The Sun Hive: experimental Natural Beekeeping

| Animal Systems, Animals, Natural Beekeeping, Permaculture | comments | Author :

Sun Hive landing board

Sun Hives are a hive design coming out of Germany and now gathering interest in Britain. They’re part of the world-wide movement towards ‘apicentric’ beekeeping – beekeeping that prioritizes honeybees firstly as pollinators, with honey production being a secondary goal.

The Sun Hive is modeled in part on the traditional European skep hive, and is aimed at creating a hive that maximises colony health. The main thing I love about this hive and the enthusiasm surrounding it is not the hive itself, but the philosophy behind it, that of apicentric beekeeping.

Sun Hive in the Natural Beekeeping Trust classroom

Sun Hive 1


DSCN6868 - Copy

sun hive golden_0

Revealing the Sun Hive

In brief, the Sun Hive has an upside down skep hive at its base with curving frames in the top section and no frames in the bottom section. The hive is placed well above ground level (optimal for bees – they never choose to create a hive on the ground).

Like a Warré hive, the Sun Hive allows the queen bee to roam freely through the entire hive and lay eggs where she wishes to, which in turn allows the colony to manage the location and progression of their brood nest, which is great for colony health.

The top curved frames of the Sun Hive provide the ability to (in theory) remove each frame, with the free-form comb beneath coming out as well as it is (again, in theory) attached to the frame directly above.

The Sun Hive can also have a super attached to it on a honeyflow (not sure about that, as I assume that means a queen excluder would be used to prevent brood comb being created in said super, which goes against the idea of allowing the queen to roam the hive, but anyway).

As I said, it’s not the design of this hive that particularly gets me going (though it is very beautiful), but the philosophy behind it… putting bees first before honey yields.

Also, this sort of experimenting is important. We cannot keep relying on the industrial style of beekeeping that is currently the norm. Well managed Warré Beehives are one branch of natural beekeeping, and this hive is another.

What we need, right now, is lots of apicentric beekeepers refining, experimenting and progressing resilient beekeeping techniques. Backed up by good information on bee behavior, not just whacky ideas.

Would this hive style work in Australia? I am not sure, but I suspect it might not be ideal for most parts of Australia. And that is ok. Each continent has vastly different conditions – nectarys, climate and other variations that necessitate adaptation for hive design for effective natural beekeeping.

A hive design developed on the other side of the world, no matter how groovy, is not necessarily going to result in a happy and healthy honeybee colony over this side of the world. There’s seasonal differences, the way honeyflows work is different, humidity, etc.

But Natural Beekeeping, in all its global variations, is at the heart of future honeybee health. The Sun Hive is definitely part of that matrix and is causing many in Europe to rethink hive design to ensure colony resilience.

Sun Hive resources:

>> More posts about Natural Beekeeping at

We run Natural Beekeeping courses with Tim Malfroy in Sydney and beyond which teach responsible, ethical, chemical free Warré Beekeeping for the backyard or small-scale beekeeper. No, it’s not just about the shape of the box and the frames within. It’s an entire, apicentric approach. And it’s awesome.



Sun Hive landing board


Lead photo by Heidi Herrmann, of the Natural Beekeeping Trust.

See the comments

Related Posts

Good Book: Dark Emu – rethinking Indigenous Australian

Dark Emu is not a large book, but it packs a punch well above its . .
Read More

Happy Fish, Happy Harvest: Matt’s Aquaponics Adventures

What do you get when you cross a sustainable fisheries bloke with . .
Read More

DIY Trellis Ideas for Beans + Peas (and how they’re di

Growing climbing beans and peas on a trellis is a great way to ma . .
Read More


59 responses to “The Sun Hive: experimental Natural Beekeeping

  1. Sounds absolutely wonderful! I’ve tasted the difference in fresh honey from a wild hive, as well as enjoyed local honey from keepers in our area. This method looks like it could parallel the closest with the wild hives. To have opportunity for enjoying that intense flavor would be like living in Heaven! Thanks for sharing!

