The Zest Hive

Beekeeping for the 21st Century


There are many excellent books about bees, beekeeping and how to do it. The number seems to grow weekly. There is, however, a void the size of the Grand Canyon in the available literature. It is the elephant in the room. It is for a technical design led approach to bee hives and beekeeping that is less costly and more sustainable, healthier for bees and can be built by anyone without obtaining a mortgage. What is needed is a simple, appropriate hive design that is based on a sound understanding of the physiology of bees and of modern materials. Also required is backup equipment of a nucleus box, pollen trap and honey warmer that can be made with a few D.I.Y. skills and which can reasonably be described as sustainable. 


This treatise is intended to fill the void with the ZEST Hive and a range of equipment. They have, in use, improved the life and productivity of bees and beekeepers, raising the fertility of the eco system in which they are based and encourage more people to keep bees. A virtuous circle can be established where let alone beekeeping is again possible. 21 ZEST hive colonies were taken into the winter of 2012/13 and 21 came out, all in good health and with a surplus of stores. 3 of those were queen less, but after the mating conditions of the 2012 summer this was not surprising. 


The development of the ZEST Hive began in 2007. The original ambition was to design a hive suitable for beekeeping in developing countries where resources are few, but which did include concrete blocks, discarded metal roof sheets, bamboo for making frames, and fishing line to hold them together. Examples were built and tested as proof of the concept. Minor modifications were made with reservations about the fishing line, which stretched. This was discarded and replaced with brass split pin paper fasteners normally used for holding bank statement together. 


The ZEST Hive design then re-focussed on developed (cold) country use incorporating loose laid ultra-lightweight insulated blocks for walls, floors and roofs. They accommodated double depth British Standard brood frames fixed one above the other with ply strips joining them at the sides. Conversion for beekeepers from wood hives to insulated block ones could then be a natural progression using their existing B.S. frames and bees. Larger frames such as Langstroths can also be used by simply adjusting the internal width of the ZEST to receive them. Alternatively the internal width of the ZEST can be determined by the discipline of 610/620 long blocks used in the floor. A greater width of frame would reduce the ratio of external wall to volume. Perhaps previous frame sizes should be abandoned completely and allow the ZEST hive to be determined by the insulated block sizes available. The ZEST hive is one based upon a “loose fit” design concept rather than British Standards. 


The natural habitat of choice for honeybees is a cave or a large hollow tree that has high thermal capacity. This moderates the temperature as with a storage heater (or cooler). We do not seem to have improved on this habitat of choice for the bees, but have made matters worse for them with thin walled wood hives. They are not appropriate to their designated task of enabling bee health and of the beekeepers ambitions whose interest is primarily financial? 


The single and double walled hives that are in use to keep bees are the housing equivalent of a cardboard box under Waterloo Bridge. It is furthermore made from shockingly expensive cardboard with high maintenance needs and with the functional over-design of Heath Robinson on steroids. 


The ambient temperature in which traditional wood hives exist is constantly changing over the seasons, from day to night and over the day caused by weather. The bees need to constantly thermo-regulate the brood temperature at 35°C if the brood is to survive and thrive. This not only stresses the bees, but is costly in honey, both to heat the hive and to collect water to cool it. 


Bees can survive if they are wet or cold, but not both together. Thermo-regulation results in the constant variation in the relative humidity within the hive causing condensation on cold surfaces. This condensation is the same as that which we would experience from a hot shower in a cold bathroom. Condensation is particularly noticeable in winter when the temperature difference between the brood nest and the outside can be 40°C. It is a measure of bee resilience and a true wonder that any bees at all survive the winter in the wood boxes that we give them to live in. 


In order to “design out” these fundamental flaws in traditional wood hives the ZEST hive concept for hive design and bee management was initiated. It was originally for use in ambient weather conditions, but it was then decided in conjunction with Tony Wright and Roy Pink of the lnstrumented Hive Partnership that an experiment with the ZEST Hive be independently tested by them during 2010. This was to match a “cold” ZEST with an artificially heated one and to do so during the early brood raising season, just to see what the effect was. The heated hive did shockingly well when compared to the cold ZEST hive. There may have been some “drift” to the warm hive. 


