Most beekeepers have never even seen a Tower Hive, and beauty is not its selling point. What it may be, however, is an interesting approach to varroa control via easy (or easier) drone brood removal. And you might end up with a bumping honey harvest, to boot.
UMD is looking for beekeepers with four (or a multiple of four) hives, some curiousity, and some time to gauge whether this approach to varroa control might be valid and valuable for beekeepers in Maryland. UMD needs beekeepers to be able to provide 4 hives in a single apiary: two to be used in a Tower configuration, one to be managed as usual, and another to be managed with the standard hive configuration using drone brood removal. As much work as this is, creating an experiment with valid controls is one of the missing pieces as most of us share our lessons from beekeeping success and failure, and merely participating in such an exercise can actually help your ability to analyze and manage your results.
As you probably know, varroa preferentially infest drone brood in their reproductive process, and both creating specific areas in the hive for drone brood creation and timely removal of the drone brood before it hatches are known chemical-free methods of varroa control. Getting down to those drone brood frames in a honey-loaded summer hive can be one heck of a chore around here, though, and failure to dig in and remove drone brood can actually balloon the mite population in your colony.
The Tower Hive is a design which seeks to make easy access to the brood nest possible even while leaving honey supers in place and minimally disrupting hive functions. By pairing two brood nests and having them share honey supers, beekeepers even get the superior honey production benefit of a two queen hive.
Tower hives consist of two brood areas (either two deeps or three mediums each) placed right next to each other, with shared honey overlapping the area where the two colonies touch. A queen excluder sits under the honey supers, making sure that the two queens never meet. Modified telescoping hive covers (or nuc covers) protect the remaining exposed top of the brood areas. Underneath those modified covers are frames of drone comb. Instead of plowing through two or more honey supers, the beekeeper can just lift a half-cover for direct access to drone brood for easy removal.
The bees do not fight in the honey supers: they are carrying nectar and stores (which always makes a bee popular), and their scents are all mixed from the brood nests below. The protocol available from UMD (email Jennie Stitzinger at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215-901-3857) includes both instructions for making the Tower Hive and detailed management and reporting requirements for this project.
Protocol located at www.mdbeekeepers.org/downloads/Tower_Protocol_draft_32012.pdf