Hives are the heart and soul of any beekeepers armory. This is literally the single most important beekeeping equipment you need to get right! Happy bees mean a happy beekeeper, and what houses those bees live in can be the key to achieving this. I am sure you want to live in a nice house! Bees do too! In recent years, you may have heard of the AZ Hive! If you want to find out what this new bee hive type is and whether it is any good, please read on 🙂 This is your ultimate AZ Hive Guide.
What is the AZ Hive?
The AZ Hive is a beehive that is positioned sideways when compared to a regular Langstroth hive. It almost looks like a kitchen cupboard with comb frames in it. This means that to take your frames out of your AZ Hive you need to slide them sideways rather that up and out of the top of the hive.
The AZ Hive has two stacks of frames. The bottom stack is the brood box and the upper stack is the honey super. The frames used in an AZ Hive are different from most other hives. The dimensions are different and two sides of the frame are concave to avoid crushing bees when sliding them in and out of the hive.
Originally, the AZ Hive is on the larger side and part of a hive house. Essentially an outhouse with the bank of hives making up one of the walls. These are great for larger scale beekeeping operations, and the sideways nature of the AZ Hive makes them perfect for stacking on trucks. Making it so much easier to transport your hives or start a business helping your local farmers with pollination.
These days it is also possible to get smaller AZ hives that would be more like the size of a typical Langstroth hive, as a standalone unit. This would look more like a rural mail box than a whole outhouse.
The AZ Hive has some metal rods inside that will hold the frames in place, with metal spacers at each end to help maintain enough space between frames for your bees.
For the visual learners amongst you, here is an awesome video from Richard Noel where he goes over his new AZ Hives in detail.
Where did the AZ Hive Come From?
Whether you are aware of this or not, a small country in Europe called Slovenia has been a hotbed of beekeeping since the 18th Century. Slovenia is a mountainous country (as you might expect being close to Austria), and this among other things has led Slovenian beekeepers to build their craft in a different way to most North American beekeepers.
One of the main differences is the distinct AZ Hive, which is named after its creator, Alberti-Žnideršič. As described above, it is a beehive type that is positioned sideways rather than the up and down of many typical beehives. I am not sure what else we have Slovenia to thank for, but bee hives are definitely on the list 🙂
10 Things We LOVE about the AZ Hive?
1. More Natural
Keeping bees in this more horizontal style of beehive is much more natural for the bees, and won’t disturb them as much as a regular hive. Repeatedly removing the top of a beehive and lifting frames out is much more disruptive than opening a side door and sliding them sideways. This will lead to much less bee disturbance whilst you are working on the hives. It is great to not have angry bees, and/or bees continually flying into your face as to try and do your work as a beekeeper.
2. Less Effort
Lifting heavy honey supers and honey frames up and out of a wooden box is much more strenuous than sliding them out sideways. Have you ever tried sliding a heavy box along the floor rather than picking it up? If you have you will know how much easier it is to slide sideways, and this translates into beekeeping with an AZ Hive too!
3. More Protection
As a beekeeper, we love our bees, and I don’t know about you, but I hate losing colonies over Winter. Depending on the exact environment you live in, Winters can be brutal for the regular honey bee. This leads to you having to spend a lot of time, effort and money insulating your hive.
With an AZ Hive, the bees are protected by a hive house, meaning they are far less exposed to the elements. Therefore, they see much less fluctuation in temperature during the different seasons. It is quite the rarity to loose a colony over Winter when using an AZ Hive.
For those of you that still have no idea about Slovenia, trust me, it’s a cold place. So it doesn’t surprise me that they came up with such a Winter proof beehive setup!
4. Year Round Beekeeping
Another advantage of the bee house that an AZ Hive employs is the fact that it is much easier for a beekeeper to work his or her bees during the Winter. It’s not just the bees that are less exposed to the elements with an AZ Hive, the beekeeper can also work without being as exposed as with a traditional style North American hive setup.
It is also far easier to work at nighttime when you have a bee house with lights in it, perfect for the busy hobbyist beekeepers among us.
5. All Together Now
As you can stack multiple beehives together with the AZ Hive, it means you can have more bees in a smaller space. It is also much easier to maintain and check multiple beehives when they are all grouped together in a hive house. Beats sloshing around a muddy field, right? Simply reach across to the next hive in the stack.
6. Less Propolis Sticking
With a typical beehive, both the frames and the containing beehive are made from wood, which makes it easier for these to get stuck together with propolis. However, with the AZ Hive, the frames are placed on metal rods, and this metal on wood combination is much less likely to get stuck together with propolis, making your job as a beekeeper much easier. Everyone hates having to loosen frames that are stuck together with a hive tool!
7. Better BeeKeeping Experience
With an AZ hive you can hear and smell your bee colonies much more, as there is a screen door on the front of the hive rather than the solid piece of wood of a typical hive. This is even more so if you operate a bee house with your AZ Hives. In fact, in Slovenia, sleeping in your bee house with all that ‘bee air’ is considered a type of therapy. People with respiratory issues are often recommended to do this as a natural treatment.
