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Dzierzon's Beehives

1406 Views 8 Replies 4 Participants Last post by  Michael Bush
In the period just prior to that beehive development which put Langstroth's name into such prominence, experiments were being conducted by beekeepers around the world in an attempt to improve upon the requirement to destroy colonies of bees in order to extract their honey. One of these was Johann Dzierzon, of whom a Wikipedia entry reads:
In his apiary, Dzierzon studied the social life of honeybees and constructed several experimental beehives. In 1838 he devised the first practical movable-comb beehive, which allowed manipulation of individual honeycombs without destroying the structure of the hive. The correct distance between combs had been described as 1 1/2 inches from the center of one top bar to the center of the next one. In 1848 Dzierzon introduced grooves into the hive's side walls, replacing the strips of wood for moving top bars. The grooves were 8 × 8 mm — the exact average between 1/4 and 3/8 inch, which is the range [now] called the "bee space." His design quickly gained popularity in Europe and North America.
So - are there any features worth salvaging from such pre-Langstroth designs ?

Although Dzierzon wrote some 800 beekeeping articles and published several books, unfortunately only one of these books: 'Rational Beekeeping' is readily available: written in 1861 and translated (for the second time) and finally published in English during 1882.

The beehive design for which Dzierzon is most famous is the 'Twin-Stock', for which he gained many prizes and which is essentially a building block of two hives, back-to-back, which can be stacked (typically 4 pairs of hives upon a single stand, and underneath a single roof), or assembled in multiples to form the equivalent of a beehouse.

What may possibly be of interest are the typical sizes of these Twin-Stock boxes: 8-10"W x 15-16"H x 28-29"L (Width, Height, Length)

Earlier in his book, Dzierzon discusses the merits and deficiencies of the Thorstock Hive (essentially a rectangular version of the classic skep), the typical sizes of which were: 10"W x 15-16"H x 25-30"L

BTW - it's not made clear whether those were Internal or External measurements, but it would appear that, generally speaking, comb widths in the range of 8 to 10 inches were favoured, with a depth of around 15".

So - should anyone be tempted to try working with such comb sizes they can very easily be achieved by either running Top Bars across a box of the appropriate dimensions, or by making-up a box to suit either British National or Langstroth Deep Frames (with removable top bars) rotated through 90 degrees into 'Portrait format', as opposed to the standard 'Landscape format' to give frame sizes of 8.5"W x 14.5"H or 9"W x 17"H respectively - which is a frame format Greg has been enthusing about for quite some time. :)

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> an attempt to improve upon the requirement to destroy colonies of bees in order to extract their honey

In 1568 Nicol Jacobi, in "Die Rechte Bienen Kunst" basically says that only really foolish people would kill their bees to harvest their honey. A "good bee father" would only remove the honey from the skep or box hive. I do not believe that killing bees to harvest honey was ever a common occurence. It happened enough for Jacobi to mention how foolish it was, but he didn't think rational beekeepers would do such a thing. I kept a box hive (no frames) for a while back in the 70s and had no trouble harvesting honey without killing many bees and I certainly did not kill the colony.
Michael - I didn't say 'kill the bees' - I said 'destroy the colonies'. If you check the IWF 'Heather Skep Apiary' videos: "No.6 - Autumn Work in the Heather Skep Apiary", colonies can be observed being destroyed by the shaking-out of bees from the skep, with remaining brood being killed by sulphur (sulfur) smoke prior to the harvesting of honey from the skep's fixed combs.
Abby warre also mentions that as the practice of his and others and the reason his hive and management was a better way.
>Abby warre also mentions that as the practice of his and others and the reason his hive and management was a better way.

Everyone selling a better hive has said that. Certainly SOME people killed the colony. I never did when running a "bee gum" or a "box hive" and I don't believe that any rational beekeeper would or did. I don't doubt that some people did or people would not be pointing to it to show how much better their hive was, but I don't think it was common practice.
....frame sizes of 8.5"W x 14.5"H or 9"W x 17"H respectively - which is a frame format Greg has been enthusing about for quite some time. :)


I am pretty much set for the ~300mm (~12.5") frame widths by now.
That's what I already do and this sizing has been confirmed and validated by many independent projects I found and keep track of.

The frame height is being my internal debate still.
Current 17 3/4" is fine for long hives (but where it stays - with all its benefits and drawbacks).

Standard 6 1/4" (Lang medium frame) is a very practical case for small-format verticals.

