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 3⁄8-inch space can be empowering to a honey bee, a 1⁄4-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.
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.
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.
The single opening to the hive is on the southeast corner. The opening is 3⁄8-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 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.
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.