Open Source Beehives: sensor-enhanced hive design



I’m sorry I missed this yesterday. Good work. I wish I could bee a keeper.

You can - it’s quite straight forward. You’ve just got to want it and be consistent. Oh yeah - and have a garden!

I’m not in the proper environment at this point. Some day, maybe.

I don’t know enough about this, but isn’t part of the problem an over-reliance on an invasive species (the European honey bee)? Is there any room to think about ways to allow agriculture to be less heavily-reliant on the social bee, and more reliant on the native pollinators that haven’t been dying off?

It’s a great idea, but not everyone has access to a high-end CNC router… and that kind of kills the “low-cost” part. If you truly want everyone to build bee hives, do a design kids can do out of scrap lumber, milk cartons or old PS3 boxes.

It looks like a top bar hive which was developed (perhaps reintroduced, since ancient Greek hives are similar) as a piece of appropriate technology to allow Africans who couldn’t afford conventional hives a way to build their own cheaply. Since you can make a top bar hive with hand tools, I’m not sure how an expensive CNC router improves the concept from an appropriate tech perspective. I’d like to hear more from the creators about the motivations behind the design.

Ah, gotcha.

I agree with perry_ellis’ assessment of this project. A bit meh. And one can modify any existing hive body design to accommodate sensors. In fact, there are many academic labs that have done this type of work. I would strongly encourage people with an interest in hive monitoring to work with an academic or state agricultural research center for suggestions about the areas where you could provide the strongest contributions.

I seriously hope these folks have real experience or knowledgeable mentors ready to step in. From what I see of their discussion board they seem to be reinventing the wheel a lot.

This is not a hobby in which one ‘dabbles’. If you can’t maintain your hives properly and respond to problems you can spread diseases and pests to your neighbor’s colonies. I am a beekeeper and have kept 3-5 hives going strongly for about four years now. I’m also a member of my local beekeeping club, subscribe to a couple bee magazines and keep in close contact with several experienced mentors. Prior to establishing my first colony I read deeply and took a 4 month long, introduction course on beekeeping. We were taught how to maintain healthy bees and how to use minimal impact, integrate-pest management methods to keep the colonies healthy. Expect to open and work on your hive at least every weekend in the spring and summer, every couple weeks in fall and periodically in the winter. You’ll have to understand how to ‘read’ your colony as you go through the frames and assess the colony strength, queen productivity, likelihood of swarming and food reserves. Possibly every day you will spend time worrying about the state of your colonies and what you should be doing next to correct problems. You will have to explain to your neighbors that the swarming ‘tornado’ of bees that sounded like a dozen weed whackers and that just coalesced 10 meters up in their tree is actually quite harmless and that it’s actually illegal to spray insecticides on honeybees. Then you’ll climb up a ladder in your bee suit, cut or shake the swarm into a box and get them into a new, empty hive ASAP. If you’re smart you’ll give your neighbor five pounds of honey next season.

Some comments about the designs presented by the project:

  • Plywood? Not good: In any area not sealed or well protected from water it’s got a shortened lifetime compared to solid wood. Here’s the thing: Why use a CNC when a table or circular saw will do? Just get strips of whole wood, rip them to width and then cut the ends to length.
  • Hive coatings: Their site discusses exterior coatings to preserve the wood. Fine, but paint works too. Most paints are not toxic or harmful to bees and besides, it’s used only on the outside of the hive.
  • Eight-bar hive: Fine. Probably OK for much of Europe and easier to lift when frames are full of honey. In areas with serious winters a 10-frame box with medium-height frames sometimes works just as well.
  • Bee space: Good. I’m glad they seem to recognize the importance of maintaining the correct distance between frames to prevent misplaced comb creation.
  • Frameless combs: This is a matter of taste. I’m not as thrilled with these because I harvest honey by spinning the uncapped frames. That’s a bit easier to do than crushing and squeezing the comb, which is what you’d have to do with frameless or unsupported combs. On hot days unsupported comb can get a bit sloppy when moving around. Then again, comb honey is pretty nice too and more popular in Europe than the US. The downside of harvesting honey by crushing combs is that the bees have to expend more energy to make new wax. So, there’s a balance there…
  • Mesh bottom on the bottom boards: Good. It helps somewhat with mite control and is a common, integrated pest management technique. This not sufficient by itself but that’s why it’s called ‘integrated’ pest management…
  • Top bar hives: Agree with perry_ellis. These are often associated with cultish “it’s more like nature” stuff. Short on research but long on anecdotes. These also tend to be harder to manage. Try 'em if you like, particularly if you have physical problems that prevent you from lifting hive bodies full of honey. But otherwise, stay clear unless you’ve got a few years of experience working bees.

