Some friends who live near me asked if I’d like to put some bees in their woods.
“Yes” I said immediately, without hesitation.
“It’s got badgers in it, is that a problem?”
“I don’t know” I said, “but I’ll find out”
There was very little information from British sources about any interactions between badgers and their hives, but lots about the African honey badger, an aggressive menace which chases lions, and luckily a non-native species, so little help at all. A few UK accounts said that local badgers had ignored their hives, but a couple of people also said that badgers had toppled hives by putting their shoulders underneath and flipping them over, and then had destroyed the scattered contents. Locally chicken runs, and sheds, had been torn apart by badgers, and steel fencing wires around them had been bitten through. There were many accounts of badgers forcefully attacking chicken sheds so I knew they were powerful and determined when hungry.
As this new hive was to be in a quiet spot in the woods I needed to know it wouldn’t be molested because my visits to it would be infrequent.
A ‘National’ hive would be no good because it can be toppled, or the parts can easily be nudged apart, or slid off the stand, even by a clumsy deer. This can be prevented with a cargo strap, a technique optimistically used by local beekeepers operating in windy spots. There would be nothing to prevent the hive being pushed over though. I briefly considered buried ground anchors, and cargo strapping a national hive to the planet, but I realised there was an opportunity for a bit of experimentation, a new hive, and I kept reminding myself about those teeth and claws.
Deer were also a concern as on several occasions I had experienced hive parts nudged apart by passing deer, especially in winter, and suspected that they used hives as convenient rubbing posts, attracted by the angular corners.
A ‘top bar’ hive might do the trick but badgers are powerful, and good climbers, and I doubted a top bar would survive a good shove. Besides I have a top bar and they are a lot of faff, longer and harder to inspect than a national, incompatible with everything. I wanted something which was low maintenance, as I was increasing the number of hives I had.
I needed something which was bit like a top bar but more difficult to climb or push over, and which had the insides of a ‘National’.
So that’s what I made, a long national brood box (28 frames), detachable floor, clipped onto a two legged stand, which was driven into the ground.
Construction and erection
1 – The fixed base stand
The stand was made from 100mm (4 inch) fence posts, from my local agricultural supplier, and bolted together using coach bolts and screw in bolts. The uprights were banged into the ground and then the pre-made horizontal platform was bolted to them.
The stand was made high enough so that any interested badger, if it tried to climb up the hive, would discover that it had no purchase for its back legs.
The rigid stand construction and its placement on a slope
2 – The hive body
The hive body is an elongated national brood box with space for a maximum of 28 frames. It sits on an elongated national width floor.
The box is partitioned into two variable spaces by a moveable, insulated blank frame, a false end wall, so that more space can be given to the bees as they need it. So far they’ve never gone beyond about half way and so I currently use the disused end for the storage of spare frames and equipment. It’s a great place to keep spare gloves, spare smoker fuel, spacers etc.
Roger’s introduction to bees on their first day in their new home, in his woods.
3 – Security – peace of mind
To prevent the badgers, or deer, from pushing the hive off the stand, or the brood box off the floor, tension clips were screwed to the front end, whilst the rear end of the long box nestled in-between metal corner guides, preventing sideways sliding of hive parts. The clips sandwiched the removable floor between the hive box and stand thus making it impossible for the box to be nudged off the floor or for the whole hive to be dislodged from the supporting frame.
The front end tension clips secure the floor and box to the stand
The back end of the hive box is loosely trapped between corner brackets
4 – The lid
The lid is pitched (sloping) galvanised tin sheet and overhangs the long box, on all sides, to prevent it getting wet in driving rain, common around here (Yorkshire Pennines), and to discourage grasping claws. I am in the process of converting all my national lids to pitched overhanging roofs as I have less problems with damp mould, and therefore less chance of colony failure in winter, but you could make a flat one if you wanted to, like on a national or a top-bar.
Insulation under the tin lid is provided by a single, cut down, closed cell foam, camping mat, bought from a flea market for one pound.
