Meet Cody Adams, a beekeeper with a dream of a different kind of bee hive.  He is the inventor of the “Bee Barrel” hive system.

The Bee Barrel is not what you expect a bee hive to look like.  As a matter of fact, it won’t even work the same way you expect a typical bee hive to work.

It’s design is definitely based on the classic six sided cell in a wax comb.  The way it connects together almost seems like something right out of a science fiction show.

bee box stacked

Cody was struck with a idea back in about 2003 while mowing his lawn.  He saw his log pile, one of them had fallen and fallen to the ground on it’s side.  Being a beekeeper, naturally, he thought that it could easily become a location that bees would make a home in.  His imagination took off from there and after a few years and more bad news about CCD and other bee problems, the Bee Barrel began to take shape.

At first this looks like it could be a horizontal hive.  However, paying closer attention to the way it is set up, it is more like a conventional hive than we first expect.  However, with this hive, the frames themselves make up the body of the hive.  There are no boxes to place frames in.  The frames ARE the box!

bee box unassembled

Talking with Cody on the phone about his new hive, the Bee Barrel, you find yourself getting more excited as the excitement in his voice increases telling you about it.  He started with a wood based model to see how the bees would take to the general shape and layout of the hive.  Would they take to it or would they abandon it?  In the Spring of 2014, he started two of the hives with a package of Carnolean and a package of Italian bees.  Within three days the queens were laying eggs in the cells and the hives took off from there.

Taking notes from the void spaces that honey bees occupy in trees and logs on wall thicknesses and general dimensions, Cody started his design for the rings that make up the Bee Barrel.  He is a self described naturalist and believes that the bees have a lot to tell us about what and how bees need to thrive. He believes, and I personally agree, that beekeeping is most successful when we allow the bees to let us know what they need rather than to force bees into conditions and environments that do not necessarily have the bees best interests in mind.

It is his basic principle when he started his project that the work must be beneficial to the bees first, then to the beekeepers and finally, the work must be beneficial to science itself.  In that last idea, I get that he means that the work must make good use and intent of science, and not to leave the name and works of scientific pursuits in a negative way.  I may be wrong, but it is an admirable goal even at that standpoint.

Each frame has a circular center filled with about a ten and one half inch diameter of foundation.  In the original design, they started with a fourteen inch diameter center and it’s possible that may return in a different version of the hive in the future.  The outer dimensions of each ring are sixteen and one quarter inch in diameter.  The rings will sit easily just over the top of a five gallon pail.  There’s a reason for that which we will get to in just a bit.

bee barrel ring

The rings themselves stack into each other to create a weatherproof connection to each other in the “barrel”.  Openings in the tops and bottoms of the rings allow bees to move up and down into the rings when the “barrels” are stacked on top of each other.  The idea of each Bee Barrel is to create some kind of stacking layers of barrels similar to the way that boxes are stacked on top of each other in a conventional Langstroth hive.  Essentially, the brood would be in a bottom barrel and the honey would be “supered” in the “Bee Barrels” stacked above.

bee barrel bottom holes

Holes in the bottom allow bees from the lower barrel to come up into the top barrel.

The Bee Barrel has a front ring which comes with an optional gate or closure which can be kept fully open, fully closed or partially open.  This entrance ring is on each barrel in the front ring.  That means each level or stacked barrel has it’s own entrance in addition to the holes in the bottoms and tops of the rings to allow for upward and downward traffic.  In the heat of summer with multiple stacks of barrels (supers?) going higher up, each barrel having it’s own entrance might be a good idea to aid in traffic going directly to honey combs and improved airflow through the hive.

bee barrel entrance

The multiple rings in the Bee Barrel are held together by two rods which keep the rings snug and tight together. this keeps each barrel as one big unit and easy to handle and carry.  Eventually, the rings will be made of a poly product which will make each Bee Barrel perhaps about ten pounds or so lighter than a conventional Langstroth single level hive.  The idea of using poly materials to make a bee hive isn’t unique to the Bee Barrel but the ability to make a bee hive that is lighter to handle, weather resistant, has built in insulation qualities and is environmentally friendly is something Cody and his helpers think is certainly something worth pursuing.  In mass production, this can make parts considerably more affordable to make and pass the savings on to beekeepers as well.

bee barrel rod

Another aspect of making the parts with polypropylene or similar materials is that they can last without warping or any considerable damage to them for at least eight to nine years.  I have seen some poly coolers and bee equipment last for decades, so longevity really shouldn’t be an issue.

