Potted Bees at OCCUH

Pop quiz!

Top Bar Hives were invented:
a. By Grecian beekeepers, over three thousand years ago.
b. By J.D. Tredwell and P. Paterson in 1965, as a way to make beekeeping more practical in Africa.
c. By Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth, after he discovered the advantages of the 3/8″ bee space.

Did you answer a? You were correct! The Greeks were the first people known to keep top bar hives, many of which were composed of narrow strips of wood suspended over woven baskets.

If you like this kind of bee lore you should visit the Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture (OCCUH) in Corvallis, where Professor Emeritus Dr. Michael Burgett has created a sanctuary for bees and humans alike. The apiary portion of OCCUH is nestled between tree-framed Oak Creek on the west and sprawling OSU gardens on the east. The charming old bee lab, where Dr. Burgett works while sipping tea heated by a decommissioned bunsen burner, shelters the apiary from the open field to the south.

The bee yard is aesthetically centered around a Sala Thai, which looks like a gazebo but is actually a replication of a bus stop shelter from Thailand, where Dr. Burgett spends his winters researching Asian bees. If you happen to catch him feeling sentimental he will tell you that the bus to Chiang Mai only occasionally stops at OCCUH. His eyes will sparkle with characteristic good humor, but something about the way he says it gives you sense that if the bus to Chiang Mai actually did stop there he would board it immediately and never look back.

We’ve saved the best for last: OCCUH’s bee hives, which are astonishingly varied in form and size. They include a skep; a plank hive, some Warre hives; a beautiful Kenyan top bar observation hive; and two bee gums, one of which is an 1800 pound giant occupied by a feral colony that was saved from demolition only a couple of weeks ago. There are eight frame hives, too. The traditional ten frame Langstroth doesn’t make an appearance unless you peek around to the field behind the old bee lab. As if all that weren’t enough, there are numerous native pollinator houses tucked into nooks around the site, many of them occupied with the brood of solitary native bees that use rose petals, or leaves, or sparkly mineral-rich earth to seal their brood chambers off from the elements.

Recently, an article from Bee World reminded Dr. Burgett of a little-known ceramic top bar hive heralding from the time and place of Aristotle. A seventeenth century beekeeper named Zuanne Papadopoli described the hive in his memoirs, which are quoted in the Bee World article:

“In Crete these [hives] were earthenware vessels similar to those in which lemon and orange trees are planted, though much smaller and with a lid of the same material, which protruded two fingers breadth all round, for the water to run off the vessel when it rained. At the bottom was the usual hole for the bees to pass in and out and at the top there were placed a number of small lengths of wood (cantenelle) [top bars] two fingers in breadth, on top of which they placed the lid.”


The article inspired Dr. Burgett to increase the diversity of his colonies by one more. He asked Cynthia Spencer from Work in Clay to create a reproduction as true to the original ceramic hive as possible. His design features an entry hole near the bottom, decorative handles on both sides, and a heavy wooden top to act as an outer cover. Slight variations in the upper lip of the ceramic allow for ventilation between the hive and the top bars, which have wedges affixed underside to provide scaffold for the bee comb.

The hive was completed in November and with any luck, will be populated with a healthy colony of bees early next spring. If you come out to visit, ask Dr. Burgett to give you a tour of the place. You won’t be disappointed.


2 Responses to “Potted Bees at OCCUH”

  1. Penny O says:

    I’d love to visit OCCUH and see all the bee situations. Thanks for the article!

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