Features of an Appropriate hive

  • Attractive for bees-dry, correct size, nice scent, easy to protect from pests and predators.
  • Suitable for the beekeeper affordable, manageable, locally available, sustainable.

Fixed comb (local/traditional) hives

Fixed comb hives are containers made from whatever materials are locally available, such as grasses, logs, bark, raffia palm, clay, etc. Bees build their nest inside the container, just as they would build in a naturally occurring cavity. The bees attach the combs to the inside upper surface of the hive. The honeycombs need to be cut off from this surface to be harvested and cannot then be replaced.

Fixed comb hives such as the hollowed out logs, bark hives, clay pots and woven grasses, etc are cheap to construct, relatively easy to manage and suitable for defensive bees like in tropical Africa, including Uganda. The main inputs are local knowledge and local materials, rather than external financial support and donated equipment. Fixed comb hives, usually cylindrical in shape, have been used in Africa for generations. A variety of different styles can be found across the continent, from hollowed-out logs and bark formed into cylinders, to clay pots and woven grasses. Local methods have evolved over a long period to suit local resources and indigenous bees. Honey bee brood diseases are not observed to cause problems in fixed comb hives, probably because of the frequent movement of tropical honey bee colonies and their rebuilding of combs, thereby the brood is reared in fresh combs, leaving no chance for the brood diseases to persist and accumulate.

Fixed comb hives are a proven technology that have stood the test of time and can be highly profitable. The replacement of fixed comb hives with other hive types should not be considered necessarily inevitable or desirable. Cost-benefit analyses prove that fixed comb hives are more profitable than other hive types in tropical Africa. Most honey harvested in tropical Africa today comes from fixed comb hives e.g. in the North West Province of Zambia, beekeepers harvest high quality honey and beeswax from fixed comb and export these products to the European Union.

Top bar (transitional) hives 

Top-bar hives are boxes with a series of bars arranged side by side along the top. Bees are encouraged to construct their combs from the undersides of these top-bars. Top-bars enable the beekeeper to lift individual combs out of the hive for inspection. Combs containing unripe honey or brood can be replaced and those containing ripe honey can be removed for harvest.

Harvesting honey and beeswax from top-bar hives is simple and can be achieved without damage to the colony. Top-bar hives are particularly suitable for beginner beekeepers because it is often easier to learn how to manage and harvest from a top-bar hive than from a fixed comb hive. Installed at waist height and kept close to home, top-bar hives are often popular with women. All the equipment needed for top-bar hive beekeeping can be bought or made locally. Top-bar hives are often introduced by projects keen to promote new and seemingly modern ideas, yet they function well only if the beekeeper understands the bees, the benefits and limitations. Poor use of top-bar hives can lead to disappointment and abandonment.

Frame hives

Frame hive is a box with movable frames. This type of hive is appropriate in tropical Africa but is expensive to buy and maintain, machinery is required to extract the honey. Beeswax yields from frame hives are low compared to fixed comb hives.