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The Valhalla hive: long, low, and sleek

Naomi Price is a perky backyard beekeeper who lives with her husband on the high desert of central Oregon. We met for the first time last week at a beekeeping workshop here in Olympia, and I was fascinated to learn that Naomi designed her own hives.

Living with paraplegia, Naomi wanted a hive that met all the honey bees’ needs in addition to a few of her own—she simply wanted the freedom to tend her bees without assistance from others. “Accessibility is all about attitude,” she says. So armed with an abundance of attitude, she set out to make her beekeeping dream a reality.

Naomi was the perfect person for the job. She spent years performing accessibility site surveys for various entities under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Oregon Structural Specialty Code. She explains that just as a 38-inch space can be empowering to a honey bee, a 14-space can be equally empowering to her.

To start, Naomi put aside the codes and regs she is so familiar with to investigate the honey bee’s housing requirements. She studied foraging, brood rearing, communication, food storage, ventilation, winter clustering, pests, and even the local weather. She compared the histories of hive designs, read research papers, and factored in her own beekeeping experience. To all that, she added the requirements she needed for successful beekeeping.

The hive she ended up with—christened the Valhalla hive—is a variation of the long hive. A long hive is simply a horizontal hive that uses standard frames. But the Valhalla is a long hive with a difference.

Frames

The Valhalla hive uses 24 deep Langstroth frames. Naomi selected the number of frames based on the nectar flow near her central Oregon home and the colony’s winter clustering needs. Some of the frames substitute for a standard honey super.

The use of deep Langstroth frames allows her to exchange frames with other beekeepers, if necessary, and the presence of end bars allows her to rest frames against a hard surface without damaging comb.

­­­­Naomi places a heavy canvas cloth across the top of all 24 frames to block the bee space that is inherent above Langstroth frames. The bees propolize the cloth, thereby adding an antibacterial barrier above the hive box.

Hive Box

Naomi finds that the long hive is stable against windstorms and prying predators, such as raccoons, which means she doesn’t need the inconvenience of a tie-down. Best of all, there is no need to lift boxes in order to do inspections, and no need to store empty boxes during the winter.

The roof does not need to be removed for inspections because it is hinged on the front side. A side latch holds it open when necessary. In the open position, the roof helps protect the colony from both sun and wind.

The hive has a slatted bottom for debris with a pair of pull-out boards beneath. The slatted bottom doubles as a place for foragers to cluster during hot days or when the brood nest expands. The hive is equipped with a viewing window that can be opened or closed.

Entrance

The single opening to the hive is on the southeast corner. The opening is 38-inches high by three inches long and doubles as mouse guard.

The entrance has no landing board. Naomi notes that honey bees seem to prefer life without a landing board. Without a landing the bees have fewer mishaps, fewer run-ins with nest mates, fewer intruders, and the opening is easier to defend. She says, “I have observed the returning foragers fly into their hive with amazing accuracy.”

Inspection

Inspection is more efficient with the Valhalla hive. The side-by-side white pull-out boards make it easy to check for mites and remove debris. And since one board is beneath the brood and the other beneath the honey, Naomi can get a clear picture of what is happening inside the hive.

The cloth above the frames makes hive inspection easier. The cloth can be kept in contact with most of the frames during an inspection, eliminating the need for a smoker. In addition, the cloth keeps heat from escaping and prevents robbers from gaining entrance at the top.

Naomi says the colonies in the Valhalla hive are calmer and easier to handle. With no boxes to move, fewer bees are injured and frames are easier to manipulate.

Winter Protection

The gabled roof and its overhang protect the colony against wind and wind-driven rain. The space above the top bars and inner cloth allows room for moisture wicking and insulating materials. She places a wool blanket in the “attic” space for insulation. The Valhalla design is entering its second winter and moisture has yet to be a concern.

Naomi now runs six long hives and one Langstroth in her Valhalla Apiarium.

A Special Thanks

Naomi wishes to give a special thanks to Richard Nichols, the builder of the Valhalla hive. Richard is a Prineville, Oregon resident with a passion for beekeeping and extensive knowledge and skill with wood. His expertise brought Naomi’s design from concept to fruition. He’s worked through four generations of construction, refining the design for human convenience and honey bee health.