      1. Yes, they visit vastly different plants. Domestic bees are often shipped all across the country in order to pollinate one specific crop such as almonds, apples and limes just to name a few. Local wild bees would pollinate some of the commercial plants but not in the percentages that commercial growers need. Wild bees are locally adapted to plants that flower in the area that they cover as territory and live more from the local wildflowers than commercial vegetable and fruit crops, though, as stated before, they do end up pollinating/ collecting nectar there as well.

        1. That’s not exactly true, because bees from wild hives will forage on commercial crops just as quickly as hived bees, and all of them will frequent the flowers that are most abundant. Wild bees are no different than “domestic” bees that a beekeeper has other than sometimes their aggressiveness. The reason that honey from wild hives tastes so different is that the honey harvested from ‘commercial hives is stored in NEW comb, beekeepers prevent the bees from raising brood in that comb, and bees normally only store pollen with the brood. Wild bees usually raise brood in comb and then as the hive expands they fill the older darkened used comb with honey stores. The stained comb leaches additional flavor into that honey that came from the waste of the larvae and pollen that was absorbed into the wax.

          If you take a domestic hive and remove the queen excluder and place it in a crop field for a whole year, you will harvest honey identical to that found in a wild hive. This is how I raise my bees, because I found that my customers want and will pay more for the darker, richer tasting honey, especially in the comb.

          1. To be specific I am talking about domestic honeybees vs wild (feral) honeybees. None of the other native bees in the US store honey to over-winter their hives.

    1. The only thing that affects the taste of honey is the source for the nectar. The most common type of honey is called clover honey, because the primary source of nectar for most honeybees are clover flowers; of course, no homey is 100 percent derived from clover. Local flora affects the taste of honey, which is why honey from beehives near orchards are labeled based on the type of orchard, such as Apple blossom or Orange blossom honey, yet even when near an orchard, the honey is still significantly clover based.

      1. The most common honey in Australia is not Clover but Eucalypt. About 80% of our honey is sourced form this tree.
        The claim that bee health is improved by such a hive ( or a Warre type) needs a little scientific backing.
        Like so many quotes in the Permaculture literature people believe that a statement often repeated becomes fact.
        I would have believed that production is a better means to judge hive health? Is it reasonable to assume that a well cared for and healthy hive is more likely to produce more honey?
        The hive shown, while very beautyful, would make moving frames rather challenging, maybe impossible. It would be a challenging task to check for diseases, maybe near impossible and thus would be illegal in Australia.

    2. Terese-it depends where you put the hives.If they are surrounded by clean natural flower source then the honey will indicate that. Wild bees can also set up home near to industrialised cropping and so be harvesting the yuckiness of sprays and artificial… We are lucky enough to have our bees surrounded by native Australian bush in square boxes AND we care for our bees. When you rely on your bees to provide honey for you then you would be stupid not to care for your bees- Bee health and happiness comes first and a good bee keeper NEVER takes all the honey

      1. I second that!
        Good beekeeping does not require for the beekeeper to jump on the latest fad.

  2. This bodel is quite good for the bees, but there are a few problems with it. First, you try to impose them the distance betweenn combs and the orientation. This is not really natural. The japanese version of Warre hive does not do that:

    Second, you have not thought about replacing old combs. When you collect honey you have to destroy an entire comb, with brood and eggs. If you separate the top part from the bottom part you remain with old combs in the bottom part all the time.

    Third, you have not taken into account expansion of volume. In winter, the bees occupy less volume. In spring they start expanding, and best way to expand is vertical. You could help them do this by adding a hive-body box underneath, as warre explains.

