Cathedral Hive Beekeeping Review And More

cathedral natural hive

Many people get into beekeeping as a hobby and for the added benefits of helping nature. However, some options for hives don't allow the bees to be very natural. They add all sorts of additions to the hive that, while can make the production of honey easier and more profitable, make for a rather unnatural process to it all. In fact, this can confuse the honey bee and cause some problems.

It is for this reason that many decide to go with the most natural hive designs. However, they end up having to compromise on the amount of honey produced and the ease of maintaining their hive. This article is to make known another type of hive that just might be the best of both worlds.

It is called the Cathedral hive, and while it allows the bees to create natural comb on their own and in their way, it also offers more space and support than the average natural hive and therefore, more honey to be produced.

What is a Cathedral Hive?

The Cathedral hive is relatively newer beehive design that incorporates a similar look and natural process of that of the top bar hives. However, there are some major differences as well. It is constructed horizontally and fitted with top bars to allow the bees to build their honeycomb naturally.

Unlike, the top bar hives though, the top bars are not simple straight bars. They are shaped like half of a hexagon, having three sides, delivering more support of the fragile combs and allowing for about twice of the volume inside the hive and therefore about twice as much honey to be produced.

Cathedral Hive

Image from: backyardhive.com

Cathedral Hive

When the top or roof of the hive is added to the bottom, the hive is a perfect hexagon. With this design the sides that the bees are less likely to attach the comb. The top bar hive has been doubled, as the shape of the bottom is relatively the same but the bars and roof do not lie flat on top. Instead, they extend upwards and are very often outfitted with ventilation holes and sometimes even a quilt box as the Warre hives have.

Product Specs

Most Cathedral hives are similar in size although they might vary slightly. The hive is a basic hexagon in shape. Most are constructed of six quality pine or cedar wood planks with angled edges for the sides, roughly 9 1/4" x 30" - 36". This makes the hive wider than it is tall for easy management of the bars and honeycomb. The hive is constructed so there are two separate halves. The bottom will have legs attached and be fairly stationary.

This is also what the bars rest on. The top, however, is actually the cover or roof. This is removable for access to the bars and comb. Beekeepers often place a window in one or more of the sides for easy viewing of the bees and comb without disturbing them. One of the nice things about building the cathedral hive for yourself is the ability to make the size specific and most convenient for you.

Cathedral Hive

Image from: backyardhive.com

Cathedral Hive

The legs can be made, so you never have to bend over or use a step stool in the maintenance of your hive. Another plus to building your own is that there can be as many or as few options as you would like. You can add ventilation holes in numerous places, entrances and exits wherever, add a quilt to the roof, windows to the sides, or sliding doors on the sides. The options are endless.

Pricing

Cathedrals are not the most popular, much like their predecessor the top bars. Therefore, there are not a lot of them out there for purchase. And the ones that are very pricey. They can be found for around $800 on average. They are available at a few specialty beekeeping sites, and since they are the only ones to offer such a pre-built hive design, they can afford to charge more for them.

However, most people who own a cathedral hive have built their own. This brings the price way down in comparison, especially if you already have the supplies to make it on hand.

How it Compares

We picked a couple of similar products available on the market to see how they compare.

Cathedral Hive

Image from: backyardhive.com

Cathedral Hive

Price

Ease of Use

Assembly Time

Design Quality

Warranty

Pros

  • Three sides-bars offer more support to the comb
  • Allows for more space and volume within to build more comb
  • Easy to use

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Not very popular and so hard to find pre-made or parts for
  • Very little experienced beekeepers and knowledge available

This is the most popular type of hive on the market. The picture that you imagine when someone mentions beehives is probably a Langstroth. This hive is constructed of a series of slightly different sized boxes stacked on top of one another. The house frames with four sides placed vertically for the bees to build their comb. Both the square dimensions of the boxes and the well-supported frames make for easy transportation of the hive and the honeycomb, at least in theory. The reality of moving a box filled with honey and bees can be quite taxing.

Langstrot Hive

Price

Ease of Use

Assembly Time

Design Quality

Warranty

They are heavy to lift, sometimes nearing 100lbs, depending on the number of frames/combs are inside. When you want to add on to your colony it is relatively simple; you just place a new box of frames on top. It's harvesting the honey that can prove to be more difficult. The Langstroth is designed so that the broods or the young are kept and fed at the bottom of the hive. While they create downward combs, these are fairly shallow boxes, so when they fill a box, they have to go up to the next box to build more comb. This means that the oldest honey is at the bottom and so that is from where it is taken.

