The Sun Hive - A Functional Work of Art
What is a Sun Hive?
A Sun Hive is more than just a bee hive, it is a gorgeous functional work of art designed by German sculptor, Guenther Mancke. These exquisite hives include an upper and lower hand woven, rye straw skep and a series of removable curving wooden arches artfully resting over a circular hole cut in a supporting board. The arches are covered by a beeswax-coated cloth to prevent the bees from attaching comb to the upper skep. The bees build comb down from each arch, creating a tear drop shaped colony. The structure, as a whole, is beautiful to look at and provides a lovely home for bees while allowing complete access to the moveable natural comb should inspection be required.
The first sight I had of one of these hives, a few years ago, completely captured my imagination. I decided then and there to learn how to make one for myself, introduce bees into it and then see how the bees fared through our harsh Canadian winters.
My research began with buying "The Sun Hive" by Guenther Mancke. I then read everything I could find on line and watched many videos by Heidi Hermann ( Co-founder of The Natural Beekeeping Trust in England. and Michael Joshin Thiele of Gaia Bees.) I understand bee biology, I learn from bees and love bees, but I realized my knowledge of bees and beekeeping was not the only thing I needed to construct a Sun Hive. I was going to need some very specialized help. Fortunately that help was only 5 minutes down the road! My friend, master basket maker and long-time bee keeper, Ankaret Dean had made bee skeps in the past was very interested in working on Sun Hives. All that was missing was a master carpenter to build the complex set of wooden-ware and weaving forms that go along with each hive. Our good friend Mal Beauchamp fit the bill perfectly. He was intrigued by the design and set about creating the pieces we would need. We had many questions through this process and I got much help and valuable support from Heidi Hermann. We thank you, (and our bees thank you) Heidi!
When everything was assembled we set to work weaving (14 hours per hive!) Lucky for us, Ankaret had a store of rye straw – enough to make 4 hives. Two for me and one each for Ankaret and Mal. What fun we had, weaving, chatting, and dreaming of bees in our Sun Hives! Skeps done, we still had to weave the cane funnel the bees run up to enter the hive. I chose to decorate my boards and tops with original artwork. Mal then built us each a rustic stand with a roof to hang our hives.
Everything set, now we just needed a swarm of bees for each hive. My neighbours, Sandy and Ken Parks, have 18 hives and I asked them to let me know when their bees swarmed. They took our bottom skeps and used them to capture the swarms which typically land 20 to 40 feet up in their big maple trees. The bees were attracted to the straw and moved into the skeps easily. We then covered the "basket of bees" with a sheet and took them home to begin life in their beautiful new Sun Hive homes.
Immediately the bees started exploring inside and outside the hives. By the next day they were busy building comb. So busy that I could hear them forming wax from a foot away! In just 5 days the bees had built comb on every arch and were happily bringing in pollen. In fact the bees in this hive are so calm that I would call them the most Zen in my bee yard!
There is so much more to tell you about these marvelous hives. They are complex to make and you really should have a good understanding of bees and bee biology and behaviour before making one for yourself. Ankaret is planning on visiting the Natural Beekeeping Trust in Sussex, England later this year to learn more about working with Sun Hives. We plan on sharing the knowledge we gain this year by offering Sun Hive workshops in 2017. Contact me for more information.