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Object of Desire: Wild Bee Hives

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Object of Desire: Wild Bee Hives

March 23, 2022

Moving to the country and acquiring a bit of land can lead to thoughts of husbandry, with the most picturesque option being, very possibly, beekeeping. There are benefits beyond honey: mindful activity for you, while guaranteeing pollination for your flowering fruit and vegetables. But sometimes, your colony decides to move house, or dies completely, even after all your nurturing. How about stepping back from the work and providing a home for bees that is warm in winter and cool in summer, where they can feed on their own honey and use their own devices to fight disease?

Made from hollowed logs and topped with a thatched roof for further insulation, excess honey drips on to the removable floor, should you feel inclined to climb up and bottle some now and again. Made by British carpenter Matt Somerville, a log hive costs £560, including delivery and installation.

Above: If you have a bird house, bat house or hedgehog house, you might consider offering swarming bees a home that is comfortable and safe. Photograph courtesy of Marian Boswall Landscape Architects.

Matt Somerville has learned from traditional Polish and French methods of making wild bee hives from hollow logs. He saws a section of trunk that is about 3-feet long, then gouges out a cavity of 10 to 12 inches, with walls that are 4-inch thick. For siting a log hive, Matt looks for a tall tree with an area of trunk that is fairly open and un-congested, allowing air, light, and an easy exit and entry. In northern climes, it is important that the three drilled entrance holes face south or southeast for maximum sunshine. When swarms are looking for somewhere to live, they are interested in tree cavities that are at least 12-feet high, and this also guides his positioning.

Above: Carpenter and bee friend Matt Somerville, cutting up a section of honeycomb which is nailed to the inside ceiling and acts as a starter kit. Photograph courtesy of Marian Boswall Landscape Architects.

Beeswax has natural properties that absorb toxins, unlike artificial comb that industrial bee keepers trade for the real thing. Matt rubs the inside of the hive with a block of propolis, again, a natural anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial substance that bees use like glue but which industrial beekeepers remove. A swarming colony sends scout bees to find potential sites; Matt daubs the entrance holes with lemongrass essential oil, mimicking the powerful bee pheromone that the bees would use for communicating to the others that here is home.

Above: For people without tall, mature trees: the highly covetable rocket beehive (£760). Photograph courtesy of Matt Somerville.

When Matt hangs a hive, it is still essentially a hollow log. He then fits a round lid, and a thatched “hackle” for further insulation, with a ceramic cap over the apex for extra waterproofing. Finally the removable round base is added, not only making it possible to check on the wellbeing of the colony but also whether any excess honey has dripped down from the honeycomb on the ceiling.

Above: A swarm descending on a rocket beehive, having received the seal of approval from earlier scout bees. Photograph courtesy of Matt Somerville.

Swarms will appear after a couple of days in good weather. While Matt is installing the hives, he is often visited by single spies of bees, investigating the honeycomb, propolis, and essential oil. People who invest in a log hive often keep conventional hives as well. Landscape designer Marian Boswall puts Matt’s log hives in her clients’ gardens (see top photo). The colony might then swarm to a conventional hive, by which time it is strong and healthy, and more able to cope with the stresses of people and parasites.

• For more of Marian’s ideas on natural gardens, see Ask the Expert: 5 Tips for a Sustainable Garden from Landscape Architect Marian Boswall.

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