About Bee Hives

What is a Cathedral Hive?

Beekeeping has come a long way since its humble beginnings. From top bar hives, to the traditional Langstroth model, beekeepers have had access to a variety of hives to suit their own individual needs.

One of the most unique and popular hives is the cathedral hive. In this article, we’ll explore what a cathedral hive is, the differences between a cathedral and a Langstroth hive, and the advantages of using a cathedral hive for beekeeping.

What is a Cathedral Hive?

A cathedral hive is a type of beehive that is designed to provide an environment similar to that of a wild bee hive. It is made up of two tiers, each of which houses two colonies of bees. This type of hive utilizes a sloped roof that allows rain and condensation to run off and away from the hive entrance. The hive is designed to be permanent and is often covered with a roof, or siding, to provide additional protection from the elements.

The two tiers of the hive each contain six frames of comb. The top tier is filled with a cluster of bees, while the lower tier is divided into two smaller sections. This allows for bees to move freely between the two tiers, allowing for natural swarming behavior. The comb size of each tier is smaller than that of a Langstroth hive, resulting in shorter build times, reduced maintenance costs, and more efficient use of beekeeping resources.

The Concept Behind Cathedral Hives

To gain a deeper understanding of Cathedral Hives, it is essential to explore their history and origins, including the significant contributions made by Brother Adam, a renowned beekeeper.

The roots of Cathedral Hives can be traced back to ancient beekeeping practices and the utilization of various hive designs throughout history. Beekeepers have always strived to create structures that would mimic the natural habitats of honey bees, with the purpose of fostering optimal conditions for their well-being and productivity.

Cathedral Hives, in particular, draw inspiration from the grandiosity and magnificence of gothic cathedrals. This hive design incorporates vertical, upward expansion, as well as intricate multi-layered frames, resembling the architectural features found in cathedrals.

By imitating these impressive structures, Cathedral Hives create ample space for bees to live and work comfortably, while also facilitating better management and observation by beekeepers.

Contribution of Brother Adam to the Development of Cathedral Hives

A pivotal figure in the history of Cathedral Hives is Brother Adam, an accomplished Benedictine monk and beekeeper. Born as Karl Kehrle in 1898, Brother Adam devoted his life to the study and preservation of honey bees, revolutionizing modern beekeeping in the process.

Brother Adam joined the Benedictine monastery at Buckfast Abbey in Devon, England, where he became the resident beekeeper. His passion for honey bees led him to embark on numerous journeys around the world in search of unique bee strains that possessed desirable traits, such as disease resistance and high honey production. Through careful cross-breeding and selection, he successfully created the Buckfast bee, which became renowned for its adaptability and productivity.

Drawing inspiration from the natural comb structure of bees, Brother Adam designed and refined the Cathedral Hive. He recognized that providing honey bees with a hive design that closely emulated their natural habitat would result in improved colony health and honey production.

The multi-layered frames within Cathedral Hives allow bees to build comb in a manner similar to their preferences in the wild. This design not only enhances the bees’ overall well-being but also facilitates easier inspection and manipulation for beekeepers, aiding in colony management and maintenance.

Brother Adam’s dedication to the development and promotion of Cathedral Hives significantly contributed to their widespread adoption and popularity among beekeepers worldwide. His holistic and scientific approach to beekeeping revolutionized industry practices and continues to inspire modern beekeepers to this day.

Structure and Design

Here, we will explore the unique features and characteristics of Cathedral Hives and compare them with traditional Langstroth hives, shedding light on their distinctive qualities and how they can impact beekeeping practices.

Unique Features and Characteristics of Cathedral Hives

  • Innovative Vertical Design: One of the most notable features of Cathedral Hives is their vertical structure. Unlike traditional hives that are arranged horizontally, Cathedral Hives are built vertically, resembling towering structures that mimic the architectural marvels they are named after. This design promotes natural honeycomb construction, enabling bees to build their colonies in a way that aligns with their instincts and facilitates easier honey extraction.
  • Frameless System: Unlike Langstroth hives that utilize wooden frames to support the honeycomb, Cathedral Hives do not incorporate frames. Instead, bees are allowed to create their own natural comb structure, unhindered by arbitrary limitations. This allows for a more organic and harmonious development within the hive, providing bees with greater freedom to shape their habitat.
  • Enhanced Ventilation: Cathedral Hives are designed with an emphasis on improved ventilation. With their vertically stacked structure, these hives facilitate efficient airflow, aiding in temperature and moisture regulation within the hive. Better ventilation ensures that bees can maintain optimal conditions for brood rearing and honey production, contributing to overall colony health and productivity.