Occupied frames near the entrance, The marked frames (drawing pins) are foundation free.
5 – Crown Board
The hive takes two and a half (approx.) standard national crown boards. The crown board is therefore in three pieces, allowing for the removal of a single board for the placement of a super or brood box on top if necessary. It also means that during inspections of the hive, you can keep a section of the 3 part crown board in place, to keep the bees calm, while you work on a few frames (which I obviously forgot about during the above inspection as I am using a cover cloth).
6 – Frames
The frames are standard national frames which are of course interchangeable with all my other hives, a great advantage when it comes to artificial swarming, transferring eggs, spinning honey, etc. and the dimensions of the hive mean that I can, if necessary, put a super, brood box, or nuc. on top, for the purposes of merging, or to perform a Baily comb change. Obviously the lid wouldn’t then fit and a temporary sheet arrangement would be made up, (unless you put boxes of the same size at each end to support the lid).
You could easily build a hive to this same design, but with dimensions to take 14 x 12 frames, Commercial, or Langstroth frames.
The first 11 frames are spaced using castellations, and then the rest is without, so that I can vary the spacing, using plastic spacers, to make it wider for frames of stores if necessary, as is done in top bar hives (but using wider bars or narrow bar spacers).
I deliberately placed the hive on a slope so that a raider could never have even or firm footing, and so that the hive entrance was far too high for inquisitive noses, or sharp rodent teeth, but of a height that allowed me to inspect the whole hive easily from one side, without the need to wobble around on steps, or piled up stones.
Introducing the bees
I got a 7 frame nuc. of bees, from an artificial swarm, from a great parent colony, and cargo strapped them on top of the hive. I allowed them to get used to their new location for a few days, before I transferred the bees, the drawn comb, brood and stores into the long box below. I did this rather than drop a swarm into it because I knew, from experience from using top bar hives, that newly introduced bees can sometimes build criss-cross diagonally across the bars. They cannot do this when introduced onto frames of foundation, but I am increasingly using foundationless frames and wanted the frames to be well developed, and true, before transferring them into the hive, as the remote location would make it difficult to rectify mistakes later.
The seven frames of bees and frames were placed into the hive and the bees were then given more space and frames for an uninterrupted expansion.
The newly installed bees explore their new entrance
(and possibly wonder what happened to the old one)
The bees took to the new hive, thrived, and built enough comb, and collected sufficient stores for their first winter. Its always harder for bees to build new comb sideways than it is to build upwards and so development of the new colony was slightly slower than in a national, which is the only down side to this hive, but they still made it for winter, and are doing alright. Once they had made sufficient comb there was surplus honey.
The hive is on the edge of young woodland, but in the middle of lots of neglected hillside meadows, which are surrounded by scrub and hedgerows, acres of wild flowers, perfect for foraging bees.
The little clearing in which I put the hive creates a wonderfully warm micro climate which allows me to work there when it’s too cool or too windy to open hives elsewhere, an unexpected bonus.
Throughout the first summer I closely inspected the exterior of the hive for bite or claw marks and never found any, nor through the following winter, despite seeing fresh badger feeding signs, and digging, all around, all year.
All I ever got, during its second winter, was a few half hearted tooth marks around the entrance, from a squirrel I think.
Bite marks around the hive entrance
More bite marks in 2017
Come spring the bees are always out in force, a good set of bees, and the hive has proved its worth.
The hive towards the end of winter.
There’s still a little snow on the ground, but the bees are fine.
My original plans included the building of a second hive, but so far I haven’t got around to it. Meanwhile the bees in the woods live side by side with passing badgers, and deer, and have just got through their second winter (2015/16) in their bespoke, but fully compatible hive.
Maintenance with this hive is easy, easier even than with a national, as all the frames can be visible at once and there’s no splitting of boxes or heavy lifting.
As none of my apiaries are near roads I have built a backpack frame carrier to transport frames in and out of the location, so no other hive parts are necessary for frame interchanges.