    Best option in my opinion is round warre hives without frames. Something like this but without top-bars, so the bees can build comb as they see fitt:

    1. Yep I also see comb renewal as a bit of a prob in this design. To meet regulations in many countries (Australia included) you need to have some removable frames for inspection… hence the frames, which therefore impose the distance between the combs… as I said, it’s an experimental design, and probably wouldn’t work well where we are, but interesting all the same 🙂

  3. As wonderful and special and divine as honey is, bees are more important than any honey that they might make above their own needs. I love the concept of bee-first hive ideas and I love the rustic and simple beauty of these hives.

  4. I love your idea and by the way your website which I look forward to exploring. Just a caution about conceptualising better beekeeping as one that prioritises pollination over honey production. Commercial ‘exploitative’ beekeeping does just that. Commercial beekeepers engage in beekeeping for the profits from
    Pollination. They receive large fees from orchard owners etc. Most honey sold on shelves is simply a waste product of such activity (full of the pesticide residual from the main activity of pollination).
    I know this is the opposite of what you do but thinking of bees as primarily pollinators and secondarily honey makers is conceptually incorrect. For bees, their primary activity is to make honey in order to survive. Pollination is the benefit nature receives from their foraging for ingredients for honey making (and obviously the bees benefit from the proliferation of plants the following season). The best honey I have ever tasted is from bees that have been kept and managed for honey production and allowed to forage as wild bees and pollinate etc, but are given abundant access to natural food sources so that they produce an excess of honey which can then be shared with the beekeeper. This does not make for a monetarily wealthy beekeeper but it makes for the best honey and as close to wild as one can get without the downside of damaging and disturbing wild colonies.

    1. Yep its very tricky isnt it – what we’re aiming for is beekeeping that maximises bee health while still providing benefits to humans. I suppose cause natural beekeeping is synonymous with permanent hive siting (ie as opposed to migratory beekeeping, as necessitated by the commercial pollination contract scene) I neglected to emphasise that it’s ‘beekeeping in place’ which replicates wild hives more closely – thanks su –

  5. I think sustainability bee colony can achieve its minimum interference and maximum colony established conditions for natural development. This includes adequate and clean pasture for bees.
    Last year, which was very dry – with virtually no rain all summer, my hives open them only twice: once for the extraction of honey, and a second time to review available food before winter.
    I was amazed by the amount of honey you got!
    Minimum interference and maximum yield.
    This hive is an interesting concept, but I do not know what would be suitable for the climatic conditions in Bulgaria.
    Bees as a species have an interesting relation to the collection and accumulation of food and see nothing wrong with using these respects, and to benefit from it, taking excess honey for the hive.
    If approached carefully and with understanding of bee colony, there can be problems for bees.

  6. There are some incredible misconceptions voiced here. These hives would have been fine in the days before varroa andf all the other pests, predators and diseases took hold, but not now. It is incredibly difficult to inspect the brood area for diseases in thesun hive or skep and not doing so means that your bees could eaily be spreading these problems to adjacent beekeepers hives and so on ad infinitum. Be responsible bveekeepers. The framed system of keeping bees was introduced because these systems do not work comprehensively. By using thenm, you are simply turning back the hands of time. Keeping bees in skeps and these hives is illegal in the USA. Ask yourselves why? Leave alone beekeeping is not an opption and extremely inconsiderate to both bees and other beekeepers.

    1. Stewart, from my understanding of beekeeping history, frame beekeeping was introduced as much to increase honey yields as anything else, and not really with the bees health in mind…

      I would argue that ‘leave alone beekeeping’ of a type, when done properly, has its place (after all, the enormous feral (wild) bee population in Australia contributes to our general bee health enormously, and that’s completely ‘leave alone’ beekeeping), and that as much disease and ill-health of our bee population is brought on by many aspects of conventional beekeeping…

      1. Actually, Langstroth had a eureka! about his hive because it allowed him to perform intensive, invasive hive management as he saw fit. He took singular pleasure in mucking about with frames. Go to google books for his first edition (mid-1850s) and you’ll discover the good Reverend was a bit of a control freak with Divine entitlement issue. Or read my book 😉 for a quick overview.
        //Alex Templeton, Beekeeping for Poets

      2. “leave alone beekeeping”has gone in areas where we have the SHB in Australia. And with it have most of the feral hives. In warmer parts of Australia ( and some not so warm – the SHB was first noted in Richmond , west of Sydney) if you care for your bees you need to check for SHB.
        I suspect that a lot of the comments here come from people who have never kept bees.