Comparison with Traditional Langstroth Hives

  • Space Efficiency: Cathedral Hives offer a distinct advantage in terms of space utilization. With their vertically oriented design, these hives maximize the available area, allowing for denser colony populations. This efficient utilization of space can be particularly beneficial for urban beekeepers or those with limited land resources, enabling them to maintain thriving colonies within restricted areas.
  • Natural Comb Building: One of the key differences between Cathedral Hives and Langstroth hives lies in the comb construction. While Langstroth hives require the use of pre-made frames, Cathedral Hives allow bees to construct their combs naturally. This grants bees the freedom to shape their comb according to their instincts, ultimately promoting more natural behavior and reducing the likelihood of misaligned honeycomb.
  • Simplified Management: Another noteworthy aspect of Cathedral Hives is their simplified management approach. Unlike traditional hives that often necessitate regular inspections and interventions, Cathedral Hives provide a more hands-off approach, reducing the need for constant human interference. This can be advantageous for beekeepers looking for a more low-maintenance and sustainable beekeeping method.

Benefits of Cathedral Hives

The unique design of the Cathedral Hive not only improves colony health but also facilitates natural beekeeping techniques.

Improved Colony Health and Productivity:

Cathedral Hives have revolutionized the way bee colonies thrive. With their innovative design, these hives promote optimal bee health and productivity. How exactly does this happen?

cathedral bee hive

1. Ample space for expansion: Cathedral Hives provide greater internal volume compared to traditional hives. This surplus space allows the colony to expand more freely, reducing the risk of congestion and promoting healthier bees. When bees have ample room to roam and expand, they are less likely to feel cramped, fostering a more comfortable and harmonious living environment.

2. Enhanced natural ventilation: Proper ventilation is crucial for a thriving bee colony. Cathedral Hives feature specifically designed ventilation systems that promote the circulation of fresh air within the hive. Good ventilation not only regulates temperature and humidity levels but also reduces the buildup of excess moisture. This ventilation system helps prevent the growth of harmful molds and fungi, ensuring healthier and more vigorous bees.

3. Varied brood chamber layout: Cathedral Hives incorporate a unique arrangement of frames, offering a more natural brood chamber layout. This arrangement mimics the configuration bees would have in their natural habitat, allowing the queen bee to lay her eggs and allowing larvae to grow in a manner that is closer to their instinctual behavior. This natural brood chamber layout promotes more active and productive colonies, leading to overall increased colony health.

Natural Beekeeping Techniques Facilitated by Cathedral Hives:

Aside from promoting the well-being of bee colonies, Cathedral Hives also facilitate natural beekeeping techniques. These techniques align with the bees’ natural behaviors and instincts, resulting in stronger and more resilient colonies. Here’s how Cathedral Hives contribute to natural beekeeping:

1. Swarm control: Bees have a natural instinct to swarm when a colony becomes crowded. Cathedral Hives offer an expansive environment that reduces the likelihood of overcrowding, minimizing swarming tendencies. By providing ample space and promoting continuous expansion, beekeepers can better manage and control swarming activities, ensuring the health and sustainability of their colonies.

2. Integrated pest management: Cathedral Hives advocate for natural pest management techniques. This approach focuses on utilizing sustainable methods, depending less on synthetic chemicals and more on promoting healthy and resistant colonies. By employing integrated pest management strategies, such as selective breeding for disease resistance and monitoring techniques, beekeepers can maintain healthier hives without compromising the well-being of their bees or the environment.

3. Reduced stress: Beekeeping can be a stressful activity for both beekeepers and their colonies. However, the design of Cathedral Hives aims to minimize stress factors. The spacious layout, optimal ventilation, and replication of natural conditions all contribute to a less stressful environment for the bees. As a result, colonies under less stress are more resistant to diseases and exhibit better overall productivity.

