted space. The Beehive is no exception. All the rooms are curved or asymmetrical with irregular shapes and tunnels. Perfect for my photo assignment! It was assumed that a government building housed a legion of workers, busily making decisions and constructing a community of like-minded individuals, not unlike the beehives in real life. Sadly, back then and much like today around the world, this has never been fulfilled. But we hope and cross our fingers as we vote…


This has not been the first time architects have been inspired by the hive design if such a thing exists. Antoni Gaudi was known to keep bees during his lifetime. We should be able to see his Sagrada Familia (pictured below) scheduled for completion in 2026.


But the perhaps the most devout believer of the beehive principle, ethic and design must go to Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret). Not long after the end of WWII, he was commissioned to design “Unite d’habitation de grandeur conforme”or a housing unit of a standard size. This became the first of many in Marseille, France and other war-damaged cities throughout France. His buildings were pure in aesthetics and relied heavily on concrete, inside and out. From this point on his projects multiplied and success came to his career throughout the world.

Cité radieuse à Marseille

A brief description:

He gave the building the name of his pre-war theoretical project, the Cité Radieuse, and followed the principles that he had studied before the war, he proposed a giant reinforced concrete framework, into which modular apartments would be fit like bottles into a bottle rack. Like the Villa Savoye, the structure was poised on concrete pylons though, because of the shortage of steel to reinforce the concrete, the pylons were more massive than usual. The building contained 337 duplex apartment modules to house a total of 1,600 people. Each module was three stories high and contained two apartments, combined so each had two levels. The modules ran from one side of the building to the other, and each apartment had a small terrace at each end. They were ingeniously fitted together like pieces of a Chinese puzzle, with a corridor slotted through the space between the two apartments in each module. Residents had a choice of twenty-three different configurations for the units.(Credit: Wikipedia)

His life and career are too big for this little article but please check out his accomplishments further online. I am sure there are other designs from around the world that are based on the hive concept. If anyone wishes to contribute other architects to this posting, please do so by sending photos. We can display all photos, good and not so good here on the blog. 


Winter inspection


For the last few weeks, we have had very cold temperatures in the area. Many of you are already aware of this. Outside the temperatures hover around -25C but inside the hive, they are +25C. The bees are busy generating enough heat to keep themselves and the queen alive. I did manage to check the hives by listening to their noise and observing the numbers of dead bees that were scattered about the snow.

winter hives02

Before leaving I cleared the bottom entrance of bees corpses. This helps with air circulation and hygiene. Some snow was shovelled around each hive as extra insulation and then they were left until the next visit in late February.


winter hives03

winter hives01

Final winter treatment

It is now the second week of December and we have treated for varroa mites for the last time this year. We have given each hive the dribble method of treatment with 50mls of Oxalic acid spread evenly in-between each panel. Both hives are doing well with one ahead of the other in removing their dead. A natural process as the bees age and a good sign of a hygienic colony.

winter treatment 01

We may be a little late in the season for treatment. I had explored the different experts in the field and researched numerous articles to come to some consensus. Exhausted after five minutes, I decided to make a “shed” (shit hot executive decision). My reasoning was based on the phase of the moon, which would probably be as good as any other. The 3rd  December marked the full moon and we are now into waning gibbous with 70% illumination. I keep thinking the bees have some notion of the moon phases. Silly I know, but the old story about asking two beekeepers a question and getting twenty different answers justifies my ridiculous reasoning.

winter treatment 02

The wonderful advantage of using oxalic acid for treatment is its extreme effectiveness. Reports show that this could be as high as 98%. The other feature is that it is a natural substance found in many life processes. It is present in many plants at a fine dilution with a higher amount in some, like rhubarb. The dribble treatment will have some mortality in the hive but from all reports, not to a great extent. Oxalic acid only destroys mites on the bees, not in the brood. For this reason, reports confirm treatment should be done when there are no capped brood cells in the hive since it will not penetrate the brood cappings. This limits treatment to two optimal occasions. After swarming, when a young queen has begun to lay eggs after the swarm has left. The other is during winter when the queen has stopped laying eggs and almost all of the brood laying is interrupted. It must be noted that I am explaining treatment for the dribble method and not with a vaporizer. Although this method of varroa treatment will not be the final answer, it will hopefully be one way in which we can help the colony strengthen and multiply so that they may take on the struggle on their own.

Spring pollen-white2017

Friends close to the hives #9



Not really friends and not really close to the hives either but I thought it may be of interest. Wasps have never been much of a problem to our colony of bees. The numbers have always been strong enough to handle any stray intruder. This summer my neighbour had once again a wasp nest under his eaves. You can see last years markings of that one next to this years. Two years before that, they were in the tree at the top right of the frame, proving that they are territorial and persistent. The neighbour decided to end their rental agreement.


And just in case you want to know what the visible difference is…

Screen Shot 2017-12-06 at 4.45.10 PM

2017 Honey production

The reports of honey production for 2017 are now in and as was expected, most beekeepers have had a poor year. The Spring was one of the worst in history with rain falling continually through the peak nectar period and up until mid-July. Some beekeepers have had up to a 50% drop in honey production and this will have an impact on finances and hive numbers in 2018.

A CBC report can be read here.

bee in flower

Year end update 2017

Since we last wrote about our hive’s, we can happily report that both colonies are alive. You may remember that each hive was lacking a queen and did not have any fresh eggs or larvae to make themselves a new one. Without having a queen, these hives would have slowly died.

Chile cluster

So we bought a new queen for each which lived for two or three days before being killed by the bees in each colony. We had driven an hour and a half to pick up these $27 beauties and our aspirations were high. They obviously did not want a fresh young commander-in-chief. In hindsight, we should have sprayed a mix of sugar water and fragrance (lemongrass or lavender) over the bees during placement. This would have distracted the bees before scenting their new queen’s pheromones. The queens would have had some time before laying and establishing their authority. We are learning something each year and although we may not be the brightest drones in our colony we are persistent!


So we ordered another two queens. This time delivered by Canada Post. Oh, good idea…

Happily, both these queens were accepted. Although our hive of Chilean stock is still unsettled, for some unknown reason, both hives are now queen-right. The Chilean hive should resolve itself over the winter with new bees from the local queen hatching in the spring. I know they were deprived of their promised Pinot Noir and threatened revolution, but such is life!

Again we had problems with robbing at the end of August. This is something that will have to be addressed in the future. Robbing screens were installed which did not work. Wet towels were placed over the entrances and did not work. Neither did changing the entrance locations nor closing up the hives for three straight days. Suggestions are welcome.

wrapped hives 2017

We did manage to extract some honey totaling +/- 30 lbs. Other uncapped honey was extracted and fed back to the hives for their winter reserves. Both hives are now down to one brood box with full honey stores. We again treated for varroa mites by adding Apivar for the recommended time. The hives are now surrounded with polystyrene panels on three sides and wrapped in black tar paper for wind protection and some solar heat. They have a top insulation box with wood chips and ventilation holes placed above them. The hives will be checked in December when each will receive a dribble of Oxalate acid as a secondary varroa treatment. This will be the first time we will try this method and we look forward to its results.

We were also a little late in removing the feeder boxes this year. Nothing to worry about but the resulting wax structures made inside by the colony is a sight to behold.

feeder box

For now, the season is over and we can plan for next year. We already have a new nuc box built ready to make ourselves some new queens from splits in the Spring. There is also a new horizontal hive built ready to accept a colony in the Spring. This large coffin-like structure will hopefully ease our beekeeping backs and lessen the hive interventions during the year. A new space has been cleared to accommodate these added hives and make room for the ducks! Photographs of each new hive to come later in the year.