What is the Catenary Hive?
Craig Stewart, Edinburgh
The Catenary hive was developed to allow the bees to build combs in the natural “catenary” or hanging chain shape that they adopt when unrestrained by rectangular frames - the shape they follow when starting to draw comb from the top bar of a rectangular frame. A Catenary is the shape adopted by a free hanging chain or rope. It takes its name from the Latin word catena for chain.
But back to the Catenary hive, it was originally designed by Bill Bielby of Yorkshire in 1968 and was available for some time from a Yorkshire bee equipment supplier. It had 11 short lugged frames arranged the ‘warm way’ (i.e. across the line of entry). These frames were in the form of a catenary to fit the catenary shaped brood box. However because of the complexity of frame-making, eventually only top bars were used, as it was found that when drawing catenary combs, the bees naturally left a bee space between the lower edges of the combs and the lower catenary wall/floor of the brood box. The curved catenary wall/floor of the brood box was heat-formed from plywood. The front and rear walls were made from flat ply or boards. The entrance was part way up the flat end walls of the brood chamber, straight onto the first frame, which tended to cause propolising of a large area of that comb.
The hive was made with plan view dimensions to accept British Standard queen excluders and supers. The peculiar shape of the brood box excluded operations such as Demaree or Snelgroving as brood boxes could not be stacked on top of one another.
Len Heath used two of these hives for some time and writes about them in his interesting book ‘A Case of Hives’. However it would appear that the drawbacks associated with them overcame any potential advantages.
It is worth mentioning that in damp winters the lower corners of conventional rectangular combs can become covered with mould, especially on outer frames, catenaries have no lower corners, so maybe Bill and the bees knew a thing or two.
With thanks to the “Beemaster” of The Scottish Beekeeper magazine, via eBEES
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