British National Hives
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How long do the hives last?
Plastic beehives have been used in Europe for at leasy 30 years, where they have proved both durable and effective, so much so that today in Denmark virtually 99% of all new hives sold ar emade of plastic, either expanded polystyrene or polyurethane. The position is similar in many northern European countries, particularly Germany where one of the largest equipment suppliers no longer even lists wooden hives in their catalogue. The Finnish designer of our hives who runs approximately 3,000 colonies claims he does not even know any beekeepers in Finland still using wooden hives. In total there are over half a million plastic hives in use in Europe today which is testament to their effectiveness and durability, the oldest polystyrene hives that we know of are 30 years plus and still in everyday use.
Do your hives fit normal national frames?
Our hives do fit standard national frames, either manley or hoffman. The only thing to remember is that our hives fit 10 frames instead of 11, which isn't really a limitation as the queen will lay on all of the frames as there is not a fluctuation of temperature.
Are your frames provided with nails?
Our frames are not provided with nails, however frame pins are available to order in the frame section of the website.
Do you sell 14 x 12 brood boxes?
We do hope to make a 14 x 12 in the future, some of our customers are using two of our supers with one of our floors (our floors are slightly deeper than normal floors) with 14 x 12 frames which isn't ideal but it does work.
Do I need to paint my hive?
Before being taken into use it is essential the hive components are painted. This prevents the growth of algae on the outside of the hive, deterioration by UV and in the case of the feeder is required for sealing and ease of cleaning. We recommend the floor and roof are fully painted on all surfaces but the brood chamber and supers need only be painted on the outside. Ideally two coats of paint should be applied, though one will suffice. The feeder requires additional painting on the inside, where the syrup sits. At least 3 coats are required otherwise the syrup will soak into the feeder and mould etc., will continue to grow even after you have washed it out. The interior "walk-way" the bees climb up through does not need painting but the surface the bees walk down to reach the syrup benefits from a light roughening with fine sandpaper to help the bees grip. If you have strong fingers the hard plastic edges can be slid off prior to painting for a neater finish. Water based exterior smooth masonry paint is recommend for all surfaces other than the inside of the feeder. This is quick drying and easily applied with a 4" wide fleece roller and a ½" brush for the fiddly bits. We have found Dulux Weathershield Smooth Masonry paint is an excellent choice. This paint contains an acrylic resin and gives excellent coverage and wears characteristics. Woodland Pearl No 1 in the Tailor Made range of this paint is an excellent matt green that suits the hives well. We used to recommend Cuprinol Garden Shades but it is not very hard wearing and we feel the extra durability and better coverage of the Dulux paint is worth the extra cost. One litre will be sufficient for two hives with supers although you will find you probably have to buy 2.5 litres. There is a school of thought that supports painting the hive components different colours so the bees can recognize their own hive better, but unless you have a large number of hives in the apiary this would not be economic. For the interior of the feeder we recommend four coats of interior gloss white paint Roughen the surface down which the bees climb to reach the syrup with fine sanding paper after the last coat. Alternatively, apply an extra coat to this surface only and sprinkle dry sand on it. You do not need to paint the interior surface the bees ascend - it would be pretty hard to reach in any case.
More information on hive care can be found here.
How long do you leave the hive before putting bees in (not painted inside)?
You can put the bees in more or less straight away in our experience but probably best to wait 24 hours to let the paint fully harden as it can still be a little soft even when touch dry and may be more easily damaged from knocks.
Are your hives compatible with wooden components?
Our national hives have rounded corners and an interlocking step, which makes them not quite compatible with wooden components or feeders.
I have put my hive together and have a piece left over, where does it go?
Usually when we are asked this question the piece you have left over is the entrance reducer, which slides into the grooves at the front of the floor.
How do I clean and sterilize a polystyrene bee hive?
