Last year I profiled a bienenhaus (“bee house”) at the New Glarus Swiss Historical Village & Museum in two blog posts (part I and part II). This is a purpose-made building that holds bee colonies in cabinets with frames attached to the sides of the cabinet. The bees enter and exit through small doors in a south-facing wall, and the beekeeper accesses the hives from the interior of the house.
When we moved to the institute grounds, I noticed that our shed was in the shape that could be used as a bienenhaus, but because it’s just a shed, it I didn’t want to call it a house. It’s better described as a shed or hutch, which is der Stall in German. This results in what I’m going to call our bienenstall, or “bee hutch.” Today, I’ll give you a tour of this American–European hybrid. I’ve used typical Langstroth hive bodies instead of cabinets, but keep them in a European-type bee building.
Bees come and go through three entrances cut in the south-facing side of the shed. They land on 6-x-10-in boards painted with contrasting designs. These boards are on hinges and can be raised in the winter to keep out the wind.
Even when raised, the bees can get in and out through a gap between the lapboards behind the folded-up landing board. The entrances also have a reducer, which allows the beekeeper to regulate the size of the doorway. Weak hives can only defend a small door, while strong hives need lots of space to let the field bees in and out.
Inside the bienenstall is a hive stand built into the structure’s framework. It consists of 2-x-6-in lumber with legs. Additional support comes from 2-x-2-in boards attached to the exterior wall just below the entrance. Together, this makes a stable and strong platform upon which beehives can be placed. Each hive can weigh over 300 lb when fully loaded with honey, so this stand must hold about 1,000 lb! You don’t want a bee stand to collapse, so overbuild when in doubt.
On top of the stand are three bottom boards. Unsurprisingly, these form the bottom of the hive. Because these hives will be inside, I do not need to weatherize them like I need to for hives that live in the elements. To give the bees plenty of fresh air and to help them vent moisture out of the hive, each bottom has a detachable board under a screen. When removed, the bees have plenty of air flow.
The hives are placed on the boards with the frames running left to right, which is different than most Americans orient their boxes (usually running front to back). This is called the “warm way” as the frames are perpendicular to air flow from the entrance and act as baffles against gusts in the winter. The bodies are placed flush against the exterior wall, sealing the bees’ hive so the only way in or out is through the doorway (i.e., not into the interior of the shed).
Because the hives are inside, I do not need a weatherized cover. I simply put what’s called an inner cover on top of the hive and then feed or manage the hive as needed. If I wanted to, I could make some screened tops to let out extra heat, but this probably isn’t necessary in Wisconsin.
Finally, to keep the bees inside their hive and to let me use the rest of the shed, even if the bees are in a bad mood, I’ve installed tracks on the floor and ceiling to accept large screens, just to help keep the bees relegated to their area.
8 thoughts on “Introducing den Bienenstall”
can you please provide an update on your success (or not) of your bienenstall? I am in the alpine region of Australia (not alps by any means, but I’m also interested in Slovenian/alps bee hut philosophy as not just a good way to over winter bees, but also a good way to over summer bees when we have extreme summer weather and high winds. Our HUT is approx 8’x8′ but at the moment it just has a roof. we are waiting till winter when the bee traffic slows down when we can possibly move them when they become double deeps for winter. The Hut will probably have just enough room for 4 vertical hives to fit (facing north) or a 3 vertical and a long lang configuration along the northeast wall (as a trial and a nod to what might be my beekeeping twilight years with back issues). I’m particularly taken with the AZ hybrid/drebbieville hive configurations. However, to make them locally requires special spacing hardware, as hang “cold face”. I was interested in the Austrian design as it has the same cabinet approach but hung “warm face” and looks like it would easily adapt the standard Langstroth frames in this hanging configuration. I was particularly interested in the warm face baffle philosophy. I’m curious about frame management though. Slovenian style hives can frames are arranged like books in a tightly packed bookshelf. During inspections can view the individual frames by taking them out completely one at a time and then putting them back, or separating them in a “V” configuration, which would be analogous to moving your furniture to clean your floors, as opposed to taking out all the furniture and putting it on your front lawn while you clean. I see similar advantages with a long lang approach instead you remove one or two and then you can inspect vertically without taking everything out. The austrian design seems to require you to take all the frames in a level out to do an inspection. Do you take them out and put them in a standby super as your “frame rest”? How are the screens working for you? The advantage I saw with the original Slovenian and Austrian designs is that you can do a quick inspection to see how active the bees are (and feed them from the back) without disturbing the colony. and it keeps them in their separate areas. of course, you need to open the door or window when inspecting to let them get out of the hut, so I’m wondering if you had tweaked your configuration at all and if you had any lessons learned, you’d be interested in sharing (maybe in a part 3 blog?)
Thanks for sharing your journey
Thanks for the interest and comment.
Overall, I really like the bee shed. I like not having to worry about an outer cover, winterizing, etc.
In your case, the shade is probably a big help if you’ve got enough ventilation to cool the hut in the summer.
I’d recommend leaving enough space to work the hives. I have Langstroth boxes sitting on an internal hive stand. So my inspections are just like a typical Langstroth inspection, just inside. One issue that has come up is that is dark in my shed, so fine work, or spotting eggs is tough without taking the frame outside. I use space next to the hives (where I could have jammed in another hive) to hold the top boxes as I inspect the lower ones. By having the boxes instead of built-in cabinets, I think they’re easier to swap out, clean, and fix as needed. Also, I can put them “the warm way” instead of the “cold way.” The “cold way” is clearly easier for inspections if you have a built-in cabinet instead of boxes, but the ones I’ve seen like this have special frames that fit on sliding grooves to go in and out. The one I saw before I built mine (sounds similar to the Austrian one you mention) had them the “warm way,” but as you mention, would require taking out the whole level to do a full inspection. Also, as a built in, I think it can be more intrusive to do than with a box that I can just lift off to have a peek into the bottom layer.
I ended up putting vent holes high up in the shed to let out the bees that find their way out of the boxes inside the shed.
Also, I used to push the boxes right up against the exterior wall, but the problem is that when I do an inspection, the bees swarm up the wall and then I have to sweep them back and make a big mess to get the box back. Now I put in 1-2 cm spacers to keep the boxes back from the wall, meaning they don’t swarm up it and I can put the boxes back together easier.
So, lessons learned: escape hatches, boxes, leave some space to work, maybe a skylight for light.
I’ll have to do a post this summer to follow up. Thanks for reaching out!
Thank you! Great summary.
I also loved the photos you took and the descriptions- luckily I speak German and was able to follow. FYI – the 12-20 volker in this context means “colonies” not people.
A bit of an update from downunder (alpine region – if you can call it that we are at 2700ft some snow but mostly really nasty frosts): Covid hit and we had time on our hands so took the plunge and built out own hut – used a prefab plastic garden shed from costco which has a prebuilt skylight, and we added extra insulation. I leveraged your folding entry boards as downunder our hives face north, and we get pretty severe north winds and these landing boards work a treat! my husband built the hybrid AZ hive, and I’m still working out the kinks, but it’s looking REALLY promising. Had good overwintering success last season and came out of spring absolutely booming. Happy to send some photos
Hi Kelly, Forgive me for just seeing this now. I’m so glad to hear it. I’d be interested to hear how it is going. If you’d like, I’d be glad to work with you to write up a blog post to share pictures and your experience with this. I’m jealous of your varroa-free zone down there. I hope you can keep the incursions out.