Most of Richard’s thirty-plus Valhalla hives are in central Oregon helping other beekeepers continue with their beekeeping passion and helping newbies start their own apiaries.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Valhalla-hive-1
Just for fun, each hive was given a rune from the Old Norse Runic alphabet. Naomi’s husband wanted a masculine-looking hive for the drones—however short their stay. Here you can see the hinged roof and the bee entrance. © Naomi Price.
Valhalla-hive-2
The hive name is scripted on the viewing window cover. To the right, you can see the latch that supports the lid during hive inspections. © Naomi Price.
Valhalla-hive-3
The inner cover is made from heavy duck cloth. There are two white pull-out trays underneath the slatted bottom. This prototype hive has framed screens (not pictured) that rest on top of each tray. Here, the viewing window is closed. © Naomi Price.
Valhalla-hive-4
Here, the viewing window is open. It is useful during winter to monitor interior moisture.© Naomi Price.
Valhalla-hive-5
The slatted bottom is modeled after a Langstroth-style slatted rack. The follower board is a feature from the top-bar hive. © Naomi Price.
Valhalla-hive-7
A straw bale placed on the north side offers wind protection. The overhanging roof helps to keep the entrance dry. © Naomi Price.
Valhalla-hive-6
The Valhalla hive in winter. © Naomi Price.
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Let it snow! © Naomi Price.
Valhalla-hive-9
Naomi says, “Beekeeping is definitely a treasured journey in life.” © Naomi Price.

Comments

Mary P.
Reply

This is exactly what I want. I love my top bar hives, but I want to be able to use standardized equipment. There is so much more available for Lang hives. My plan was to have a carpenter friend build something similar for me but it looks like Naomi has done all the designing already, and then some. Thanks for presenting this on your site, Rusty.

Lindy Lou
Reply

Hi Rusty,
I too have designed a hive that is specifically adapted to the situation we have in our apiary. We are on a nature reserve and the land owners wanted us to give information to interested walkers etc. In co- operation with an Austrian beekeeper who also has a carpentry business and bee keepers shop this hive was designed and built. It is called the WINDOW hive. They will be arrivinf from Austria this week and they will be put to use next bee season. I have one similar from which I adapted my idea. My design has 22 frames that are 32cm x 44cm long. There are closed frames to enable making the space for the developing bee colony smaller and then larger. Like with Naomi there are only flying in holes for the same reason she wrote. From the picture it looks like she has a narrow split. Mine has 4 holes 2 under each other on each side. There is on the backside a long plexiglas window for checking the development of queen cells without having to lift frames out. This way a swarm can be more readily caught if you can count the days. On one short side there is a larger window to enable visitors to look at working bees on a frame. Also without any disturbance to the colony other than Sunlight. I also use a canvas cloth but it is first laid in melted beeswax. The frames are un-wired but have a wooden meat skewer from side to side to give some strengthening because no foundation is used only what the bees make themselves. Which is fragile if you have to lift out for any reason. In the top are also plexi glass windows so that an inspection of the hive’s getting built out onto more frames can be seen without letting in cold. On top of the plexi glass parts there is insulation felt. Then a wooden door which can be fastened. The roof is very lightweight aluminium which is much easier for me than the other regular hives I started with. All plexi glass parts are smooth with the inside walls of the hive so that there is no encouragement to build wild comb to the glass part. If you would like I will send you the photographs.

Rusty
Reply

I would love to see them, Lindy. You can e-mail the photos to me: rusty[at]honeybeesuite[dot]com.

Stacey
Reply

Hi Rusty,
Could you also please send me photos? sweetpea8319[at]gmai[dot]com

Thank you!
Stacey

Rusty
Reply

I’m sorry, Stacey, but I’m lost. What photos are you referring to?

Stacey
Reply

I was referring to the window hives you posted a description of on honeybeesuite.com a while back.

WesternWilson
Reply

That was awesome, Rusty, thanks! I got a top bar hive just to see how they work as I think they are great systems for people who, for whatever reason, are not able to work easily with a Langstroth setup. My dad has severe mobility issues and could, in a wheelchair, work a top bar hive. No way he can manage a Langstroth. I think he’d like the Valhalla too as it gives him the standard frames to work with. And I think all hives should have viewing windows…I have my top bar at a local community garden and the window has been the best tool ever. Once people look into it, their sense of wonder takes over and the bee fears melt away.

Stephanie
Reply

Thank you for featuring this hive and thank you Naomi for sharing your hard work, and to the carpenter, Richard. I am a first year beekeeper and senior citizen with back issues, I thought using all mediums would be the answer for me, but even lifting a partially filled medium is a strain. I would be interested in knowing where I could purchase one of these hives, if you can post it or private message me. Thank you Rusty, you always have great information for us!!

Trent
Reply

Very cool. After having two surgeries this summer and having to have a hands-off approach to my hives this year as a result, accessibility has become an important consideration to me. Thanks for posting this.

Danielle
Reply

Rusty,

I wish you hadn’t posted this because now I want one!

Craig
Reply

I’m thinking that something like a double screen board could be used in the attic, to hold the quilt in place.

I’m thinking that a couple of “L” brackets on the front would let you set the screen board in, then shove the quilt on top of it. The brackets would act as a hinge, while you were working with the quilt.

Get the quilt in place, then push the front of the screen board up and into place.

Any number of types latches could be used at the front, to hold it in position.