I would add that there are many supply houses that sell excellent, precut, ready-to-assemble hive bodies and materials that ship as flat packs. The nice thing is that these parts are standardized. Frames, bodies, bottom boards and lids just ‘work’ if you stick with tested, standard parts.There are also plenty of plans online, published by university agriculture colleges and beekeeping sites that are as good as or better than the plans described in the video.

1 Like

Thanks for the feedback everyone. I like these things about the project:

  1. The hives can be manufactured from a single sheet of material using an automated production process. If you have access to a CNC router, you can take the designs and produce one under four hours (low-grade ShopBot - faster with better machines), which you largely spend waiting and passively observing the cut. We are looking at using solid lumber instead of plywood. Here in Colorado, we have a large amount of beetle kill pine that we may use, for example.
  2. Assembly requires no fasteners or screws and takes less than two minutes.
  3. From a commercialization standpoint, the hives can be flat packed, which costs less to distribute than sending a larger hive in a box. If other designs are also flat packed, they generally require the end user to assemble them with screws or glues, which takes more time/materials - it’s not a huge benefit for anyone, but I like the ease involved.
  4. The designs are open source, so anyone can commercialize the product for themselves, and the project actively solicits community critique to accelerate the iteration process.
  5. The sensors allow networks of people to work together to monitor and assess colony health and hive activity. We like the idea of promoting decentralization in the economy in parallel to the ongoing centralization that is the predominant trend in media, finance, manufacturing, etc. We believe that the general public can actively take part in solving global problems rather than relying on their representatives to solve problems for them.

The larger dream behind the open source hardware movement is that we can make things that we need and want locally, equitably, and sustainably. Machinery like CNC routers are widely available in the United States and Europe, so we are experimenting with their use. There’s another process called waterjet cutting, and it can be used to cut up to 8" of steel at a time. We’ve looked at stacking sheets of lumber so we can cut six or more hives at a time with waterjet machines. This is the same process that the artwork in Chipotle stores was made with, if you’ve seen it.

We hope that more people get involved in beekeeping, and we believe that open education materials like our upcoming free, open instructional videos and manuals will help develop a new generation of responsible hive managers.

Thanks for commenting on the project. We appreciate all forms of feedback - its all juice for the project - we promise to consider everyone’s concerns and weave improvements into future iterations.

You seem to have a lot of valuable information and passion for beekeeping. You mention you looked at our forum - would you be open to sharing your insights in there? This way your feedback can help inform the project, rather than sitting, and eventually disappearing from the BB comments!

We’d be happy to address your concerns on our forum, as we have thought about many of the issues you raise.


I’m afraid I disagree with you @perry_ellis. There is no claim in our documentation that one set of methods / materials are superior - we are simply offering options, and hoping to inspire people to do something about a global crisis. Your cynicism and inability to use your imagination are exactly what blocks innovation in many areas that could use it.

As for your comment about ‘bee-havers’, we’re doing everything we can to encourage people only to take up the project if they are committed. We understand that this is important, and we aim to create thorough documentation on best beekeeping practices to distribute with each hive.

If you really feel passionate about this, and have concerns to address, why not post them to our forum? That would be somewhat constructive.

My critique is not with the beekeeping (I’ll leave that to others). My issue is describing it as low-cost and easily reproducible, but requiring a many $10K’s machine to make. In my opinion, open-source should mean more than just making the plan available in a CAD format. They should be achievable by most people. It is not achievable for people of low-income or rural areas-- two groups who would be prime targets for something like this.

I don’t want to beat you up too much, but to portray this effort as something that could save the bee because everyone could do it, is a bit disingenuous. Show me something I can do with a $30 jig saw and scrap lumber (and while you’re at it, give me some training so I know what I’m getting into) and then we have something. You get people of limited means selling honey at farmers market for $10 a pop, you got something that is good for the beekeeper and the bees. But right now, you have a really nice piece of art that holds bees (in my opinion, of course.)

I think the paradigm is “cottage industry” rather than DIY. Someone in a town or village that already has a CNC router can make these with minimal labor and supply the community with inexpensive beehives, along with many other open source CNC products.

Previous comments deleted as others have expressed the same sentiments, but better.

One final comment:

This manufacturing project is greased up with a lot of “Save the bees” snake oil. In terms of saving bees, it will likely have the inverse effect: Create new beekeepers who don’t understand how to keep bees and will end up killing their colonies and in the process spread disease to existing beekeepers.

NO! Not the bees! NOT THE BEES!

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.