        1. mmm i couldn’t agree with that particularly, given the extremely healthy feral honeybee colony population of places like the Sydney basin + Blue Mountains of NSW, despite SHB being present throughout those areas…

    2. Stewart, lots of things are illegal in the USA, doesn’t mean it is always correct or best for people or the environment or that people agree with it. Like Raw Milk for one! or Medicinal marijuana, or industrial hemp and so on.

    3. Stewart, the problems you mentioned(varoa, etc) came about because of the framed system and intensely industrial methods of keeping. Diseases and pests are much less likely to spread from single, leave alone colonies kept by hobbiests than they are from large scale, intre-state operations.
      Kirsten also brings up an excellent point, how do wild colonies figure into your view? Should we inspect all wild colonies? Are wild colonies inconsiderate to their neighbors? Wild and leave alone colonies are much more disease resistant, have better pest grooming behaviors, and are generally much healthier genetically than our inbred commercial hybrids, which have been selected for maximum honey production, not health or disease resistance. Wild and leave alones are a great genetic resource.
      I think this type of hive is beautiful, as is the approach. I keep a Warre and a KTBh, and if I had the room would love to add a Sun Hive

      1. Then why do we find mites, beetles and moths in most if not all wild hives?
        Rarely do I save a wild colony that is completely free of pests..

      2. Myrddwn –“Diseases and pests are much less likely to spread from single, leave alone colonies kept by hobbiests…”
        These wild bees or the 1 hive owned by the hobbyists (who often don’t look at them, I believe are irresponsible and can cause long term problems for more responsable bee keepers. “wild “bees you refer to are introduced European bee and some think shouldn’t actually be in Aust bush.. BUT yes we need them.
        I think the ‘sun hive’ is a beautiful piece of art craft BUT why romantise bee keeping or any other farming practice when it’s common sense to be able to check the health of the colony (not so easy or maybe possible in a ‘sun hive’)

  7. Stewart Gould is correct. The hive is a harness for the energy of the bee colony. Effective hives (Langstroth), combined with knowledge and experience can help guild your bees towards a healthy and productive future.

    1. Excuse me, what? A “harness for the energy of the bee colony.” Not the most scientific statement of all time. Does this mean “Bees need a home or they’ll die?” Or is this some hint that bee colonies have a magical aura? I must be missing something, because “harness for the energy of a bee colony,” sounds like a freshman trying to write poetry, not a valid scientific concept.

      1. Anthony most people that take physics class learn about energy before they get to freshman year. The energy of the hive refers to the embodied energy that the hive represents and contains – in terms of bee effort, honey collected etc.

  8. If you are truly putting the bees first, why is this hive in a patio or porch setting? The noise and jostling lifestyle of having humans so nearby is NOT their natural environment. It is for your viewing pleasure I think. To pat yourself on the back perhaps for having provided them a “better” home. I applaud your sentiment for making it bee-centric but really in placement of the hives so close to homes, you negate the sentiment.

  9. This hive contains mostly non-movable, non-inspectable comb. As such, it is not api-centric at all, in that it allows diseases and pests to take over before the beekeeper can notice. The hive is also very small, and without expansion capability, does the bees a disservice. Overall, this hive is yet another misinformed attempt to create a “feral” simulation. Only 1/3 of feral colonies survive even their first winter for the same reasons: lack of disease and pest management, and limited size, with limited space to save stores with which to overwinter.