Challenges and Considerations

Before implementing a Cathedral Hive, it is important to be aware of the potential drawbacks and carefully consider various factors.

Potential Drawbacks of Cathedral Hives:

1. Costly Setup:

  • Cathedral Hives, with their intricate design and specialized materials, can be more expensive to set up compared to traditional hives.
  • The initial investment may deter some beekeepers, especially those on a tight budget or just starting out.

2. Limited Accessibility:

  • Due to their vertical structure and multiple levels, Cathedral Hives require a different approach to management and beekeeping techniques.
  • Accessibility for inspections and maintenance can be more challenging, especially for beekeepers with physical limitations or in adverse weather conditions.

3. Potential for Queen Separation:

  • As bees are naturally inclined to build their combs downwards, managing Cathedral Hives may lead to some issues with the queen being separated from her brood.
  • It is important to regularly monitor hive organization and ensure proper queen and brood placement to avoid disruption in colony development.

Important Factors to Consider before implementing a Cathedral Hive:

1. Experience and Expertise:

  • Beginners in beekeeping may find it more challenging to handle the unique management requirements of a Cathedral Hive.
  • It is crucial to have prior knowledge and experience in traditional beekeeping techniques to ensure successful implementation.

2. Bee Health and Productivity:

  • Consider the health and productivity of your bee colony before transitioning to a Cathedral Hive.
  • If your bees are experiencing any health issues or showing signs of low productivity, addressing those concerns before introducing the new hive system is recommended.

3. Location and Environment:

  • The physical location and prevailing environmental conditions play a significant role in Cathedral Hive performance.
  • Assess factors such as wind exposure, sun orientation, and available forage in your region to determine if it is suitable for Cathedral Hive implementation.

4. Long-Term Commitment:

  • Cathedral Hives require consistent monitoring, maintenance, and management to ensure optimal conditions for the bees.
  • Consider if you have the necessary time and dedication to commit to the long-term care of your Cathedral Hive.

How to Set Up a Cathedral Hive

Now, we will guide you through the step-by-step process of assembling and installing a Cathedral Hive. Whether you are a seasoned beekeeper or a beginner, this comprehensive guide will ensure you have a successful setup. Additionally, we will provide you with recommended practices for managing Cathedral Hives.

Assembling a Cathedral Hive

To begin the setup, follow these simple steps:

1. Gather the required materials:

  • Cathedral Hive components (base, supers, frames, etc.)
  • Protective gear (beekeeping suit, gloves, veil)
  • Hammer, nails, and other necessary tools
  • Bees and queen (already purchased or obtained)

2. Start with the hive base:

  • Place the hive base on a stable surface in a suitable location.
  • Ensure there is enough space around it for easy access and maintenance.
  • Level the base to prevent any tilting or instability.

3. Assemble the supers:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to assemble the supers and frames.
  • Ensure all joints are secure, providing a sturdy structure for the bees.
  • Position the supers on top of the hive base one by one.

4. Insert the frames:

  • Carefully place the frames inside the super, leaving enough space between each frame.
  • Ensure they are centered and properly aligned within the super.

5. Install the cover:

  • Place the cover on top of the supers, ensuring a snug fit.
  • The cover should protect the hive from the elements while allowing proper ventilation.

Installing Bees in a Cathedral Hive

Once your Cathedral Hive is assembled, it’s time to introduce the bees. Here’s what you need to do:

1. Prepare the bees:

  • Prior to installing the bees, make sure they are healthy and are acclimated to their new surroundings.
  • It is advisable to feed the bees before introducing them to encourage hive establishment.

2. Transfer the bees:

  • Open the hive cover and gently remove a few frames to create space for the bees.
  • Carefully transfer the bees from their temporary container or package into the hive.
  • It is essential to avoid crushing any bees during this process.

3. Introduce the queen:

  • Locate the queen within the bee package or cage and carefully release her into the hive.
  • Ensure the queen has easy access to the frames, allowing her to establish a colony.

4. Close the hive:

  • Once the bees and queen are safely inside, close the hive by reassembling the frames and supers.
  • Make sure the hive is securely sealed to prevent any unwanted intruders.