8. One Place for Beekeeping
It may seem like an extra expense to have a bee house attached to your bee hives. But I see this as a massive positive. Simply put, it is a great place to hide all your beekeeping equipment (such as honey extractors) away from your questioning partner 🙂 Imagine this extraction process…. take frame from hive, place in the honey extractor and place back in the hive! Simple! All in one shed (I mean bee house!!).
9. Better Setup for Feeding
A typical AZ Hive will have a feeder built into the bottom screen door at the back of the hive. Having feeding as an integrated part of your hive makes it a much simpler and cleaner process. And, because you are feeding inside the hive there is much less likelihood of robbing of feed from other colonies.
10. It Looks Way Cooler
Well, maybe not cooler 🙂 Is beekeeping ever cool? 🙂 To me it is at least! Anyway, look at some of the AZ Hive houses below. They look way nicer than your usual bank of Langstroth hives. This is also helped by the fact that traditionally the front of these hives are decorated with Slovenian native art depicting the toll of their beekeepers and farmers 🙂
5 Things the AZ Hive Could do Better?
1. Not Compatible with Other Hives
I have seen many disasters and propolis sealed beehives due to people thinking they can put regular frames into an AZ Hive. Langstroth hives, for example, have a different dimension of frame, as well as not having the concave frame ends. What this means for a beekeeper running AZ Hives is you will need to find a parts supplier that specifically deals in AZ Hive accessories and parts. You can’t just run down your local bee store (most likely).
This also affects your honey extraction process, as most honey extractors are designed to work with the more common Langstroth frames. You might struggle to find a suitable extractor to suit the dimensions of the typical AZ hive frame dimensions.
To get the full AZ Hive experience, you will need an outhouse style setup. Couple this with the fact that AZ Hives are not as common or widely available, and the cost starts to get considerably higher than with the typical beehive setup.
The counter to this is that your bees will survive better in Winter when placed in an AZ Hive, making this one of the ways that the initial cost can be offset.
3. More Maintenance
Running AZ Hives will need more regular checking than with typical hives, such as the Langstroth. This is because there is less space for your honey filled frames. With a traditional hive you would simply add more honey supers to give the queen bee space, but with the AZ Hive you need to physically lift the honey filled frames out and into a different stack. As a AZ Hive owner, expect to be a bit busier during the peak season.
4. Not as Mobile
When using the AZ Hive in the traditional way as part of a bee house, it can be a lot harder to move the hives and re-position them. This means that you don’t have the flexibility that you may have with traditional hives, being able to re-position them when issues arise.
Therefore, it is vital that you make sure that you like the position of your AZ Hive before you install it. More importantly, can the local area support the amount of beehives you intend to put in your bee house. You don’t want to get everything setup and find out that you only have enough bloom in the area to support one hive! Plan your AZ Hive carefully.
5. Designed for Slovenian Conditions
As a beekeeper, the conditions are very different when you are based in Slovenia and North America. For example, the pollen flow in Slovenia is longer and steadier than the quick burst that we will get in North America. This means you could end up with crowded bees and swarming. Some North American suppliers of the AZ Hive have gotten around this by making a 3 tier stack of frames rather than the traditional Slovenian 2 tier setup. This will give your bees more space during prime pollen flow time.
Should You Buy an AZ Hive?
AZ Hives are literally a God-send for people that are not as able-bodied or strong. Working with these hives takes much less effort and power than a traditional beehive. If you are old or have some type of physically limiting condition, the AZ Hive will suit you perfectly. There are literally 90-year-old beekeepers in Slovenia using these hives, so age is no longer a barrier to this hobby or profession.
Aside from this, I don’t think the AZ Hive is good for the very small scale beekeeper. The benefits really come when you have something with a hive house, which probably equates to someone that wants to run more than a handful of hives.
If you fit any of the criteria above, why not give it a try. You may find your beekeeping match for life 🙂 I know a lot of people who have made the switch and swear by it. I myself am seriously considering it too.
AZ Hive Frequently Asked Questions
If bees escape your AZ Hive and end up in your bee house, what will happen?
Most AZ Hive bee houses have some type of vent or ventilation flap in them (often as part of the roof). As long as you leave one of them open at all times, the bee can simply fly out of this and back into their relevant hive. Just be aware that this may be a lot harder for a bee if it is dark outside.
There are also vents in the doors of a AZ Hive which you can simply leave open so that the bees can fly back in when they are ready.
How to install a package of bees in a AZ Hive?
Most AZ Hive owners will have a hive table, which is a small tray with one side open. This can be attached to the back of an open AZ Hive, and then the package of bees poured onto it. As long as the queen bee is in the hive, the bees will simply get drawn into the hive as well.
AZ Hives are often grouped together. How does a bee know where their hive is?
AZ Hives often have colorful designs or patterns on the front. As long as each hive has a distinct and different color or design on them, the bees will easily work out which AZ hive is theirs. Transfer won’t be an issue between your hives if you follow this rule.