  10. I think this hive design looks beautiful. My thoughts on the concept of putting bees first is that it really has little to do with hive design and everything to do with the kind of beekeeping practices you choose. If you look at wild bees they will build anywhere. In a barrel, hanging from a tree branch, under the eves of a house, inside a tree… I even know of a colony the set up shop inside a rat trap! Bees are very adaptable. The vessel they choose is not important. What is important is how they are treated and what methods their keeper chooses. Langstroth hives have many features that enable the beekeeper to perform beekeeping methods that do not put the bees first (feeding, queen excluders, frame foundation) BUT you can keep bees in Langstroth hives in a natural way that puts the bees first. I use Langstroth hives but I don’t use foundation, excluders or feeders. They build naturally within the frames and the queen is free to roam. It’s silly to say that one hive design is more natural than the other when the very act of keeping bees and harvesting honey from them is unnatural.

  11. I think this hive style is just politically correct hype. It looks groovy. It looks vaguely like something from a previous culture. But I see no real advantages to hive health whatsoever compared to boxes and supers that were developed over the years.
    For example, the write-up says allowing the queen to roam freely promotes hive health. Really? Any proof of that or are we just talking “sure seems like that statement will fly.” Where’s the evidence? Or are we talking politically correct guesswork, like all the drones are “happier” because of some projection of expectations. These are bees, not people. They don’t love an gourd-shaped hive any more than a square box just because. Where’s the evidence in any of this?

    1. There is plenty of scientific evidence that allowing the queen to roam the hive increases colony health… Go read a good book on bee biology maybe…

  12. I must say that the pushback here from the beekeeping orthodoxy is alive and well, viz the gripes of “Jim” and “Anthony”.

    We of the “postmodern” school of beekeeping repudiate the very notion of “feral” as only reinforcing the fancies that a) honey bees are domesticated in the first place, that b) only intensive management, medication, and intervention by the beekeeper lead to colony health (as if this has been proven out in practice); and c) using non-Lang hives only leads to festering sources of disease and bad breeding.

    All these are rejected for very good reasons and are supported by the latest scientific evidence and field reports. The century and a half “Progressive” era of beekeeping is drawing to a close and naturally the zombies of Langstroth are gonna b!tch about it.

    Alex Templeton
    Author, _Beekeeping_for_Poets_

  13. I do want the bees to be free to make their own comb, but I also like to see each frame and the health of the colony in general. That’s why I go for the kenyan topbar. Also, I have afro-euro hybrids, so maybe that’s the issue, but I’ve observed that your statement about bees never wanting to live on the ground tp be very false. Many time’s, I’ve found wild colonies living under trees!

  14. I too have seen many colonies living at ground level.. especially in old growth olive trees. I am a Rescue Beekeeper.. taking them out of nasty places, getting them healthy and back to work is a full time job here 8months a year.
    This is a very cool concept.. putting the bees first is my motto!
    Curious about the weight of this hive.. being held up by 4 thin wires.. looks precarious.

  15. I keep bees langstroth style, and produce an excellent honey harvest from 4 colonies. I have noticed mite damage on my hives only after taking the honey off (stress?). I live in Canada, close to Ottawa Ontario. Other than varroa mites, black bears are one of our biggest nuisances here. To have a hive like this hanging where a bear can’t get it, near our home where a bear is less likely to come close, is an intriguing idea. (like hanging food in trees on a canoe trip). If there were signs of mites (evident at the entrance by wingless bees), surely the hive can be opened at the top and treated. I think if this winter is as long as the last one I will spend the time to make one of these beautiful hives. Perhaps a kenya style one too. Who knows maybe in a bad bear year that will be the only hive still alive. Anyways they look so cool!

    1. WARNING!!! Arizona is killer bee territory. If you keep bees in Arizona, you must take that fact into consideration! (just so you know).

  16. I have been trying to get one of these for years. A friend brought a skep hive from Europe. I love the smell and art of these woven hives. I wouldn’t use it as a first hive but to add to my collection of unique objects full of bees.

Comments are closed.