So far this badger and deer proof hive solution has worked well since 2014.
Here is a summary of the main design features:
1 – Sited on a steep slope to add difficulty to raiders.
2 – Buried support posts, which prevent toppling.
3 – Two central supports don’t allow purchase for a badger’s back legs.
4 – Hive body is tension clamped to fixed base.
5 – Corner holders prevent sideways sliding of hive parts.
6 – Sloping and overhanging tin roof = no grip for front paws.
7 – Hive entrance at highest point above ground.
8 – Dimensions to ensure compatibility with my other hives and frames.
The weak points for possible attack are at the ends, particularly the low, uphill end, but the Mk 2 version, as yet unnecessary, would have a single, central, large (perhaps 9 inches square) supporting post. I would also consider clamping all parts together (i.e. the roof as well), just to be on the safe side.
I would make the next hive slightly longer so as to include a sealed compartment in the end, for a 5 or 6 frame nuc., with its own entrance in the side of the hive body.
I originally thought that I might add hinges and gas struts to the lid, so that it would effortlessly tilt upwards and away from the hive, but the lid construction is light enough to lift off. With the rigid construction this higher tech solution is a possibility for the future. Wouldn’t that be something, a hive in which the heaviest thing you ever lift is a frame?
So there it is, a badger and deer proof hive. Well that’s the claim I can make so far as no badger or deer has bothered it yet. I’m not bold enough to provide any guarantees because I’m a beekeeper, well used to being surprised by, or out manoeuvred by nature, (particularly the utter disregard bees sometimes have for logic, or the manuals). There’s possibly a badger in the woods, with an iPad, reading this now and thinking, badger proof? Really? Lets go find out!
As a result of the above article another beekeeper has been in touch with his design, for 14 x 12 frames, and a link to his pictures is provided.
Questions resulting from the above article:
from CVB, Cornwall:
There some excellent design features on your deer and badger-proof hive.
I have one question and one comment:
How do you service the end of the hive that’s “up in the air” – the top of the hive appears to be about 4 feet high?
My comment is that I’d be thinking of how to get more insulation above and around the box. Up in Yorkshire, it’s cold, wet and windy in the winter and 18mm or so wooden sides without insulation could lead to condensation inside. Additionally, that’s a big box for the bees to keep warm, especially if the box is not fully jam-packed with bees.
The ground drops away sharply about 18 inches from the high end so it’s easy to reach all the frames when stood alongside on the gentler slope, like playing a short keyboard. I felt it was important to keep the entrance end as far away as possible from inquisitive noses, hence the placement on the edge of a steep slope (and also above a bramble patch). I originally designed the hive with a removable platform (a pallet sawn in half lengthways), which rested on fence post offcuts driven into the ground but I discovered I could carry out an inspection without it. If the hive was on a steeper slope than this would be necessary.
On the question of temperature and condensation, the walls are 25mm thick all around, solid wood, with the frame ledges routed out, so thicker and naturally warmer than any of my other hives (I have nationals and a top-bar). The space inside is kept small by the movable false end wall, just like in a top bar hive. The bees are given space as they need it by moving the end wall along a few spaces. During the last inspection before winter I remove any unused frames and slide the false end wall right back up to the last used frame, keeping the occupied space to a minimum over winter. The end wall is insulated with a pillow case full of wood shavings.
The sides, and ends, of the hive are overhung by the tin sheet covering of the pitched roof, so rarely experience any wetness, unlike my national hives. I made the separate box and floor specifically so that I could pull the hive apart for cleaning but so far it has not been necessary as the hive has not yet experienced condensation or mould. Again, unlike my nationals which get damp at the upwind end and often send the end frame mouldy. I reduce the cooling and damping on my nationals by leaning a piece of tin, or draping old carpet from the lid, down the upwind side of my national hives, to deflect wind and rain, and I also use dummy boards in the end slot if the comb has no stores in it.
Another factor is that I specifically chose bees which were obsessively tidy. This has also contributed to the low maintenance status I have achieved.