The Tree Hives of the Bashkir

I was extremely lucky to join a tree hive making course organised by Free the Bees in Switzerland last week.

Hive ready for bees

Tree hive beekeeping is a 1000 year old art of keeping bees in slots cut into living pine and oak trees. Over 70,000 tree hives were recorded in a Polish 1827 census. The Polish tree hive tradition was lost in the 1930's, but in 2002 Dr Hartmut Jungius of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) discovered tree beekeeping still being practised in Bashkortostan, while setting up a 22,000 hectare woodland nature reserve. There, over 700 hives can be found, of which 30% are naturally populated by swarms and managed by the Bashkir.

The top 1/3 of the hive is always left undisturbed for brood and winter stores. Honey is harvested from the bottom 2/3rds of the hive - if there is any. Typically 10-15Kg is harvested in a normal year.

With the help of the Bashkirs, Dr Jungius and WWF colleagues taught a dedicated group of Polish beekeepers who now have 50 hive trees running in Poland. The Polish masters were in Switzerland last week where we made 3 tree hives and 5 log hive versions for hanging in trees. While these may be the first ever tree hives in Switzerland, we do know that the oldest recorded log hive was found at Arbon Bleiche and dates from 3380 BC. If anybody would like to have the first tree hive in the UK - Get in touch!

Free the bees Tamga
Let Tree hives flourish
Traditionally pines that are older than 150 years are used. The trees are marked with a unique family mark called a Tamga which is cut into the bark. The very top of the tree is removed so that the tree grows wider. Ideally the pine needs to be at least 80 cm in diameter. After 70 years the third generation of Bashkir cuts the slot, about 4-5m from the ground. The family line will manage the hive for 200-300 years. The tree is not harmed, indeed it is believed that the tree is invigorated by the wound.

Inside a new hive
The Bashkir tree bees system is perfect for bees. The hives naturally populate at a density of 3 hives per 1km, thus reducing the problem of disease spread and matching the forage level to the bee density. Bees are creatures of the air and not the cold damp ground. They are protected from predators like bears and more importantly humans! The hive brood nest is never disturbed and the medicinal hive atmosphere is always retained. The thick walls of the trees keep the bees warm. Compare all this to the thin walls of the densely packed apiaries, where infected combs and frames are moved between hives. Intrusive inspection continually batters the fragile biosphere of the hive robbed of honey and fed with sugar. A Bashkir hive builds hidden bonds and connections between the environment and other colonies. Fortunately for these bees there is no trucking 1000's of km from one mono culture crop to another.

Tomasz demonstrates traditional
climbing skills
After 1000 years the Bashkir have developed a perfect relationship with the bees and the bees have rewarded their guardians. Contrast this to 100 years of modern beekeeping which has presided over the worst period of bee health in 23 million years.

I will be sharing some of my experiences at this event, on April 19th 2014 in Somerset UK. We will have a 1 hour presentation followed by a hands on log hive making session (Bashkir style!) for those that need more than just talk. Other events are planned in the near future, please contact me if you want those details.

More information can be found in the following links:

The Tree Beekeeping Field Guide - Ebook by Author of this Article

Swiss TV report on the tree hives (Mostly in Bavarian - skip 50 seconds for pictures) (By Tomasz Dzier┼╝anowski - In Polish)


Anonymous said...

Hi, would love to have instruction on construction of these hives, both the tree hive and log hive. Could you please direct me? Cy

Jonathan said...

Please use the contact form on my about page to send me your details. Hopefully we will be able to sort something out. Jonathan

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