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Frames give more support to the combs
  • There are standardized equipment and supplies available due to the overall popularity of the design.

Cons

  • Boxes can be heavy to lift   and move
  • A process of adding boxes   and harvesting honey is backward from the way bees do it naturally
  • Several more extra parts    may be needed/wanted to make the process more profitable. (foundations, entrance reducer, etc.)

You have to move all the boxes on top first to harvest the honey. However, this hive was designed for ease of use for the beekeeper. The frames often come with built-in foundations. These are a synthetic pressed material similar to the waxy combs that the bees make. What this allows the bees to do is to draw out their comb from this instead of starting from scratch, thus reducing the time it takes them to make both the honey and comb significantly.

They also have many options for add-ons. From more hive boxes to feeders, entrance reducers, and queen excluders, the Langstroth can be as easy or as hard as you want it to be. While many natural beekeepers do not prefer this style, it makes commercialization of honey and wax much more profitable.

The Warre (pronounced war-ray) hive looks a bit similar to the Langstroth; however, it is completely different on the inside. While it is made up of hive boxes, they are generally smaller in size than housetop bars, and not the full frames of the Langstroth. The top bars allow the bees to construct their hives from scratch, naturally and foundationless, hanging them in a downward fashion and keeping their brood or young at the bottom of the combs.

Warre Hive (Complete 4 Box Warre Kit Fully Assembled)

Price

Ease of Use

Assembly Time

Design Quality

Warranty

The smaller size of the boxes and the use of top bars mimic the hives that are found in the wild more so than any other hive. It is for this reason that they are the second most popular hive design. It also ensures that there is less routine maintenance to be done. Many beekeepers who strive to keep bee interference and stress to a minimum, usually own a Warre.

Pros

  • Most natural set up for bees
  • Easy to use
  • There are no extra parts needed (foundations, entrance reducer, etc...)

Cons

  • Boxes may be heavy to lift when adding another box to the bottom
  • Not as popular and so it is more difficult to find standardized parts
  • Not much help in the way of experience and knowledge available due to the popularity

This hive also boasts a quilted roof at the top that adds for extra insulation as well as keeps the humidity and condensation in the hive to a minimum. The bottom has a much smaller opening than the Langstroth, so an entrance reducer is rarely needed. When the need arises to add another box to supplement for the one you have taken off or just growing your colony, you do so from the bottom.

However, this can make for some heavy lifting to get a new box under everything else on top. Building downward is more natural to the bees and leaves their oldest honey supplies at the top. Thus when you harvest the honey, you take from the top first. It seems to be the perfect blend of the Langstroth and the not quite as popular top bar hive.

Top Bar hives are very similar in size and overall design to the Cathedral hive. However, it is basically only the bottom half. There are several styles of this hive. The most popular being the Kenyan, with sides that slant downwards. The Tanzanian, with square sides, is much easier to build, however. Studies have shown that bees are less likely to attach their comb to the sides of the hives if they are slanted.

Price

Ease of Use

Assembly Time

Design Quality

Warranty

The top of the roof is generally flat or only slightly pitched. This requires that the bars inside are just that, straight bars. The bees hang their comb from these naturally, without the use of foundations or the support of frames. This style, while not being the most popular by far, is widely used in under-developed areas where resources may not be as easy to come by. It is also simple to build.

Pros

  • Allows bees to build their comb naturally
  • Simple to build on your own
  • No heavy lifting required

Cons

  • No standardized parts due to the popularity
  • Very little experience and knowledge available for your help
  • Expensive if the hive is bought rather than built

This also makes it difficult to find two that are exactly the same so switching out bars or pieces that are damaged can be problematic if they are not already built to your specifications. It also makes them rather expensive to buy outright, as the manufacturer has made a one of a kind, custom built beehive for you.

Conclusion

We hope that this article has given you another option to think about when choosing which hive design might be best for you. If you love all natural beekeeping practices but don't want to have to sacrifice too much on honey production and the more supportive frames of the commercialized hives, this might be the one for you. We love that it allows the bees to maintain a healthy and wild-like way of life.

We also love that the three-sided bar design gives more support to the comb that is often difficult to move, especially for those with little experience. And those same bar designs add to the overall volume of the honeycomb produced. In addition, the Cathedral hive is extremely customizable if built on your own. However, this same fact makes it very expensive if you feel that your carpentry skills are not up to the task.

While it still might not be able to produce as much honey as the Langstroth, we believe this beehive deserves 4 stars overall for its design quality, its ease of use, and it's all natural abilities.

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