One thing I personally can see is the ease of making easy nucs and splits with a hive system like this.  One of the questions I asked Cody was how the use of propolis was affected.  On his main web site and in the video on his Kickstarter page, he refers to the points that the bees seemingly only sparingly make use of propolis in between the rings and there is virtually no cross-comb or burr comb between the rings.

As many new inventions and startups face, there are some challenges they face going forward.  Cody remains optimistic though these issues will be smoothed out.  One of the things he is looking at is condensation.  Poly materials when faced with humidity and airborne moisture tend to “sweat” and collect condensation.  This is an issue he has already been putting a lot of thought into.  Honey harvesting is another area that his group is working to address.

Do you remember earlier when I mentioned that the rings fit on the top of a five gallon pail?  This is how the Bee Barrel is extracted, at least, for now.  The caps are scratched or cut as they normally would be in regular frames then placed face down on the five gallon pail to drip drain into the pail.  The warmer the honey, the faster it will drain.  He was excited to mention that along with the Bee Barrel hive, he is also designing a new type of forced pressure extraction system that will work specifically with the  Bee Barrel rings.  One of the things he thinks will be most appealing about the system, though he couldn’t mention any specifics yet, is that he expects it to have a smaller physical footprint and cost less than a conventional extractor.

backboard of bee barrel

The back board of the Bee Barrel is where the connection rods screw into and has a feeder built in.

This is an exciting foray into bee hive technology.  The design totally eliminates tops, bottoms and frames in the conventional sense.  The goal is to get things together so that the Bee Barrels can be sold to the public at an affordable price.  That is one of the main reasons for the Kickstarter project Cody started recently, to get funding to start putting together the designs, tools and materials to make the poly parts and make them all work together.

Another interesting development for Bee Barrels is that because the poly rings will be molded, spaces can be made right into the ring to allow for implementing technology such as sensors, transmitters, perhaps even some type of fan or other devices made to improve airflow and other issues. It is a very adaptable model and the potential to expand and improve can literally be built in.

It’s been years in the making and there’s no immediate date that everything will be ready and available for the public. A lot of work still needs to be done and a lot of testing and development remains to be done. Having said that, it’s very exciting to see beekeepers out there making new things happen. There will be early adopters who take a bold step to support Cody and company’s efforts and I, for one, hope there will be plenty of beekeepers willing and ready to be one of those early adopters.  There are so many projects that get started but never see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I plan to keep following the Bee Barrel project and hopefully, get to do a review on it someday soon. We are ready here to do a thorough and objective trial run and let folks know how well it performs. There are plans already taking effect to add more content to his website and give the public an opportunity to follow the progress of Bee Barrels.

Website: Bee Barrels KickStarter

 

About the author

Tony Sandoval

Beekeepers in the 21st century use technology in ways most people never think of. I will take you into sunlit valleys where you can see the sunshine through a browser, inspect hives with portable devices and harvest products of the hive using all manner of technological devices you might have not thought of before.

I am a Master Beekeeper and President of the Omaha Bee Club, I am a published author in Bee Culture magazine (a nationally published beekeeping magazine), and a Linux junkie who plays with servers and wireless networking for scientific experimentation in bee science projects.

Let’s take a look at tech through the eyes of a scientific apiculturist, shall we?

  • Libris The-Fidelis

    I think I can see where you put the coins in to make the bees fly out to collect nectar.

  • LS in NY

    How about overwintering? They would have to cluster in one of the sections.

  • Jason Nimz

    I can just imagine the first and last few frames peeling away and hitting the ground from the main hive body as the rods are loosened…You best run faster than THIS beekeeper!

  • Eli

    Does not seem like a good design to me. Looks like it would be a complete pain to do even the most simple of inspections let alone anything else.