The hives are best cleaned with a solution of washing soda, made up as directed on the packet. This will dissolve propolis and clean off any dirt etc. Use the hive tool very carefully to remove any propolis which is reluctant to dissolve being careful not to damage the hive itself and any wax. We recommend purchasing one of the large plastic double handled buckets obtainable from Builders’ Merchants and some DIY stores for washing the hive components. Domestic sinks are too small and this will also allow you to do the cleaning outside. A Plasterer's Bucket is even better as it is much larger but these take up more storage space and are more expensive.
Sterilisation of the hive can be carried out with a solution of household bleach, again made up as directed on the bottle. However, the best general sterilisation treatment is Virkon S, obtainable from farm suppliers. The 50g sachet is sufficient. Wear suitable protective equipment, including eye protection. You can also obtain elbow length rubber gloves from farm suppliers which are an excellent way of protecting your arms. We advise against using a brush due to the danger of flicking the bleach towards your face. A disposable washing up cloth is best. Thoroughly wash the hive after cleaning or sterilisation with cold water and preferably with a hose fitted with a spray or sprinkler - not a jet. Do not use a power washer as it will damage the surface of the plastic, although a power washer can be used to clean the plastic queen excluder. Virkon S will not kill AFB spores but a strong solution of bleach will. However, AFB is thankfully extremely rare so for general cleaning we recommend Virkon S over bleach as it is easier and safer to use.
Chemical sterilisation is also covered on the CSL publication "Foul Brood Diseases". The advice given in this document is what is reproduced above, augmented by our own experience of keeping bees in polystyrene hives for a number of years and talking to other similar beekeepers. A newer guide from Fera on sterilisation is available here. This contains the same advice as above but with a bit more detail.
Can Snelgrove, Cloake boards and the similar be used as normal, or does a top bee-space poly hive require dedicated boards on National hives?
Firstly, like queen excluders it may be necessary to sand off a little wood from the corners of the board so the hive body above the board fits properly - as the internal corners of the hive body at the overlap are rounded.
As the hives are top bee space there is a risk of some brace comb being built above the frames but as these boards are not normally left on the hive permanently this should not be a major issue. However, the simplest solution would simply be to turn the board upside down - this will create the correct bee space above and below it.
Can the entrance reducers be used as mouse guards?
The entrance reducers are mouse proof as the slot is too low for a mouse to squeeze under. The same concept of a low entrance is used by other manufacturers of polystyrene hives and it has been proven to work.
Is there any out gassing from the polystyrene as it is an oil based product?
Our hives are made from food grade expanded polystyrene. Expanded polystyrene is made from hollow beads which are filled with air and then fused together under pressure and temperature. The polystyrene itself is chemically inert and only steam is used in the manufacture of the hives. Therefore, you need have no concerns over any gasses escaping from the material. These type of hives are widely used around the World and are very well established in Scandinavia and Germany - which has some of the toughest laws in Europe on food quality and if there was any concern there about contamination they would take action. As it is the largest supplier of beekeeping equipment in Germany no longer even sells wooden hives anymore, so complete has the change over to expanded polystyrene hives been.
If you click here and then scroll down to the section on expanded polystyrene and the environment you can find some links to further information about this material.
I'm very interested in setting up my apiary with polystyrene hives, but I have heard objection about ventilation issues and that there is a build-up of condensation in poly hives. I'm sure that they've not managed to build up their popularity on the continent and given you so much cause for enthusiasm without this issue being addressed, so I wondered if there was a ventilation design feature or a working practice that addresses it?
No poly hives have any facility for ventilation at the top of the hive as this would result in a loss of heat. The conservation of heat is why poly hives are so effective – during a year the majority of nectar gathered by the bees is used to heat the hive and the poorer the insulation the more nectar they must consume to retain the brood nest temperature.
Ventilation is needed in wooden hives as the material of construction is inherently damp due to moisture in the wood. Poly hives are used with the varroa mesh open all year apart from short periods of varroa monitoring or early in the spring in very cold areas. The open mesh floor gives more than adequate ventilation to the hive and being at the bottom and with warm air rising, does not chill the brood nest. In Finland we have seen poly hives buried under a metre of snow for several months at a time with the only ventilation through the floor and into the air space under the hives – which were on pallets.