And so......
12.5" by 6.25" frame for small-format vertical, multi-body, 9-frame square ergo-hives (compatible to my long-hives).
Done deal!
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I don't disagree with you. I was just showing off that I had actually read some stuff.:) I do find different practices interesting and fun to think about. Things like abby promoted killing the brood when hiving bees in spring. I really like those skep videos on you tube where they shake the bees out and then sulfer the skeps before crush and strain. I just find it very interesting how other people have found efficient ways to skin the cat different and it working for them. Other things like the bee keepers that buy packages every year and then take all the honey and do not try and winter the bees. It makes me realize that I should not be too judgmental of others practices that they are happy with even if I would not have came to that conclusion myself.

The Manner of taking the Honey.

And this melancholy, and indeed tragical, as well as last Part, is the most unwelcome to me to treat of, it being as well contrary to my Nature (to destroy those Creatures I have so great an Esteem for) as to my Judgment, as will hereafter be made appear; but left there should be something wanting in this Tract of Bees, I shall briefly lay down the following Rules : If you design to keep only a small Number of Bees, then about the Middle of August weigh all your Hives, that is poize them with your Hands, by which you will be able to judge of their Weight, and so take the heaviest and lightest, the heaviest, because they afford you most Honey, and the lightest, because they will not live over the Year; if you find they don't weigh 14 Pounds, they will hardly live.

But if you design to keep many Bees, and increase your Stock as fast as you can every Year, than leave all standing that are, strong enough to stand, and take only the lightest that will not, so will you by their swarming increase into a very large Apiary, that will afford you great Profit, as shall hereafter be made appear.

When you have poized them all, and marked which of them you resolve to take, then proceed after this Manner. Have in Readiness some split Sticks about 6 Inches long, and some Rags dipt in Brimstone, and put in each of these split Sticks, then dig as many Holes in the Ground near your Bees, as you design to take Hives ; then in the Evening stick in each Hole one of your Matches, and lighting one at a time, fetch the Hive and set over it, immediately with some of the Earth stop the Hive all round to keep in the Smoak, and keep in the Bees, they will be all dead in half a quarter of an Hour ; so giving the Hive two or three Knocks with your Hand to shake down the Bees that hang about the Combs. Take it into your House for your use.


Thus having given Directions how to manage your Bees in Straw-hives, which I was willing to do, because most of the People of England will never attain to the keeping of them in Boxes, for two Reasons : First, Because 'tis a hard thing to put them out of their old Road, which every Old Woman thinks she understands. And Secondly, Because it is a more chargeable way than the other, and therefore many cannot attain thereunto.

I shall now go on with my Design in teaching the way how to keep Bees in Boxes or Colonies, which is more pleasant and profitable than the other, and more merciful; because in this way, which we are now about to treat of, we kill no Bees, yet have great quantities of Honey.


The way of keeping Bess in Colonies or Boxes, with Glass Windows without killing the Bees, as in the Old Method.

In this way, which was first invented by Mr Geddey, who obtain'd a Patent for the same of King Charles, there is a necessity of having a Bee-house for to keep your Colonies in, not an open Bee-house, such as Straw-hives are commonly kept in, but close with Doors, both before and behind ; for if your Boxes were exposed naked to the Beams of the Sun, it would melt the Honey and Wax too, and so ruin the Colony. For as Wood is more dense than Straw, so a Box is more capable to retain the heat of the Sun than the Straw-hive is, and consequently the Sun will melt the Honey and Wax in a Box, which it would not do in a Straw-hive if it stood in the same place.

In this Method their Swarming is prevented, for all Bees Swarm for want of room, which want is here supply'd, by giving another Box when they want room ; neither in this way do we kill any Bees, which being a merciless and cruel way, is here prevented, and the Bees preserved alive till they die a natural death.

Warder, 'Monarchy of Bees', 1716, pp 75-9

There's also John Keys' 'The Practical Bee-Master', 1780, the frontispiece of which reads:
The Practical Bee-Master - in which will be shewn How to Manage Bees either in Straw Hives or in Boxes, without destroying them.
So - is this recurring reference to destroying bees simply a sales-pitch, or was it indeed common practice ?

And yet books from Nichol Jacobi to Shirach to Moses Quinby have people who are keeping bees in hives without movable combs who are harvesting without killing the bees, doing walk away splits and even raising queens. Quinby was one of the most successful commercial beekeepers in North America for many years and wrote one of the first books on commercial beekeeping while he was still not using movable comb hives, just box hives.
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