Beehives and their properties fundamentally influence beekeeping

We think that todays beehives are not only tools for modern beekeeping, but they influence greatly what our beekeeping is like, how laborious it is, how profitable it is and last but not least, how enjoyable it is. Labour, profit and joy comes hand in hand.

Our goal is, of course, with the least effort to get significant profit and great enjoyment. Beehives and their properties resulting from quality of used materials and construction are an important factor in this effort

A brief look into beekeeping history show that fifty years ago, only a few beekeepers would think of beekeeping in non-insulated beehives. There is lots of information in beekeeping literature about wall thickness (bee gums, jara, tree hollows 80-100 mm) or straw skeps (30-50 mm). Those certainly aren`t thin. Of course we do not want to go back to ancient beekeeping practices, although principles and some rules remain unchanged. In 1948, Farrar found out that made of wood with walls 1 inch thick are sufficient, since colonies do not heat up the beehive in winter anyway, thus 1-inch wood beehives were born. It is very important to mention that Farrar lived in California, which geographically sits at subtropics zone. In Europe, the subtropics zone is at the north of Africa and the south of Mediterranean countries.

In our opinion, the use of wood beehives in temperate zone seems to be problematic

  • sweetness of cheap beehives and a dream of low-investment beekeeping is beat by the bitterness of winter (sometimes summer) feeding. Advocates of this beehive system recommend at least 23 kg of sugar syrup, ideally 30 kg
  • uniting with a stronger colony as a way of swarming control and strengthening parent colony is being presented as an advantage, but it is rather a necessity
  • it is recommended to winter very strong colonies which are able to deal with low temperatures. It is not easy doing it the natural way (colony sets the winter size on its own), so there is a need to make splits and strengthen the parent colony. Strengthening with splits in August/September has no effect, strengthening parent colony later comes as a viable solution

Acting on the above mentioned result in more work needed, there are higher costs of sugar stocks which reduce profitability, there are suddenly other problems which surely do not add to the joy of beekeeping.

We recommend reading an article about our research about energy loss and its effect on honey production or about research about energy loss and its effect on varroa mites when using well insulated beehives.

Some time after, supers with walls filled with 20 mm thick polystyrene inserts were made (still in production today) in order to become thermally insulating and were called "insulated". Our research about energy loss and its effect on honey production shows, that beehives with 20 mm polystyrene wall inserts have even poorer thermal insulation than wood beehives. There were tests conducted by others with the same result, therefore the conclusion was that insulating a beehive was not necessary. However, we need to go deeper.

Polystyrene beehives come onto the stage

Beekeepers know that if they create optimal conditions for maintaining temperature inside beehive, they can stimulate and accelerate colony spring development and hatching of new bees, which are due to quickly replace natural loss of winter bees. In 1962, Ing. Václav Smělý, a czech beekeeper who was introducing the production of foam polystyrene, was not satisfied with the heat-retaining capability of contemporary beehives. He decided to test this new insulating material and began beekeeping in polystyrene beehives with 80 mm thick walls. He found out that a heavily insulated beehive is particularly suitable for bee colonies. He diligently analyzed results and experiences and published them, one can find his work here. At that time, noone produced such beehives in Czechoslovakia, therefore they did not make their way into practice.

A fundamental change in beekeeping world occurred after varroa mite has spread (Varroa destructor). The horror that continues to these days results in massive colony deaths, decreasing the numbers of beekeepers, decreasing the number of colonies, pollination problems and related environmental issues. Everyone knows there is something wrong going on with bees.

We believe that fundamental changes that have occurred in past half century and prior to current period of high losses are:

  • introduction of wood beehives or otherwise poor heat-retaining beehives
  • low efficiency in treatment for varroa mites