The double screen would keep any bees that got past the duck cloth, from getting to the quilt material.

Don’t know if it’s worth the effort but it’s a thought. 🙂

Andy Kingman
Reply

Are these going to be available in UK? Or is it possible to buy a set of design drawings to allow them to be made here? Would be very interested for my own apiary & also a learning project I am involved with, perhaps the only downside may be if they get EFB or AFB etc then the rebuild costs are higher than a standard Langstroth.

Best & Happy Bee keeping

Andy

Robbin
Reply

Danielle, I agree with you, now I want them. I have had 3 surgeries and need another for hernias. It’s such a challenge when I need to go down in my brood boxes, which I do rarely. I have to lift and have something practically right next to me so I don’t injure myself worse. I need to look closer at these.

Richard Nichols "The Hive Man"
Reply

If anyone has any question’s feel free to contact me at:

richardtarsia@gmail.com

Tel: 541-447-7907 or come visit me in Prineville, Or

Greg
Reply

I guess I am a little slow… 🙂 I am having a hard time visualizing this part here: “The cloth above the frames makes hive inspection easier. The cloth can be kept in contact with most of the frames during an inspection, eliminating the need for a smoker.” How do you keep the cloth in place and do an inspection? Do you just slide it frame by frame to the side as you progress? Also, does she use a queen excluder to restrict sideways movement of the queen into the “honey” side or just let the natural tendencies of the colony handle that?
This is a REALLY cool design! Thanks for sharing!
Greg

Rusty
Reply

Greg,

I have an inspection cloth with a slot in the middle. You slide it along as you inspect so only one frame at a time is exposed to light, and it keeps the rest of the hive dark and quiet. I’m sure hers works in a similar way.

I don’t know about a queen excluder. Naomi, will you answer some of these questions?

Tom
Reply

Thanks for this post Rusty.

I was quite inspired by this design and I plan to build one of these over the winter in hopes for a spring split. Even if no split is possible I would transfer one of my hives to this since it would make maintenance so much easier. I spoke with Richard Nichols, a fascinating and knowledgeable beekeeper who left me with many ideas and suggestions. My thanks to him for his craftsmanship and advice, and to Naomi Price for sharing this story.

Rusty
Reply

Thanks, Tom. So glad you got to talk to Richard and were inspired. Sounds like a fun project.

David Williams
Reply

Looks great. I am getting tired of lifting heavy boxes.

How does a follower board work with a slatted rack ? Won’t the bees just go through the rack and under the follower board?

Are there plans or drawings available?

David Williams

Rusty
Reply

David,

Follower boards are generally not bee tight, with or without a slatted rack. Sure they can walk around, but they like to keep their nest together.

Info is available from the builder. His info is in the comments section.

paula
Reply

I was wondering if you would be interested in sharing the dimensions of the hive. Just rough, not specific! Have you had issues yet of overcrowding? I run two top bars that are 48″ long, they can usually spend one season in there but then by the second season I need to split them.

Scott
Reply

I know that I am late in getting in on this but does anyone have some plans for this bad boy? I have emailed Richard but want to cover both bases.

Thanks in advance to anyone who answers!

Scott…..

Rusty
Reply

Scott,

I have been forwarding similar e-mails to Richard. You might try his phone: 541-447-7907.

Matt Somerville
Reply

Hi, we make a hive in the UK,which has many of the great features detailed in this hive. More info and pictures can be seen at http://www.dheaf.plus.com/framebeekeeping
Matt

Todd
Reply

Rusty,

Love your site. Your site’s postings and feedback have been very helpful. As a child helping my grandfather ”a bee keeper” I picked up a little before he sold out/stopped keeping bees. Wished it would have been more now that I am also sharing the same interests as he. I’m forty now and he has progressed and I wanted to thank you and the people active on your site for filling in the blanks I needed to have hive success. Now I would like to share that, like Naomi, I have also developed my own hive oddly similar to hers but has its differences.

Some of the things that I focused on while designing were to name a few:

Cost, ease of construction, getting the most out of frame space, like Naomi, use of standard equipment as well as ability to keep them higher or low off the ground and still be able to service with ease, proper ventilation, invading pests, raising queens if needed, feeding if needed, helping he bees protect hive more efficiently, quick hive build up, keeping hive warm in winter, and ease for the bees to name a few.

Although I have started using my hive design, I am only into the first year and would like to wait to share the design and my findings until next year. Would hate to give out bad plans. So far so good though. I had existing Langstroth hives already but decided to buy 2 packages to start them out in because that’s how most would start off.

If all is good next year I will be happy to make one for you to test out.

Rusty
Reply

Todd,

Now that sounds like an offer too good to be true. But yes, please keep me in mind.

Walt
Reply

I’d like to know the major difference in these hives and the long Langstroth hive by Dr. Leo Sharashkin of http://horizontalhive.com/

Thanks

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