Recommended Practices for Managing Cathedral Hives

Now that your Cathedral Hive is set up with bees, it’s crucial to follow recommended practices for successful hive management. Consider the following:

1. Regular inspections:

  • Conduct routine inspections to check the hive’s health, honey production, and the general well-being of the bees.
  • Look for signs of disease, pests, or any potential issues, taking appropriate action when necessary.

2. Feeding and maintenance:

  • Ensure the bees have a continuous supply of food, especially during periods of low nectar flow or winter months.
  • Regularly monitor and manage the hive to control pests, maintain cleanliness, and prevent overcrowding.

3. Swarm prevention:

  • Implement appropriate swarm prevention techniques to maintain a healthy and productive hive.
  • Recognize early signs of swarming, such as increased bee population and the presence of queen cells.

4. Harvesting honey:

cathedral bee hive
  • Follow proper honey harvesting practices, ensuring you leave enough honey for the bees’ winter survival.
  • Respect local regulations and ensure sustainable honey extraction methods


As you can see, the cathedral hive is a unique and beneficial design that offers a number of advantages for both the beekeeper and the bees. By providing improved airflow and an improved ability to withstand floods, as well as a more efficient use of resources, cathedral hives are a great option for beekeepers of all skill levels. Whether you’re a seasoned beekeeper or a beginner, the cathedral hive is an option worth considering.


What is a Cathedral Hive?

  • The Cathedral Hive is a specialized beehive design that aims to provide a conducive and sustainable environment for beekeeping. Its unique structure consists of vertical frames extending downwards, mimicking the appearance of a cathedral window.

How does the Cathedral Hive benefit beekeepers?

  • The Cathedral Hive offers numerous benefits to beekeepers. Firstly, its vertical frame design allows for easy inspections, hive management, and honey harvesting. Additionally, this hive design creates a natural separation between brood and honey chambers, promoting better colony health and minimizing the risk of diseases.

Can the Cathedral Hive be used by beginners?

  • Absolutely! The Cathedral Hive is suitable for both beginners and experienced beekeepers. Its user-friendly design simplifies the inspection process, making it easier for beginners to learn and understand the inner workings of the hive. With proper guidance and resources, beginners can confidently start their beekeeping journey with this hive.

How many bees can a Cathedral Hive accommodate?

  • A fully functioning Cathedral Hive can accommodate a healthy colony of bees consisting of approximately 50,000 to 60,000 individual bees, including worker bees, drones, and the queen. The hive’s spacious interior allows for the necessary expansion and growth of the bee population.

Does the Cathedral Hive require any special maintenance?

  • While the Cathedral Hive doesn’t require any intricate maintenance, regular upkeep is important. Beekeepers should routinely inspect the frames, monitor hive health, and address any signs of disease, pests, or mold. Additionally, occasional cleaning, hive painting, and structural repairs ensure the hive’s longevity and efficiency.

Can I extract honey easily from a Cathedral Hive?

  • Yes, the Cathedral Hive is designed to facilitate honey extraction. Its vertical frame system allows beekeepers to access individual frames without disturbing the entire hive. By carefully removing frames filled with capped honey, beekeepers can easily extract honey without causing unnecessary stress to the bees or disrupting the overall colony.

Is the Cathedral Hive suitable for urban beekeeping?

  • Absolutely! The Cathedral Hive is a versatile design that can be adapted for urban beekeeping. Its vertical structure maximizes limited space, making it an ideal choice for urban environments. Furthermore, the hive’s design helps minimize disturbances to neighbors and allows for efficient hive management within urban settings.

How does the Cathedral Hive promote bee health and well-being?

  • The Cathedral Hive promotes bee health through its thoughtful design. By separating brood and honey chambers, it minimizes the risk of diseases and pests spreading across different sections of the hive. Additionally, the hive’s natural shapes and ventilation provide a conducive environment for the bees, enabling them to thrive and maintain optimal health.

Can the Cathedral Hive be used in different climates?

  • Yes, the Cathedral Hive can be used in various climates with minor adaptations. Its sturdy construction and insulation options ensure the hive can withstand both hot and cold weather conditions. Beekeepers can modify ventilation options and insulation thickness according to the specific requirements of their region, thus accommodating a wide range of climates.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button