The IHP group, principally Roy Pink, remained committed to the experiment though out 2011/12 season and who also accepted responsibility for testing the JUMBO ZEST hive which contained 4 colonies. He became particularly interested in the effect on Varroa infestation in ZEST hives heated during the winter. 


Hunter gathering of honey was replaced by the keeping of honeybees in straw skeps hundreds of years ago. In mid Victorian times Mr. Langstroth invented the movable frame hive concept and patented it. He placed them in a wood brood box based on a champagne crate. The first was a sensible concept, because we could now manage the bees without killing them. The champagne crate was not so smart, since it bore none of the natural thermo-regulation capabilities of a cave or large hollow tree. We are no longer restrained by the need to drink champagne in order to have somewhere to keep bees. With the ZEST we have designed something better. It is time that we did, but first some broad philosophy about design against which any design can be measured. 


I do not make heroes easily, but one that I readily accept is Buckminster Fuller. 


The word “design” is generally understood as being what it looks like and/or how it works. Buckminster Fuller had insights into the design process which are worth reporting before moving on. As an architect and a general system theorist he was ahead of his time on the matter of design and who considered it to be the driving force for the advance of civilisation and the winning of wars at sea by “The Great Pirates”. Those “Pirates” who could do “MORE WITH LESS” won. The battle of Trafalgar was won by the British fleet being able to fire their guns every 4 minutes against 12 minutes for the French and Spanish, whose ships were turned from gun platforms into burning wrecks in short order. The British Empire was built on the subsequent mastery of the oceans. On such apparently small matters are the fortunes of nations and empires determined. 


Buckminster Fuller spoke of Ecology half a century ago and was aware of the unity of everything which he called simply “Universe”. 


To do MORE WITH LESS in energy terms is the fundamental drive of life where the efficient use of energy is paramount to survival, reproduction and evolution. Evolution is driven by consciousness’s pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain. 


Buckminster Fuller considered that any invention or design that would survive and thrive would have to do MORE WITH LESS. An example includes the radio valve, which was superseded by the transistor, which in turn was superseded by the microchip. All are gates through which an electrical signal passes in one direction, but each did more with less material and energy. Another example is of a stacking, polypropylene chair which superseded hand or machined wood ones. Further darker examples include the AK47, atomic weapons and the stealth bomber. 


The concept of “Design/Science” was also initiated by Buckminster Fuller. Design and Science are subjects that are usually seen at different ends of a school curriculum with Humanities in the middle and Sport somewhere outside in the rain. The school approach tends to give us design “as it looks”. It could be reasonably accused of feminizing design in which design is no longer inventing, designing, constructing and using made objects, but exhibiting good taste, found in the department stores across the planet, not on its battlefields…… nor in its apiaries. 


Buckminster Fuller said that we have to make up our minds to make sense or make money, if we want to be designers. To make sense, designs need to be made from the things we see around us that are already being used for something else, are deemed waste and have a low embodied energy. 


Buckminster Fuller’s understanding of Science is “taking something apart to understand it” and of Design is “putting something together” to use it. Design and Science were therefore inseparable. Two sides of the same coin. Without Science there can be no Design and without Design there is no reason for Science. This leads seamlessly on to “Design Method”. What is the process of Design if not a simple “how it looks” selection of colour, proportion and texture? 


There are five strands to the process that occurs when designing something that is beyond a mere visual experience. These strands are Objective/ Research/ Design/ Construction/ Feedback. This is not a linear process, but a circular one. Research, when carried out will perhaps lead to a restating of the Objective. The Design process may indicate a fresh Research strand to be pursued. Feedback is not something that happens at the end of the design or construction process, but permeates the whole.



Objective Click here          Research Click here         Design Click here        Construction Click here        Feedback Click here

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Bill Summers

Zest Hive Inventor

Bill has been a beekeeper for 40 years , 

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Happy Bees

Primary Objective

A fully populated Zest hive with 28 frames 

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Roy Pink

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Zest Hives at Hosie Bridge HQ

At Hosie Bridge there are five Zest hives 


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Recapping our cliff diving adventure while we backpacked through South America.