Saturday, July 20, 2013

The House of Bees

Gebeyehu is a most imaginative beekeeper. I had the pleasure of visiting his farm in Yewbush, Ethiopia. Gebeyehu designed his house to accommodate his family and his bee hives. The sturdy construction is like that of other Amhara farm houses. Eucalyptus poles are plastered with mud. Unlike most area farm houses, that are one story, Gebeyehu’s house is two stories. The upper story is smaller than the lower story, providing an elevated gallery all around the house under a broad, overhanging tin roof. This gallery, surrounding Gebeyehu’s second-story bedroom, holds dozens of bee hives. Three tiers of hive stands hold bee hives facing outward on all four sides of the house. There is space behind all of the bee hives for Gebeyehu to conveniently access the hives. Bees exit the hives in all directions from the second story, flying above the heads of children and adults in the yard. The broad, tin roof above the bee hive gallery shades the hives from the tropical sun.

Gebeyehu’s house of bees contains all three types of bee hives in use in Ethiopia, traditional, transitional top bar hives, and modern. Gebeyehu has modified some of his modern Zander hives by connecting the hive bodies end-to-end instead of atop one another. This arrangement creates a horizontal hive with removable frames. From the outside, this modified Zander hive looks like a Tanzanian top bar hive. This hive gives the beekeeper the advantages of access without lifting heavy hive boxes. The hive is worked like a top bar hive, but it has the sturdy removable frames of a top bar hive. Two of these horizontal hives are visible on the second tier of hives in today’s photo of Gebeyehu’s house. Traditional hives are long cylinders built of cane. Modern Zander hives are upright boxes, usually painted yellow in Ethiopia. A small child tends to her infant sibling snuggled in her backpack while bees fly overhead. People and bees live in harmony here.


  1. Thanks Richard for a fascinating post. It's amazing to see how people from other cultures and countries take on beekeeping and I think it it also demonstrates the versatility and flexibility of bees in adapting to different environments. Recently I wrote about a Sicilian apiary which again has different equipment and beekeeping methods.

  2. Thank you for sharing. I love stories about bee and human homes in close contact.